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1

Wednesday, March 25th 2020, 11:05pm

A Spectre Resurgent

Lugano, Switzerland, Thursday, 15 September 1949

It had taken a substantial investment in time and money for Ernst Blofeld to complete the transfer of his operations from Germany to Switzerland, and to staff them with operatives having the skills he desired and whom he could trust, or control. He had gathered them here at his headquarters to review, as good businessmen would, the results of their activities.

Gathered about him at the conference table were a diverse group of men – some older than others. His general factotum, Tev Kronsteen, sat immediately to his right. To his left sat Dagobert Frey, a greying Viennese, who opened the discussion.

“In the last two months we have orchestrated the recovery of three major artworks previously stolen by our associates, Monet’s Beach in Pourville, Courbet’s Femme nue couche, and Pisanello’s Madonna of the Quail. After deducting all expenses and settling with our associates, our profit amounts to £50,000. This of course represents only the return on artwork ransomed by the insurance companies. On the outright sale of stolen works of art the profit was a further £80,000.”

These facts brought forth a round of nods from those assembled. Blofeld nodded. “Excellent. Admittedly, art and antiquities do well, but we were favoured with circumstances. Herr Cornfeld, can you speak to arbitrage activities?”

The remarks were addressed to the young man who sat opposite Blofeld. Bernard Cornfeld, born in Byzantium, was barely more than twenty years old, but already had demonstrated his financial wizardry to Blofeld’s satisfaction.

“Short-term currency manipulations earned us £48,000 since July, with a further £30,000 on stocks and securities.”

“Very good. Herr Krüger?”

The little man felt at easy; in his own mind he ought not to be at this table at all, but rather at his printing press. “Our paper supplies are still exhausted…”

Blofeld checked his first thoughts. “Kronsteen?”

“Our contacts in Munich have let us down. With your permission, I will visit and remind them of their obligations to us.”

“Please do. Wasting the talents of Herr Kruger for lack of proper paper is a crime. Monsieur Déricourt, will you inform us of progress on our Lisbon project?”

“We have opened negotiations to acquire the Casino do Estoril but have yet to reach mutually agreeable terms with the owner, Dos Santos. My associate, Monsieur Wang and I will be departing on Saturday for Lisbon where I am confident that arrangements can be made.”

“Good, very good.”

And so Blofeld continued to discuss matters with his subordinates. Since departing Müggelheim many things had changed.

2

Wednesday, March 25th 2020, 11:08pm

München, Germany, Sunday, 18 September 1949

Oktoberfest was in full swing, and the Theresienwiese was thronged with devotees of Bavaria’s potent beverage. No one paid any attention to the man with the goatee as he sat quietly at a small table-for-two, a stein of beer before him. Kronsteen was waiting patiently for the contact he expected momentarily. He used the time to consider the options before him.

The firm of Giesecke & Devrient was the source of specialty banknote paper for many nations across Europe, with appropriate security for their product to prevent its diversion towards misuse – the very end to which Kronsteen had come to München to arrange. The last time Blofeld had made an understanding with an element of the city’s underworld to obtain such it had turned out badly for the criminals involved; Blofeld did not appreciate double-dealing. For this reason Kronsteen hoped that their current associates would prove more trustworthy.

Leiter approached warily. He was well aware that his ring had thus far failed to deliver the goods demanded by their obligation to Blofeld – a man he had never seen – but Kronsteen, the factotum, was known to him as a man who did not accept excuses.

“I was not expecting you to come in person.”

Kronsteen barely looked in his direction. “We were not expecting delays.”

“Diverting paper from the firm’s warehouse has grown more difficult over the last year. An inventory disclosed missing product and…”

“You undertook to supply our requirements, accepted our advance payment, and thus far have failed to fulfil your contract with us.”

Leiter noted the ominous tone in Kronsteen’s voice. “Yes, I know, but I promise that I can deliver the product to you in three days.”

“Three days? Very well, if you do so we will consider the contract fulfilled. If not, we shall take appropriate measures to recover our advances.”

“How will you get the paper out of Germany?”

“That is of no concern to you. Three days; no more.”

With that Kronsteen departed, leaving Leiter to contemplate the consequences of any failure.

3

Monday, March 30th 2020, 7:20pm

München, Germany, Wednesday, 21 September 1949

Suitably motivated, Leiter had managed to make delivery of the bank note paper Blofeld had ordered the day before; and to Kronsteen’s relief the German had not attempted to jack up the price to be paid. This of course left Kronsteen with the problem of safely getting the bundle of paper out of Germany to Switzerland without discovery; fortunately, this problem had been foreseen and prepared for.

José Bandeira had notified Kronsteen earlier in the day that he was ready to take charge of the shipment. It would be placed within a steamer trunk ostensibly holding Bandeira’s wardrobe. The fact that the Iberian held a diplomatic passport had frequently been of benefit to Blofeld’s plans, and so it would on this occasion.

“Are you certain that the Swiss customs guards will not search your luggage?”

“The Swiss? They are even more deferential to diplomats than the Germans. Diplomatic immunity is inviolable!”

Kronsteen hoped for Bandeira’s sake that his assessment of the situation was correct; diplomatic immunity did not extend to commission of a crime, and smuggling stolen goods would be treated most seriously, if discovered. The exchange made, both men went their separate ways, to meet in Lugano in two days.

4

Friday, April 17th 2020, 8:05pm

Lisbon, Iberia, Friday, 23 September 1949

Déricourt and Wang had arrived in Lisbon earlier in the week, and had spent the interval negotiating with the owner of the Casino do Estoril, the city’s most notable gambling establishment. A series of meetings with its owner, Don José Teodoro dos Santos, had failed to make much headway, despite the substantial monetary offers made on Blofeld’s behalf. In one last attempt to overcome Dos Santos’ reluctance, the pair had accepted an invitation to dine with him at his palatial home outside the city.

The Frenchman and his tight-lipped Chinese associate made an interesting contrast. The former was admired by his friends as a witty, self-confident and extremely persuasive charmer, an ideal negotiator. Wang Tung-hsing had been born in Macau, and raised on the Rue Catinat in Cholon; here he had learned the trade of thug, fixer, and gambler, attaining a significant position in Saigon’s Grande Monde casino until a twist in local politics forced him to flee. Should Blofeld’s intention of acquiring the Casino do Estoril come to fruition, he had been promised the position of its overall manager; to attain this, Wang was ready to be patient, until the time for action was ripe.

Dos Santos home was set in the countryside, for Don José was devoted to two things other than making money – growing oranges and raising horses. As the visitors toured the estate before settling down to their dinner their host had proudly shown them the groves that in their time yielded the sweetest fruit and the horses that had won many a race at Lisbon’s racetrack. During their dinner the verbal sparring was spirited if polite, during which Déricourt again brought up the financial benefit to Dos Santos of Blofeld’s offer, which their host again declined.

“Don José, we thank you for a wonderful dinner, and for listening to Mr. Blofeld’s offer. We will be departing Lisbon on Monday. Should you change your mind, you can reach us at our hotel.”

With that the two departed.

“He will need a reminder of the iron fist inside the velvet glove.” Wang’s voice was ice cold.

“I believe you are correct my friend. I will leave it to you for the details.”

*****

Dos Santos had retired for the evening not long after his guests had departed. He had kept his hauteur from showing, but he thoroughly despised them – the Frenchman a ci-devant nobleman, the Chinaman an unknown cipher, representing a shadowy figure whose name meant little to him. Yet his rest that night was disturbed by nightmares, which in the early morning hours awoke him. Startled, he reached out his hand to right himself and touched… wetness. He switched on the lamp and saw the pool of blood that seemed to drench the bed… the blood that ran from the severed head of his prize stallion, which lay at the foot of it. In terror he tried to scream but could not; his heart pounded in his chest, he gasped for breath.

*****
Déricourt and Wang were a breakfast in their hotel when an attendant brought a telephone, handing it to the former, who listened attentively to the caller.

“Yes, of course. I completely understand. I shall advise Senor Blofeld of your decision and prepare the papers for your signature. Thank you for reconsidering your choice.”

He set the telephone handset back in its cradle, and smiled.

5

Monday, April 27th 2020, 9:10pm

Lugano, Switzerland, Friday, 30 September 1949

Blofeld contemplated the results of his organisation’s activities in the last fortnight with satisfaction. The paper obtained by Kronsteen was already in the hands of Krüger, his tame forger, who would soon have available the wherewithal for the next assault on the Italian economy. Déricourt had returned from Lisbon having settled the acquisition of the Casino do Estoril, were Wang would soon bring to Europe the refined techniques of squeeze he had learned in Saigon.

A knock at his office door announced Cornfeld’s arrival.

“You sent for me sir.”

“Indeed Cornfeld; please sit down.” The younger man complied, awaiting his instructions.

“Our acquisition in Lisbon has temporarily diminished our resources, but we shall soon be able to reverse that problem. I should like you to draw up a list of legitimate firms that are worthwhile targets for investment – we need to continue our programme of diversification.”

Cornfeld nodded. “Undervalued compared to their market valuation?”

“Preferably. We are not yet so rich that money can be wasted.”

“Europe, the Americas, or the Orient?”

Blofeld thought before replying. “As inviting as the Orient might seem, there are still too many factors that lie beyond our control – at the moment. Europe first, and then the Americas I think.”

“Of course sir. I shall have the list for your consideration by Monday.”

6

Tuesday, June 2nd 2020, 8:09pm

Lugano, Switzerland, Monday, 3 October 1949

Blofeld read his subordinate’s report with considerable interest. “The Sociedad General de Riegos Industria y Colonizacion – you indicate that it was founded to construct irrigation works in the Ebro Valley. I presume you are not suggesting that I throw good money after bad in that sink hole?”

Cornfeld smiled. “By no means. Effectively the firm has been moribund for the best part of a decade, having lost much of its initial capital in legal quarrels. But it does own several square kilometres of property on the outskirts of the city of Tarragona. They are suitable for development if they way can be cleared for their sale.”

Blofeld understood. Acquire the stock of the old company, strip it of its more valuable assets, and then dispose of the useless husk to an unwary purchased. “Buy the hectare, sell the lot.”

“Indeed sir. The shares are quite undervalued and, if done carefully, can be acquired cheaply on the bourse in Madrid and Barcelona.”

“Do you believe Monsieur Tarankov would be fitted to carry out the acquisition of the shares of the Sociedad General?”

“He has the discretion for it, but I suspect that if Monsieur Déricourt is finished with the matter of the Casino do Estoril he might guide Tarankov through the process. Besides, Déricourt has an established reputation as a financier.”

“Very good. Now about this firm in Alexandria...”

7

Monday, June 22nd 2020, 9:02pm

Lubiana (Laibach), Tuesday, 11 October 1949

Tev Kronsteen had made the journey from Lugano to Lubiana a number of times, but he never took the trip for granted. The greatest danger – falling foul of the Italian customs authorities when crossing from Switzerland – he had avoided through long-standing arrangements with the senior officer for that sector. Since Italy treated its Slovene province as part of the Republic, his only concern was the possibility of rogue elements of the Camorra doing something completely idiotic. Thankfully, that had not happened, and he reached his destination without incident the prior evening.

That morning he ventured to the local branch of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, and deposited into the account of the Compagnia commerciale internazionale Spettro the monies he had brought with him – products of Herr Krüger’s art. The officials of the bank were happy to follow his instructions on wiring the money to several financial institutions around Europe. For a relatively small fee they were induced into ignoring the recently introduced currency controls imposed by the Italians in a half-hearted attempt to avoid flooding of their economy with counterfeit currency.

By late afternoon Kronsteen was able to depart for Budapest secure in the knowledge that fifty million lira had been added to Blofeld’s financial resources and that another blow was to fall on the money markets of Milan. There was no doubt in his mind that Cornfeld would make a killing on the bourses of Europe.

8

Tuesday, July 14th 2020, 8:00pm

The Financial Times, Tuesday, 25 October 1949

The exchange rate for the lira took a body blow late yesterday with the announcement of the discovery of more counterfeit bank notes circulating across northern Italy. Precautions had been taken to prevent the recurrence of the appearance of such fakes, but by all accounts the fake notes incorporated all the purported security features and are considered indistinguishable from the genuine article. A special squad of officers from the Carabinieri has been formed to track down the source and take action to bring the perpetrators to justice.