Beyond the Western
Captain Noonan, the "Bearded Holmes" of the Sandersonville had absolutely no idea why he, of all people, would be on a plane – and Aeroflot at that – on his way to a city he had never heard of and whose name he could not pronounce. A dozen hours earlier he had been pleasantly – rather, (pause) unpleasantly – sequestered with his Alaskan in-laws in Anchorage when he had received a call the Commissioner of Homeland Security in Sandersonville, North Carolina – his boss – about a hush-hush assignment he, Noonan, had been assigned to ‘handle.’
When Noonan asked if it could be handled over the phone – and hopefully over one, phone, that is, which had a line attached rather than the electronic tool of Satan which throbbed in your jacket pocket and linked you with the two most mercurial beings on earth: his wife and Commissioner Lizzard – the Commissioner said ‘no,’ but it would have to be in situ.
Noonan wondered who told the Commissioner the term in situ as it was a not a term a third grader would know. As quickly as the thought crossed Noonan’s mind, the Commissioner said the matter was “very hush-hush. You’re going to have to go to Siberia under cover.”
That took Noonan by surprise.
“No, Siberia. It is the Far East, you know. Across the Bering Sea from where you are.”
Noonan shook his head like a cartoon character trying to clear its head. “You want me to go to Siberia under cover? How is that going to happen? Better yet, what am I supposed to do when I get there? And why am I going at all. I investigate crimes in North Carolina, not Russia.”
“Siberia. It’s not part of Russia.”
“Tell that to Putin. Why am I going?”
“I am sure all will be explained when you get to Siberia. You are going to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. It’s like the Texas of Siberia. It has lots of gas and oil but they can’t get it out of the ground. Politics, you know. But you’re not going there for the gas or the oil. There’s a mint that needs your help.”
“Yes. A gold depository.”
“And I can’t handle this by phone?!” Noonan was almost apoplectic as he looked at the electronic Beelzebub in his hand. “Besides, isn’t it the job of State Department to handle matters in Russia?”
“Siberia, Noonan, Siberia. The mayor of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk contacted the State Department and mentioned your name specifically. Seems you have an international reputation. State, that is, the State Department contacted Homeland Security who contacted me and now I’m contacting you. Line of command, you know.”
Great, snipped Noonan under his breath.
“It shouldn’t take a man of your experience and knowledge long to wrap this up quickly, Noonan. We’ve got you on a midnight Aeroflot flight out of Anchorage.”
“But I’m on vacation! Do I get some extra days after I solve this, this, matter?” Noonan asked with an evil smile. He just wanted to hear the commissioner squirm.
“Well, no. The budget is tight so that won’t be possible. I might be able to swing a day or two of leave here in Sandersonville . . .” He let the sentence hang.
Noonan shook his head knowingly. It was a promise as empty as the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia, or, as the commissioner kept saying, “Siberia.”
Aeroflot, the official Russian airlines, was hardly palatial. A better description would have been salsa bus, the brightly colored, local buses which serve Central American cities. Noonan and his family had vacationed in Panama one Easter and his sons had loved riding the salsa busses. They were a snapshot of the real Panama with goats, chickens, guitar-playing locals, arguing couples, laborers on their way to work, women of the night on their way home, crates of whatever making their way to market with the interior smelling of beer, fish, manure, cheap perfume and sweat. The only things Aeroflot was missing were the chicken and goats. Seats were canvas hammocks hung from two pipes which ran from the airplane wall to the aisle and the so-called restrooms were bombsite behind ratty curtains in the back. The prevailing smell was Vodka, all 2,500 hundred miles and seven hours of it. By the time Noonan deplaned – if you could call Aeroflot a plane – he was reeling from the smells of Vodka and, he feared, a bit of its effect.
Siberia, part of Russia, was the one place on earth Heinz Noonan never expected to be. Yes, it was close to Alaska in air miles, but in terms of amenities, it was back to the past. Unless you were staying at a high-priced hotel and that, Noonan was quite sure, was not on his itinerary. It was to be low-cost rooms and local food which meant Borscht, stroganoff, sweet-and-sour cabbage and potato Okrashka. He had no problem with these foods; his stomach did. His taste for Vodka had been extinguished as a young college student. So it was going to be days of porridge and bread.
Commissioner Lizzard had given him no instructions other than to be on the midnight Aeroflot so when he arrived he was not surprised to find no one waiting for him.
Noonan was looking for a place to sit when his view of airport was blotted out by a tall figure who was unmistakably a Soviet, er, Siberian, er Russian, police officer – easily distinguishable by a large badge.
“You got me, son. I’m afraid to ask why you’re looking for me.”
The officer’s English was impeccable. “Your name and location was provided by your Commissioner in Sandersonville. I believe it is in North Carolina. He said you would be coming here.”
“He didn’t know where to find me.”
“Perhaps not. But your secretary, Harriet, does. She was the one who got in touch with us.”
“My Secretary, huh? I’ll remember that when I get back to North Carolina.”
“She said you would say that, sir. She gave me a message for you. She said, ‘Sorry but he made me do it.’”
“I’m sorry too.”
“I understand, sir. Commissioners are the same the whole world over. Siberia or North Carolina. As you say in America, ‘peas in a pod.’ They are either not competent enough to tie their own shoe laces or so interested in becoming mayor they think they already are.”
“Yes. Are mayor. My English needs a little help.”
“You’re doing just fine. I didn’t catch your name?”
“I didn’t give it. It’s Boris Ivanov. A very common name, I’m afraid. Like your John Smith in the United States.”
“Everybody’s gotta have a name. What can I do for you, Ivanov? Just call me Heinz.”
“Certainly, sir. We have an unusual case and your name came up as a possible source of assistance.”
“Well, I’m here. You’re here. Let’s hear about the case.”
“It’s odd. We have a deceased American covered in calcium. He was robust and there were not drugs in his blood. No bruises. No trauma. No pinprick holes or the other tell tales signs of murder from your Hollywood productions. No bones are broken and there is no sign of asphyxiation. He was dressed in a swimsuit, not a great surprise here this time of year, July, just like in Alaska, and he had no identification. No one showed up looking for him and there is no one reported missing – at least not a foreign national. We found his shirt and towel on the beach …”
“If you didn’t find any identification, how do you know he’s an American?”
“Actually, we’re not sure. We did find three business cards in his swim suit pocket, all the same. The name was Jackson Pollock . . .”
“Just like the painter?”
“I thought the same thing when I looked up the name on the internet. There was no address on the card, just as email address. It keeps coming back.”
“What else did the card say?”
“Not much. There were three lines, his name, the email address and the word ‘Haberdasher.’ I had to look it up. It’s an old term for a person who sells men’s clothing.”
“It’s not that old,” snapped Noonan. “I used to buy my clothes from a haberdasher.”
“All right, then it’s a Midwestern term for a person who sells men’s clothing.”
“What do you mean by ‘covered in calcium?’”
“There are several lakes in the area with a high calcium concentration. One of them, translated to English, is Wolf Lake. It is a lake formed by water from hot springs. It is a popular health spa where tourists can bathe in the warm waters. When they come out of the water they have a thin coating of calcium. If they allow the water to dry, they will appear to be covered with white powder. When they shower, the white powder disappears down the drain. It’s harmless. This body was different. The calcium layer was thicker indicating he had been in the water for longer than the usual hour swim.”
“How long do you think he’s been dead?”
“Three, maybe four days.”
“If he had been missing for three or four days, why did you wait that long before you started looking and then find the shirt and towel?”
“No, the other way around. We found the shirt and towel at the end of the first day. We felt there might be a body. We were right but we didn’t find the body until several days later.”
“So you need me to help you find out who he was and how he died?”
“Actually, No. When we picked up his shirt and towel, we found a Polaroid of 16 bars of gold bullion bars. From the photograph we were able to identify the gold bullion bars. They were imprinted with the seal of the Central Bank of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. We do things differently here in Siberia.”
“You’re part of Russia, no?”
“Yes. But we are far from Moscow. We are in the far, Far East, I guess you’d say. Moscow does not bother us unless there is a very big problem. And, alas, 16 bars of gold bullion, if missing, are, shall we say, a very big problem.”
“Are there any gold bar missing? I mean, the bank should know it is missing 16 bars of gold.”
“It does not work that way in Siberia. The bank owns the gold but it is held in a depository at an undisclosed location. On the books, as you say in America, the gold is not missing. But when we did a search of the depository, we found 16 bars missing – out of a locked room. That, again, as you say in America, raised eyebrows in Moscow. We have an auditor from Moscow coming in less than a week so, of course, . . .” He paused to let Noonan finish the thought.
“You want the difficulty, shall we say, solved quickly, quietly and without anyone higher up on the food chain knowing about the, the, the, bookkeeping error.”
“You understand Russian politics perfectly.”
“Yeah,” said Noonan snidely. “It’s just like everywhere else in the world.”
Captain Noonan, the scourge of criminals from Atlantic to Pacific, was the king of his own house. His wife, however, was the Empress, with a capital “E.” That placed him low man on the totem pole that only had two faces. His wife, Lorlei, was less than pleased her husband would be galivanting around in Siberia – or was it Russia? – for a few days when he was supposed to be on vacation. But then again, from Noonan’s perspective, Alaska was not a vacation as there were in-laws there.
His twins, Otto and Fritz, were ecstatic. But it was not because their father was off to do battle with the forces of evil. And it wasn’t because he was such a respected figure in the international community of crime fighters that he should be called away from his vacation for the mundane task of discovering how 16 bars of gold bullion each weighing 27 pounds and worth $160,000 apiece had come to be missing out of locked vault in a Siberian depository. No, it was because their father had advanced them three days of their vacation allowance before he boarded Aeroflot. They had taken the news of his departure in stride, that stride being in hip waders with a seven-league stride, and they were dip-netting salmon before their father’s plane left the Anchorage airport, their allowances still warm from their father’s touch.
Noonan had never been in Siberia so he really didn’t know what to expect. Most of the places he had visited on vacation – primarily Alaska and the desolate Hawaiian rain forests – had been forested. Surprisingly, but then again, not so much, the landscape around Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk looked exactly like Alaska. It should have. It was the same latitude as Alaska so the weather was the same. As would be the wildlife and flora. Only the language and money would be different.
Fortunately for Noonan, he had not expected to be driven to the depository in style. Had he been Commissioner Lizzard, he would have demanded a limousine. Lizzard would have found Ivanov’ car wanting. It was not a stretch limousine with a wet bar, couch along one wall and a television. Rather, it was a ten-year-old Toyota Corolla with mismatched tires, no shocks and broken side windows that allowed the dust from the front tires to swirl through the car’s interior. The muffler had long since disintegrated so the smell of exhaust blasted up through the rusted floor panels. Whenever the Corolla hit a particularly exhilarating rut it went airborne until gravity drew it back to earth. The jumps, as they were, gave Noonan a momentary glimpse of the roadway below the belly of the vehicle when the flooring panels separated and rejoined each other just in time for the next rut and jump.
“As long as we keep up our speed,” Ivanov yelled to him over the blast of the engine and staccato of the severed exhaust pipe, “we will leave the dust behind us.”
“I can see that,” yelled Noonan. “How much further is the depository?”
“200 Kilometers, about 160 of your miles.”
And on they blasted through the Siberian backcountry. Occasionally Ivanov made a comment about the countryside or the weather, none of which Noonan could hear because of the roar of the engine. Ivanov clearly expected no answer as he did not follow up his comments with a question or questioning look as though he expected an answer. He simply continued on, staring at the road ahead, bouncing over rut and gravel, around boulders and through tree copses until he suddenly slid to a stop. The billowing dust cloud behind them suddenly shrouded the car. When the particles settled, it appeared to Noonan that he was in the exact center of absolutely nowhere.
“Where are we?” Noonan asked, scanning the deserted horizon for a sign of anything except sand, gravel and dust.
“I wanted you to see our security precautions on your way in. I can’t expect you to solve my problem unless you understand the arrangements that have already been made. What do you see?”
“Lots of trees and mud and sand and gravel. What am I supposed to see?”
“That, my dear Captain, is exactly what you are supposed to see. About 30 kilometers back,” Ivanov said as he pointed behind them where the dust was settling slowly onto the road, “was the last turn off before the depository. That road only leads to the calcium lake. It is a dead-end road beyond the lake. This road is also a dead end. It ends at the depository. There is also a small village about a mile from the depository. It has no name for security reasons. That village is totally dependent on the depository for its work.”
“A village with no name?” Noonan shook his head. “I’ve never heard of a village with no name. What do the people say about their village when they visit relatives?”
“What all Russians with good jobs say, nothing! No one in the village wants their relatives to suddenly appear and want jobs too. Isn’t it like that in the United States?”
Noonan kind of nodded. “Do any of the villagers work in the depository?”
“All of them do. The adults anyway. But not in the area where the gold is stored. The villagers do the cooking and janitorial. And yes, they are checked for gold when they come out.”
“Every find any?”
“Not so much as a flake.”
“Do you get many outsiders this way?”
“So the haberdasher was never out here?”
“Not as far as we know. We haven’t asked anyone in the village yet but he never checked into any of our buildings. He would have had to sign in and there is no signature we cannot trace.”
“If you check everyone coming out, how did the 16 bars of gold get out?”
“We don’t know.”
“Are you sure the bars are missing? I mean, could they have come from another depository?”
“No. The serial numbers on bullion are from this depository. There is also a gap where the bars should have been.”
“Was that gap in the paperwork or in the vault?”
“Were the bullion bars in the center of a pile or on top?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I assume the gold bars are piled up in the vault. So, is there would be a 16-bar hole where the missing gold bars were supposed to be.”
“The gold and paperwork does not operate like that. Let me give you a quick lesson in gold. First, gold does not come out of the depository. It just moves around inside. To different rooms. Let’s say that this month the regional Siberian banks have $5 million of American money, dollars that American tourists have spent in the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk restaurants, hotels and bars. Those dollars, the actual bills, the paper money, come here. Since the actual paper dollar are going to be sent to Moscow, there will be a $5 million gap in the money in the region. Since the $5 million was American money, $5 million in gold bullion will come out of the American room in the depository and moved to the Siberian room. That way there is no loss of real money in the local banks.”
“So there is an American room and a Siberian room? Any more rooms?”
“Yes, there are rooms for every nation that does business with Siberia. There is a Saudi Arabia room, for instance, because we get a lot of Saudi tourists. But there isn’t an Iceland room because, well, you can figure that out.”
“So the gold actually moves from room to room?”
“For the larger countries, yes. For the smaller ones, the room is more of a cubbyhole.”
“And there is paperwork that tracks the gold bullion?”
“So more than gold is moving, so is the paperwork.”
“So the gold bars that are in the Polaroid photograph could have been in any room when they disappeared?”
“The paperwork says the 16 bars were in three different rooms. We could not find them in those three rooms.”
“How about the other rooms.”
“Nada, to use a Spanish term.”
“We say ‘zip’ where I come from.”
“Well, then zip.”
“But the paperwork confirmed that the bars were in the depository somewhere?”
“Have you lost bullion on paperwork before?”
“All the time. Before every audit we find misfiled paperwork. But we’ve always found the gold bars.”
“But this time you have paperwork that says the gold is in three different rooms but the gold is not there.”
“That is correct.”
“How do you know the gold is really missing?”
“All we know is that the gold is not in the three rooms.”
“You said the photograph was from a Polaroid. That’s a pretty old way of taking pictures.”
“Not in Russia.”
“I see. Well, how do you know that the Polaroid was a recent photograph?”
“We don’t. All we know for sure is the gold bars in the Polaroid photograph are missing.”
“So the gold bars could have been missing for years.”
“No. Only two years. That was the last audit.”
“All bars were accounted for in the last audit?”
“And all the paperwork was in order.”
“Well, I’d like to see the inside of the depository if you don’t mind.”
“You didn’t think I’d bring you all the way out here and then not let you inside?”
“This is Siberia. Strange thing happen here. Like gold disappearing into thin air.”
Getting into the depository was relatively easy. There was a matching of Noonan’s identification with faxes from Moscow and then he was whisked through the double steel doors into a waiting room.
“That was pretty simple,” Noonan said as he was whisked through the first checkpoint.
“That’s because no one worries much about what is coming in. We worry about what is going out.”
“Coming out you will be searched. But then again, so will I and I work here.”
Noonan went through a series of hallways each with a door that would have made a safe in North Carolina proud and ended up in a massive room the size of football field. A walkway ran along one long wall and there were two dozen rooms of various sizes set against the other wall.
“These are the rooms you were talking about?”
“Correct. Each one for a different nation.”
Noonan walked over and peered through the bars expecting to see piles of bouillon. What he saw were piles of wooden crates.
“That’s the gold?” He was incredulous.
“In the crates, yes. We don’t want the bullion bars to chip. That’s why they are in crates. You noticed the crates are different sizes for different amounts.”
“These crates get moved frequently, correct?”
“Yes. For the larger rooms for nations like the United States, France, Japan and the United Kingdom, frequently because of the tourists. The smaller rooms, maybe once a month.”
“The doors are locked except when you are moving gold into or out of the rooms?”
“Do you keep track of who goes into and out of the rooms?”
“Are workers searched after they leave each room?”
“Yes. Sometimes the locks jam and we bring in locals who fix them. When the toilets down here get plugged we bring in janitors. Once a week there is a janitorial staff that comes in and cleans up. If a brick in the wall breaks, we get it repaired with outside workers.” Ivanov quickly added, “But everyone who makes it into this room is searched and double-searched before they leave the building.”
“How about the paperwork? Who handles that?”
“We have a staff upstairs. They handle that.”
“Does that staff every come down here?”
“Rarely. There’s no reason for any of them to come down here.”
“Any new employees? Say new over the past two years?”
“Not really. Everyone up there,” he pointed at the ceiling, “has been here for years. The locals are very happy to have jobs here. There are some locals down here but they’ve been here for years.”
“Let me play a little game, Ivanov. Let me tell you what happens down here and you tell me when I go wrong.”
“A bag of $5 million in paper dollars from the United States arrives upstairs. Someone counts it to make sure there is $5 million in the bag. It’s probably double-counted just to be sure.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s correct.”
“Then someone enters the $5 million into a ledger and fills out an order form to move $5 million in gold from the United States of America room to the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Room.”
“Close enough. It’s actually in the bank’s name. Money transactions are by bank, not district.”
“OK, the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Bank Room. Then a man with a fork lift, probably that one over there,” Noonan said and pointed to a forklift set against the wall. Noonan continued. “He goes into the United States room, lifts $5 million worth of bullion and moves it to the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Bank Room. Does gold ever come out of the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Bank Room and go into the United States room?”
“Of course. If a Siberian with an account here in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk buys stock on the New York Stock Exchange, real estate in Los Angeles or uses a credit card in Denver, the bill is finally paid here with gold moving from the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Bank Room to the United States Room.”
“OK. Now the worker on the fork lift opens the door with a code . . .”
“Which is changed daily. Go on.”
“The worker opens the door, enters with the forklift and takes out $5 million in gold.”
“It’s more complicated than that. First, a crew goes in and identifies $5 million in gold. The gold is not in a pile. The crew puts it in a pile. That way the workman on the forklift knows exactly which pile of bullion to move.”
“The crew also makes room for the gold in the United States Room?”
“If it’s a large transfer, yes. If it’s just a few bars, no. The workman just loads smaller crates then just piles them on the crates already in the room.”
“Does the forklift operator work alone?”
“Well, there’s only room enough for one person on a forklift. But there is usually someone else there to make sure the proper crates are loaded.”
“Does everyone work the same hours?”
“Yes, ten hours. Eight in the morning to six in the evening. Then everyone goes home.”
“All the workers are local?”
“We’re all local. We all live in town.”
“What about trash? What do you do if a crate breaks open? Do you have empty crates available?”
“We have extra crates in a warehouse. The broken crates we burn. All of the trash from the depository, from broken boxes to paperwork and lunch bags is burned.”
“Is it searched before it is burned?”
“The broken crates, yes. The rest, no really. Everyone who has anything to do with this room,” his finger made a circle in the air, “is double-searched coming out of this room.”
Noonan looked around. “What about any repairs down here. Old bricks, wet mops, bent pipes, rusted bars,” Noonan said as he pointed at the bars on the rooms.
“Everyone is double-searched and nothing from here leaves the Depository. As far as the old bricks, pipes and bars, we save them in the warehouse.” Before Noonan could say anything, Ivanov added, “. . . after we double-check them to make sure there is no gold in the pipes or that the bricks are gold bars painted over.”
“Can I see those bricks and bars?”
That took Ivanov by surprise. “Of course, why?”
The bricks, pipes and bars were hardly noteworthy. The bricks were piled carefully while the pipes and bars were just tossed against a wall of the warehouse.
“Do you every reuse the bricks, pipes or bars?
“Not really. When the pipes are pulled out of the wall or floor they are not reusable. We had a massive plumbing problem a year ago and had to replace all of the pipes. These are the old ones. We were careful with the bricks because we can reuse them. The bars, never. We replace the entire bar, not parts of a bar. When one goes bad, we replace the entire bar.”
“How often do you reuse bricks?”
“One or two every now and again.”
“How often do you remove these bricks, pipes and bars from the warehouse?”
“Once every four or five years.”
“OK. Take me back to the resort.”
“You’ve solved the theft?!”
“Perhaps. But I think better with a cup of coffee.”
“I never think better with Vodka. But today I’ll take a chance.”
The best time to have a Vodka when you are on vacation is any time. It was any time when Noonan and Ivanov got back to the airport. Ivanov was chomping at the bit but Noonan was taking his time. When the pair finally settled in the waiting room, Noonan broke the good news to Ivanov.
gold is not missing or stolen. It’s still in the depository?
“How do you know that?”
“Because it never made it out of the depository. Everyone coming out the building, any part of the building, is searched and double-searched. Therefore the gold has not left the depository.”
“If that was true, why haven’t we found it?”
“You didn’t look in the right place.”
“Where is the right place?”
“Here’s what I think happened. A group of people who work in the village that has no name have been looking at that gold for years. Kind of the way a lot of Americans look at armored cars. They see all of this money just beyond their ability to get it. So they set about to see if they could get a slice of the pie, so to speak.”
“That’s an American expression I understand. So, how did they do it?”
“They knew they could not get the gold out so they did the next best thing. They made it disappear inside the depository. But it had to be a coordinated attack. It was going to take a lot of people to work. First, there had to be a reason for something to be repaired in the large room where the gold is stored. I’m guessing it was that plumbing repair. I’m also guessing that the plumbing was sabotaged so it would fail on a certain date. Before that certain date, several of the workers in the room were removing the 16 bars of gold from crate boxes. No one would know the gold bars were missing because the forklift operator doesn’t pick up the crates. The forklift does. So, if a crate was one bar light, he would not know it. That’s how the bars disappeared.
“But where did they go?”
“Nowhere. I’m guessing they were stacked in a corner until the plumbing was sabotaged. As the pipes were being replaced behind the brick wall, the bars were placed behind the wall. But this was after they had been photographed. The bricks in the wall were replaced with the gold bars behind the bricks. They are probably still there.”
“If that’s the truth, what good did is the Polaroid?”
“That stumped me for a while. Why a Polaroid? The answer: modern cameras are self-contained. If you take a picture with your cell phone, you have to get the photo off the cell phone. You don’t allow cell phones or cameras in the gold room, do you?”
“That’s correct. We don’t.”
“So a regular camera won’t work. Or an iPhone. But a Polaroid spits out a photograph. Your thieves used a Polaroid camera so they could get a photograph they could carry out of the gold room. When you search people coming out the depository, you are looking for gold, not pictures. Someone could even slip the photograph in a large wallet. I’ll bet your security people don’t check wallets.”
“But what happened to the camera?”
“It was broken into pieces in the gold room. Then its parts were dumped into two or three different trash cans. Probably over several days. You only check the parts of broken crates, not regular trash. That’s what you told me. It all goes into the incinerator. Poof! Your camera parts are gone.”
how does that get anyone any money?”
“Here is where the plot gets interesting. I’m betting you will get a ransom call. You will be able to get the gold bars back for a price. Say, 30% of the value of the gold. The thieves will want 50% up front. Probably wired to a bank in the United States. They will agree to turn over the bars for the other 50% at certain place at a certain time. The depository will pay to get the bars back assuming they will be able to arrest the thieves and get the gold bars and thieves in one fell swoop.”
“You mean all at once.”
“Yes, one fell swoop is an idiom.”
“But the thieves are one step ahead of the depository. Once the 50% of the payment is in the bank in the United States, it will instantly be transferred to a bank in the Caymans or Bahamas and disappear. Then the thieves will say where the gold is located. Behind a wall in the gold room. But by then, everyone who was involved with the plot will be out of Siberia. Probably in the Cayman Islands. It’s a lot warmer there in winter, you know. They will have their money and you will have your gold. I’m betting the thieves believe you will be too embarrassed to report the theft. The depository will simply move money around in the books to cover the extortion. No crime, no investigation.”
“But now that I know where the gold is I can stop the extortion before it begins. And I can arrest the workmen who set it up.”
“Too late, Ivanov. I’m betting those men are already out of Siberia. They’ll never be able to come back. They’re stuck in the United States with no money.”
“Serves them right,” snapped Ivanov. “I’ll have that wall down in a day or two, well ahead of the audit.” He suddenly stopped. “But what about the body? What did that have to do with any of the missing gold?”
“Absolutely nothing. The thieves had to figure some way to capture your attention without a link to the depository. I’ll bet you’ll find that there is a workman from the tourist resort that uses the calcium pool who is now in the United States. The thieves left enough time after the plumbing repairs to feel safe to make the extortion threat. Then they needed a distraction close to the time when auditors would arrive. They have probably been waiting for a dead body to wash up for quite a while. The haberdasher just happened to be the corpse that they needed.”