THE KING OF MACAU (The Jack Shepherd International Crime Novels) (9 page)

BOOK: THE KING OF MACAU (The Jack Shepherd International Crime Novels)
5.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Pine didn’t even wait for me to answer. He headed straight for the counter.

PINE RETURNED WITH TWO
paper cups of coffee, put one in front of each of us, and sat back down.

“You in Macau for very long?” he asked.

“I’m not sure.”

“You still live in Bangkok?”

It looked to me like I was being drawn into a conversation in spite of myself. It was pretty much the sort of thing that happened all too often for my liking whenever I encountered another American in some exotic place. Why did people automatically adopt a tone of familiarity toward you because you both had been born in the same country? Age, education, occupation…none of that mattered. If you had been born in America, you were supposed to be delighted to meet another American almost anywhere. I wasn’t all that often delighted.

“I live in Hong Kong now,” I said.

“Is that so? So you come over to Macau a lot?”

“Not really.”

“I live here,” Pine went on, apparently oblivious to my lack of interest. “I’m in construction contract management. With all the casino and hotel projects going on in Macau, I’ve got enough work to last me a lifetime.”

I nodded some more.

“Yeah, it sounds boring as hell, doesn’t it? Spending all day hassling over the details of a construction contract? But I could tell you some stories. I really could. When you deal with construction management in this town you hear all the dirt.”

“I can see how you might,” I said politely.

“Yeah, right now Steve Wynn’s slugging it out with two big Chinese groups over expanding this casino and they’re both doing whatever they can to stab him in the back. Everyone’s involved. The Chinese government, the local government, the triads. Everyone.”

That got my attention.

“The triads?” I asked.

“Oh yeah. No one wants to talk about it, but the triads have their hands in everything here.”

“I’ve always heard the Chinese government has the triads under control.”

“Bullshit, pardon my French. China uses the triads and the triads use China. Everybody here uses everybody else. It’s the way Macau works.” Pine chuckled. “Welcome to Macau. Disneyland with real bullets.”

He pulled out his wallet, fished around in it, and extracted a business card. He held it out to me and I accepted it. What else could I do?

Harry T. Pine
Construction Management
Contract Administration Specialist
JMG Limited

At the bottom of the card there was a Macau email address and two local telephone numbers, but no street address.

“Call me the next time you’re back here,” Pine said. “We can have a couple of beers and I’ll give you the real lowdown on what’s going on in Macau, not that happy horseshit the government and the casinos try to sell everybody.”

I nodded and pocketed the card. “I might do that, but you’ll have to excuse me now. I have a meeting.”

When I stood, Pine stood as well and we shook hands again.

“This was a real pleasure for me, Mr. Shepherd. I hope you’ll call. I know how things really work here and I’d be happy to give you a steer in the right direction with whatever you’re doing.”

WALKING ACROSS THE CASINO
looking for the right exit to get me back to the MGM, I thought about Harry Pine and wondered. He seemed a nice enough fellow, an ordinary Joe doing a job a long way from where he had been born, happy to run into a fellow American in a Chinese city. Still…there was something about the coincidence of Pine suddenly appearing like that at my table in Starbucks. I couldn’t shake the creepy feeling that the encounter hadn’t been accidental at all.

But if it hadn’t been an accidental meeting, what had Pine gotten out of it? We had chatted inconsequentially for a few minutes and Pine had given me a card. He hadn’t asked me anything significant and I hadn’t told him anything significant. Nothing had happened, so what would the point have been for Pine to engineer the whole thing?

Maybe, I thought, I was becoming too suspicious. Because I lived in a world in which practically everybody had a hidden agenda, it didn’t mean that other people lived like that, too. Surely somewhere there were people who were exactly what they seemed to be and who said exactly what they meant.

There had to be, didn’t there?

I GOT LOST IN
the vast spaces of the Wynn casino and when I finally stepped outside I discovered I was on the side of the building exactly opposite where I wanted to be. So I turned around, went back in, and headed across the casino toward the other side.

Passing a flotilla of blackjack tables crammed with Chinese players I suddenly realized I was looking at Harry Pine’s back. He was walking no more than twenty feet in front of me and appeared to be headed in the same direction I was. I lifted my phone by reflex and used it to half cover my face, but I felt foolish the moment I did. If Pine turned around, he would spot me in a second.

Harry Pine didn’t turn around. He moved resolutely across the casino, parting the crowds of Chinese gamblers like the Queen Mary through a fleet of dinghies. I stayed back, keeping him in sight, and when he left the casino I followed.

Still holding my phone over the left side of my face, I stopped outside the big brass-trimmed doors and slid into the shadow of one of the huge potted palms that flanked the doorway. A cell phone and the shade of a palm tree. I was a master of concealment, wasn’t I?

I watched Pine make straight for a black BMW sedan idling at the curb of the narrow roadway running between the Wynn and the MGM. When he reached it, the front passenger window slowly lowered and Pine bent down to speak to whoever was waiting for him inside the car.

As Pine talked, he rolled his shoulders first to one side and then the other. That gave me a pretty decent view of his profile. On the second shoulder roll, I squeezed off two quick photos with my cell phone. Before Pine could straighten up and spot me, I slipped back through the doorway into the Wynn’s casino. I gave it a minute, maybe two, then I went back outside. Both Pine and the black BMW were gone. Had he gotten in and left in the BMW, or had he walked away after delivering whatever message he had for whoever was inside? I had no idea, but now I doubted even more that Harry Pine was just a construction management drone that had joined me in Starbucks entirely by coincidence.

But if he wasn’t, who the hell was he? And what did he want with me?

I glanced down at the phone in my hand and opened the camera roll. In the two pictures I had taken, Pine was pretty far away, but I fiddled with them for a bit, cropping and zooming, and before long I found myself looking at two reasonably recognizable pictures of Harry Pine in profile.

I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do with them, and I wasn’t sure why I had bothered to take them in the first place. But what could it hurt, huh?

TWELVE

ON THE WAY BACK
up to my suite, an unctuous, slightly chubby middle-aged European man wearing a black suit and a silver necktie intercepted me in the lobby. I instantly pegged him for either an undertaker or a hotel manager, so when he introduced himself as the MGM’s resident manager I had no trouble at all believing him.

He told me that while I had been out they had moved me into a new suite at Pansy Ho’s personal request, and he insisted on personally escorting me up to it. The new suite was much higher in the tower, quite a bit bigger, and considerably flashier. There was even a bar set up on a sideboard that included a couple of bottles of very respectable malt whiskey. I couldn’t help but be impressed by my own obvious importance.

I took a very long, very hot shower to wash off the sweat and grime I had accumulated while climbing around the pavilions of the Ah-Ma Temple. After I toweled off, I wrapped myself in one of the thick bathrobes the hotel had thoughtfully provided and opened my laptop to catch up with my email. I had been working for about an hour when the doorbell rang. It was a bellboy with two thick envelopes, each of which had my name neatly printed on the front. I took the envelopes over to the desk and settled down to see what the Tooth Fairy had brought me.

When I opened the first of the envelopes, I found it contained a stack of printed cash management reports and a single thumb drive. I tore open the other and discovered the currency inventory reports and another thumb drive. I plugged the two drives into a USB port on my laptop one after another and checked their indexes. They were electronic versions of the same reports I had stacked up in front of me in hard copy.

I picked up the pile of cash management reports, swung my feet onto the desk, and started reading.

BY EIGHT O’CLOCK THAT
night, I had it figured out.

I poured myself a whiskey from the bar. Then I stretched out on the couch, sipped at it, and let my eyes wander over the stacks of cash management and currency inventory reports I had spread around on the floor. I had been matching them up this way and that, looking for a pattern of unexplained transactions, and I had found one.

Pete’s information had been pretty much on the nose. A stream of money from a single source was quite certainly moving through the MGM. I couldn’t yet see the stream’s origins, of course, but finding them was like tracking the source of a river. First you had to find the river. After that, you rowed upstream until you discovered where it started. At least now I had found the river.

Every second or third day, the MGM cash reports showed a spike of about two hundred thousand dollars above normalized operations. Multiplied by the four casinos that Pete said were involved, that added up roughly to the ten million or so he said was being moved every month.

It was all as regular as clockwork, at least it was once you saw the pattern. One day on and either one or two days off. Normalized operations today, normalized operations plus two hundred thousand dollars tomorrow or the next day. That part had been easy enough to work out, but it didn’t really tell me all that much. It was the currency reports that had started me upstream toward the source of the river. At first I hadn’t seen it, but then I did.

All of the excess cash flow was accounted for by spikes in only two currencies, and in only two denominations of those two currencies. Although the exact amounts varied slightly from day to day, on average about half the excess cash was in US dollars and half in euros. The US currency was always the $50 bill, and the euro was always the €100 note. Both were green banknotes, although off-hand I couldn’t see what the similarity in color had to do with anything. Maybe that part was a coincidence. The rest surely wasn’t.

What really mattered was that both the $50 bill and the €100 note were large bills, but not too large. Certainly not so large as to attract excessive attention. If the spikes had been in $100 bills or €500 notes, somebody would probably have picked it up by now, but the $50 bills and €100 notes were a touch under the radar. Exactly where you want to be when you’re moving money.

It worked out to about fifteen hundred $50 bills and something under seven hundred €100 notes being moved through the MGM every few days. Now it was obvious that nobody was wheeling a handcart into the MGM stacked with that much currency, so how was it getting into the casino?

I had no doubt about it. MGM was being smurfed. There wasn’t any other explanation.

SMURFS ARE CARTOON CHARACTERS,
little blue people who live in mushrooms and build villages that eventually become whole societies. There are a huge number of them and they all look nearly the same, but each one is slightly different, too, and they all work together with a sort of harmony seldom seen in real life.

The term ‘smurfing’ has come to mean breaking a large task into many tiny pieces and having separate people each perform a small part of the overall task. When applied to money laundering, smurfing meant a great many people each moving a little bit of money and thereby rendering each individual transaction small enough to go unnoticed.

In the case of the excess currency turning up at the MGM, on any one day it would take twenty separate transactions of about four thousand dollars each and twenty more transactions of three thousand euros each to bring a total of about two hundred thousand dollars into the casino. There were a lot of different cashiers at the MGM, and casinos are twenty-four hour businesses, so my guess was no more than a dozen separate smurfs coming in and out through the day was all that were needed to pull off those forty or so transactions. Maybe not even that many. Each smurf would exchange a stack of currency for chips at one cashier, spend a few minutes gambling a little, and take the chips to another cashier and cash them in, probably getting Hong Kong dollars, which was the primary currency used in Macau’s casinos.

Smurfing worked pretty well for money launderers, but it was a pain in the ass to run. It’s difficult to organize all those people. Particularly if you have to keep the whole machine going over a long enough period of time to deal with a lot of money. It takes a lot of manpower to pull it off, and an organization behind that manpower that is tough and scary enough to keep it under control.

And that was what bothered me.

There was only one obvious possibility in Macau for an organization that could control so much manpower without it getting out of hand and handle so much cash without a lot of it sticking to other people’s fingers.

The triads.

I didn’t care what Pete thought about the amounts involved here being out of the triads’ league, there wasn’t anybody else in Macau who had the resources to pull off something like this. The MGM was dealing with triad money whether Pete wanted to believe it or not. Had to be.

Poor Pansy. Her enemies were going to beat her to death with this when it got out.

THE NEXT MORNING I
was waiting in Brady’s office when he came in. I kept the details to a minimum when I told him what I needed, but it was my guess that Brady could read between the lines with the best of them and didn’t have much trouble figuring it out.

I said only that an excessive number of $50 bills and €100 notes were coming into the casino, and I asked Brady to arrange to collect security camera pictures of everyone who used more than twenty bills of either denomination to buy casino chips anytime within the next week. I was guessing that a week’s worth of pictures would collate into not many more than a dozen different faces, and then I would know for certain that MGM was being smurfed.

BOOK: THE KING OF MACAU (The Jack Shepherd International Crime Novels)
5.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

A Simple Case of Angels by Caroline Adderson
Stonehenge by Rosemary Hill
Talk Turkey by Bru Baker
Summer Storm by Joan Wolf
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
Come Into The Light by O'Rourke, Stephen
Blood Stained by CJ Lyons