Here’s your next online novel fix, peeps. If you’re new to the game, you can start from the beginning here. As always, your input is encouraged. What do I want out of this, you ask? Eyeballs. So, if you’re enjoying the story, send some readers my way, OK? And, as always, thanks for reading.
It was just past 11:00 pm when Hardin checked into the downtown Hyatt on Wacker. Lots of rooms, lots of people coming and going, lots of exits, and it connected to some pedestrian tunnels. He’d stashed his rental in a huge public garage that stretched for a several blocks under the fancy new park along Michigan. Short enough walk to the hotel, and he wouldn’t have to wait on a valet if he needed to get out quick. Hardin had only had the rocks for 36 hours at this point, didn’t figure anyone would be looking for him yet, but there was no point boxing himself in.
The meeting with Stein had gone well. Hardin waited until the last quarter, watching Stein’s box for the crowd to clear out. Bulls were up big late in the game, and it looked like Stein was alone. Hardin made his way up to the suite.
Stein got up and shook hands as Hardin in.
“Long time,” Stein said.
“Yeah,” said Hardin.
“So Hardin now?”
“My Kepi Blanc name,” said Hardin. One of the perks of serving in the Legion, in fact maybe the only perk, was a new identity and French citizenship when you mustered out. Hardin had mustered out of the Legion as Nick Hardin. He knew Stein from his Marine days, riding shotgun on some queer smelling Mossad deal in Kuwait – and well up into Iraq, but they weren’t supposed to have been there — just after Gulf War One.
“So, a drink? Some ribs?” Stein had quite a spread.
“Let’s just get to it.” Hardin had eaten breakfast at an IHOP somewhere on the way down from O’Hare earlier and still wasn’t hungry. His stomach was on Africa time, and the IHOP breakfast had been more calories that your average African family might eat in a week.
“Straight to business with you, eh? OK, so you got some raw rocks, you got no Kimberly certificates on them, and you want to dump them on somebody who can cut them and get them papered up so they go from being useless gravel to being an actual asset. I’m straight on that?”
Hardin got up and started toward the door. “Didn’t realize I was wasting your time, Stein. Wouldn’t want to saddle you with any useless gravel. Maybe Hezbullah will want to buy them back.”
“You really want to play footsie with that crowd, after what you pulled yesterday? I’d hate to fire up You Tube someday and watch a video of you getting your head sawed off.”
“Kimberly certs or not, you know I can find a buyer. And if these things make their way back to Al Queda, your buddies in Mossad aren’t going to be pleased with you.”
“Sit, sit,” Stein said, chuckling. “It’s a ballet – I say they’re worthless, you say they’re Solomon’s treasure, I say maybe a little, you say maybe a little more, we eat we drink, we share the brotherly bonds of commerce . . .”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Look, they’ll cut out to maybe a couple hundred thousand carats if you keep them manageable. Two to four carats a stone, say. Keeps you under the radar. And I know there’s labor, and I know you’ll have Antwerp up your ass since you’ll need to dummy up the Kimberly certs, and I know you’ll have to watch your timing so some thug from DeBeers doesn’t put a bomb in your car. But you’re looking at what, $750 a carat retail? $180 million and change?”
“I didn’t know you were such an optimist.”
“I just want my end. Give me a number.”
“Do I actually have to get up and start toward the door again?”
“You’ve got a sample, of course?”
Hardin had packed most of the stones into a compartment hidden in his bag. He had two still in the small canvas package he’d taken from the courier. He handed it to Stein.
Stein took the package, which leaked some dirt on his pants when he opened it. “Classy presentation,” said Stein, trying to brush off the dirt, but just rubbing it in. He gave he stones a quick, expert examination. “These representative?”
“And you want cash?”
“Don’t want a suitcase of it. Wire transfer. I’ll give you the account number when you’re ready.”
Big roar from the crowd, Luol Deng on a reverse jam, the Bulls actually blowing out the Lakers.
“Be a couple, three days or so,” said Stein. “How do I get in touch?”
“Three days,” said Hardin. “I’ll call you.”
Hardin knew the Hyatt was really just an upper mid-level hotel in the states, but after a couple decades bouncing around the bush, it felt like the Alahambra. He’d been going pretty much nonstop for a day and a half since he hit the courier back in Sierra Leone. Flight from Lungi to Casablanca. Air France from Casablanca to New York, connection from Kennedy to O’Hare, then the meeting with Stein. He took a long, hot shower, made sure all the locks were set, put a chair up next to the door and crashed.
Hardin woke up just after 9:00 AM and flicked on the set while he unpacked his bag. Just background noise. Hardin dressed, ready to find some food. Just as Hardin reached for the remote to turn off the set, the local station ran their teaser for their noon news show. Some spunky brunette trying to look serious. “This is Kathy McNally. Stay tuned for more details on the shocking murder of Chicago businessman Abraham Stein at last night’s Bull’s game. Will there be more snow this weekend? And what’s the outlook for the Cubs playoff run? All this and more at noon.”
Hardin flicked off the set. Son of a bitch. Time for plan B, just as soon as he figured out what that was.