By "Emily Adjarian"
Author's note: This serial is a work of fiction. The people and events described in it spring directly from the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actually existing people and events is entirely coincidental.
Friday 19th January 2024 — Davos
IN THIS EPISODE: The lockdown lifts | An exodus threatens| The Doc fights back | A Kevlar moment | The Founding Fathers intervene | A sensational arrest | A peculiar proposition | Olena in the dock | Waiting for Zelenskyy
EVEN IN A REGULAR year, the final day of an annual meeting of The Circle never entirely escaped what Philip Middlewait called a "dying fall". If the previous days had been energetic and intense, then by Friday people were tired. If not, they were fidgety.
The Doc was good at reading the mood. When people were tired he gave them a piano Friday, letting each speaker run on for a few extra minutes so that there was less pressure for Q&A. If people were reporting a deficit of magic moments, then The Doc would cook up some forte fireworks for his closing remarks, like inviting Chris Rock and Will Smith to join him on stage, knowing that the last moments of any event were the moments that stuck in people's memories.
This was not a regular year, of course, and until Thursday afternoon the odds had been against any Friday session at all. Only at 3pm on Thursday, after the lockdown was lifted, did the police tell The Doc that, as far as they were concerned, he was welcome to resume his programme. They did not expect further incidents, and, in any case, they would rather have his surviving guests inside the Congress Centre than outside it.
The Doc had remarkable powers of recovery, and an experienced actor's capacity to put on a consistent performance whatever his inner state.
He almost cracked on Thursday, but only after a sleepless night spent in the company of Swiss army psyops experts who were tutoring him on crowd-control, just in case things got nasty inside the Congress Centre. He wished he had invited the psyops experts to share their insights with him much earlier and in less fraught circumstances. He had learned useful things about facial expressions and the framing of expectations, not to mention ingenious uses for public address systems, bright lights and water-jets, things that were new to him even after fifty years at the lectern.
When the all-clear came, The Doc called an all-hands meeting in the underground staff conference hall. They would resume the programme for Friday, he said. They would move into Friday's programme at least some of the sessions which had been cancelled on Thursday. It would be the job of each session-runner, usually an Aspiring Leader, to pick substitutes for speakers and panelists who had left Davos prematurely.
The Doc ran briskly though Thursday's aborted timeline, prioritising the sessions which could be moved to Friday.
Grassroots Geopolitics In A Rewilding World was a must for Friday. Marjorie Taylor Green had gone, but Taylor Swift would surely step up.
Fintech For Fine Art had attracted more sign-ups than any other Thursday-afternoon session. If they lost Rybolovlev then they should get Bouvier. The Doc was on the point of saying "send a helicopter for him" before checking himself.
Closet Primacy: The Challenge Of Paleo Clothing was another session to be rescheduled if at all possible. Most of the nano-fashion and bio-fashion people had rented space on the Promenade and would stay until the weekend.
As for Friday's existing programme, the forum on Effective Altruism In Crypto could be dropped. Sign-ups had been trivial, they were a year too late.
Kwasi Kwarteng had gone back to London, so they could safely cut his session on Breaking The Fiscal Mould: The UK Experience.
How Big Banks Save Lives would have to go, despite the high sign-up rate, since the main speaker was now in a morgue.
"I will give my closing remarks at noon as usual", continued The Doc. "My title will be Disclusion And Regagement. Trademark both words please. I will pay tribute briefly to all who have distinguished themselves in this difficult week. Leiden macht stärker.
"We are in touch with President Zelenskyy. The invitation remains in place. We do not expect a decision until the morning, but if he arrives, I will introduce him in the course of my closing remarks, and invite him to address the room for a reasonable length of time before we pack up. Prepare some holding slides for his presentation, starting with a title slide. I propose: From Ukraine To Newkraine"
An unidentified voice from the room interrupted: "Sounds too much like nuke, Herr Doktor. And besides, they plan to stay as Ukraine".
The Doc: "What do you suggest?"
The Voice: "Ukraine At The Crossroads"
The Doc: "Horrible. Fine. Go with that. And prepare a slide with three bullet-points. He will probably be winging it in any case. Here are the concepts:
(i) European destiny of Ukraine
(ii) Front line of democracy
(iii) Munich — Budapest — Kyiv?
The Voice: "Will they get that last bullet, er, bullet-point? Won't they think Hitler for Munich and Orban for Budapest and wonder what he's getting at?"
The Doc (resignedly): "OK. Change it to 'One more year'. He can decide what point he is making. All badge-facing staff please take into account that tomorrow's programme may not finish until 2.30pm, not at 1pm as previously scheduled."
As soon as people had learned on the Thursday that the lockdown was over, an exodus threatened. People wanted out just in case the lockdown came back, or somebody else got killed, and in any case it was not until four o'clock on Thursday afternoon that The Doc's message got around saying that Friday's sessions were on.
Those who were not vacating the valley at once included senior executives of companies that had committed significant parts of their European marketing budgets to what were now graffiti-strafed shopfronts on a deserted street, and who were sitting with their PR people seeking ways of sharing this recent lived experience as an empathic narrative arc.
The Sikorsky people decided: Can't really get there from here, even though it hadn't been one of their helicopters.
The American bank which had lost its CEO debated whether to turn its Promenade shopfront into a memorial shrine, then decided that a storytelling strategy would make the healing process more inclusive. Passers-by would be invited to step in and talk on camera with Teller, the bank's new chatbot, about things that made them feel safe — locked doors, money in the bank, teddy bears, mobile phones, policemen, guns, and so on — and the bank would select clips for sharing on TikTok under the tagline Your Current Account.
One of the fast-fashion companies ordered up two thousand T-shirts reading I Survived The Circle from a factory near Zurich, then thought better of it, brainstormed a second time, and decided to offer fitted Kevlar tees which could be sized and ordered on the Promenade then despatched from Japan to any address worldwide within 24 hours.
Geico did nothing special. It soaked the protesters' posters off its windows, cleaned up its slice of pavement, made sure that its life insurance leaflets were visible from the street, and waited for a bump in business.
There was definite attrition in the quantity and quality of those still in Davos by the time Friday morning came. Decisions to leave correlated both with how many times people had been to The Circle already (first-timers were much more likely to stay); and how insensitive they were to the cost of travel. The Belvedere brought in two off-duty receptionists as acting concierges to cope with the demand for urgent travel bookings, and provided a desk and chair for a NetJets rep who was a fixture of the (deep-cleaned) lobby that day.
By 8.45am on Friday there was not exactly a crowd in the Congress Centre, but there were more than enough people to make things look viable. Those who had stayed were calling themselves "remainers", and often seemed aggrieved with those who had left.
The public areas through which one passed when entering or leaving the Congress Centre, usually alive with buttonholing journalists and other accredited gawpers (was that George Clooney?), were all but empty save for a few White Badge holders who, on closer inspection, had been handed their White Badges by their departing bosses, and were hesitating over whether the badges would work for them too. A happy surprise awaited them. The Doc had ordered, sub rosa, that on this day anybody could go anywhere so long as they had entry-level accreditation. The thing was to fill the rooms.
In the café corners it was a different story – the conversation here was buzzier and busier than on a usual meeting day.
If Sandra had been running one of her word clouds in the Mandela Lounge (previously the Hayek Bar) that morning, the words emerging in the largest point-sizes would have been an alphabet soup: "CIA", "FBI", "FSB", "GRU".
MI6 might possibly have been up there too, but was handicapped by name-space issues. Some people said "SIS", others said "MI6", a knowing few said "Six", while most people just said "the British".
After the acronyms, whole words followed: "Mossad", "Trump", "Zelenskyy", "Russia", "Ukraine".
Then in smaller type: "unbelievable", "never again".
Absolutely no-one said: "I read on X ..."
Sandra Smiley had a name for the effect of word clouds: She called it "enhanced confusion". She saw it as a conversation partner in its own right. When the first big words started dominating the screen, people were primed by what they saw there, and asked more questions involving those words. People who wanted to raise quite different points grew disheartened and gave up. The big words always won.
Olena was sipping a Klosters Karbonated (Just Joking!™) Kinwa Kooler in the open-plan Turkmenbashi Tusovka on the mezzanine, and remembering the story about when the Turkmen ambassador offered an incredible sum to have every single room in the Congress Centre renamed The Turkmenbashi Room (The Circle had to turn that one down on logistical grounds), when she spotted Karl Manhof across the concourse by the entrance of the Seehorn room.
Karl was talking on his handy, and something in his body-language made her feel he was not his usual self, which was to say that he was neither preening before an imaginary mirror nor wearing the smile of a man who had unexpectedly won a sum of money at cards. He was, she thought, nervous, though since Karl was never knowingly nervous it was hard to benchmark this intution. He saw her and ended his call. She put her Kooler on the table and walked over to him.
"Hi Karl, how are you doing?", she asked, but she didn't wait to hear the answer. Karl was a quantum being: By observing him you produced his behaviour. His smile had returned and she didn't trust it.
"I’m quite tempted by the session on Trump", she continued. "The one called Are American Presidents Randomised Variables? The speakers' part has been cut back to 45 minutes because Anthony Weiner has pulled out, and I never stay for Q&A. Why don't you join me?"
"OK, why not", said Karl. His mind was visibly somewhere else for an instant. Then he flooded her with attention and noticed the pin she was wearing: "Very pretty — and very patriotic", he said. The turquoise and gold in the brooch echoed the colours of the Ukrainian flag. It stood out against the black of Olena's cashmere roll-neck. "I didn’t have you down as jewellery sort of girl", he said. An angel passed while that faux-pas hung in the air. Then he said: "I meant, I haven't seen it before."
"It’s not every day that I prepare to meet my president, though it does happen quite often, I admit. Still, no harm in a subtle show of solidarity on foreign soil."
They sat next to each other at the back of the room. The session was what The Circle called "two-bod-plus-mod", rather than "three-bod-plus-mod" as originally planned. Both bodies were American and male, an academic and a hedge-fund-guy.
The hedge-fund-guy had arrived expecting to talk about how actual random variables worked, how politics could be captured algebraically, and how AI now did just that. The session runner begged him to lean more on the human side of politics, in view of Weiner's absence, so he was scribbling fresh notes.
The academic, meanwhile, was arguing that the 2024 election would be a turning-point in American history, much more so than 2016. In 2016 people expected that Trump would raise his game once in office much as Ronald Reagan had done in the 1980s, or would be contained and operated by his staff. Now it was clear that Trump was half-deranged, uncontrollable, and wholly malign. This was no longer a case of asymmetric information.
The speaker approached the end of his prepared remarks:
"Is Trump a fascist? It depends on the context, as my esteemed colleague Claudine Gay so rightly said in another context. In the context of American democracy, yes he is a fascist.
"There has always been a space in American politics which is roughly fascist-shaped, but it does not usually get filled effectively. Trump fills it more perfectly than any previous president has ever filled any space.
"Trump has been impeached twice. He is standing trial or will stand trial on more than one hundred civil and criminal charges. He promises that if he is elected he will use his office to punish his political opponents. Is this governance within the bounds of democracy as we know it? No it is not. It is an overturning of democracy. For which there are precedents, and by no means encouraging ones."
Now it was the hedge-fund-guy's turn.
"It is the democracy we have got", he began, scarcely missing a beat, "and the only democracy we have got.
"The Founding Fathers gave us our constitution, and our constitution has been a beacon and a guardian to America and the world for more than two hundred years. We do not tear up this constitution and start over when the constitution delivers a result of which we disapprove. Donald Trump is democracy, if and when he wins. Democracy means celebrating the sovereignty of the voting machine, and accepting defeat when the machine so decides, as Donald Trump did in 2020".
The academic was on the point of interrupting here on a point of fact, and a buzz went around the room, but the hedge-fund-guy ploughed on.
"We have government by institutions in America, not by individuals. Every president we elect is a message to those institutions — which, by the way, we do not elect — about what the people of America, ordinary people like me, and other people, are thinking and feeling and losing patience with. A message to the Supreme Court, to the SEC, to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the Federal Reserve Board. And if you do not happen to think that a strong message needs to be sent by America and to America just now, my Harvard friend, you are not getting out of your ivory tower often enough."
This was strong stuff by Circle standards. The room applauded. So did Olena, despite herself.
The moderator, an ageless political journalist, was also American and also male. He pitched a question to the hedge-fund-guy: Was he aware of the statement made the previous week by Dan Murphy, the big-bank CEO who had been gunned down in Davos this week?
Murphy had been asked at a conference in New York what a Trump victory would mean for the American economy and financial markets.
"His response was this", said the moderator, putting on his glasses and opening his notebook. “A Trump presidency would be destructive and ultimately disastrous, not only for the US but also for the rest of the world, because it would undermine the rule of law, which is the indispensable foundation of our capitalist system. It is the duty of every law-abiding capitalist in America to do everything they can to prevent a Trump victory.”
The moderator closed his notebook, looked out at the room, and then turned back to the speaker: "Do you agree?"
"No, I don’t. And let me tell you that most investors and bankers in America did not agree with Dan either. God rest Dan's soul, but the man liked a microphone. If you had said to Dan some other time, 'Will you support a coup d'état against an elected American president?', he would surely have said 'No'. Which is what we are talking about here, bar the timing. I can tell you that Dan's bonuses through the last Trump presidency totalled more than one hunded million dollars. I guess the capitalist system was working pretty well even then."
You could almost hear the pennies dropping around the room. Some in the audience knew that Dan was a bundler for the Democrats, as were many people on Wall Street, but few realised quite how strongly he felt about Trump, nor that he had started to go public. A young woman from the audience stood up and said out loud what all of them were thinking:
"After what we just heard, I have to ask. We have just had twin shootings here in Davos, of a Democratic Senator and of an anti-Trump senior banker. Do these shootings have a partisan political subtext? Did somebody shoot on Trump's behalf, as it were? I do not mean that Trump was personally involved, of course. What do the panelists think?"
"Now that’s a question. This really is the most interesting Circle in years", said the moderator with a wry smile. "Who would like to take this question?"
The moderator's money was on the academic to say that Trump was openly inciting crazy people to do crazy things and so Trump's moral responsibility for the killings was as clear as if he had pulled the trigger himself. The academic started to say exactly that, when a disturbance in the room caught his attention.
Eight men, five in civilian clothes and three in the uniform of the Graubünden cantonal police, had walked briskly and silently from a nearby door towards two men seated in the first row. They stood in front of the men, whispered something to them, then escorted them out of the room. The last of the escorts paused by the door and requested a microphone from a meeting monitor. "Ladies and gentlemen. We apologise for the interruption. Entirely routine. I wish you an excellent session". He handed back the microphone and left.
The moderator resumed moderating as though nothing had happened, which it barely had done by that week's exacting standards.
The hedge-fund-guy seized his chance to refer to the Swiss police as "the sort of democracy that they have in other countries".
The academic said he was "glad to see the rule of law in action".
The moderator declared the session closed one minute before deadline, and only then did the audience, particularly those who had been sitting at the front, have a chance to talk about it, a chance which they fell upon hungrily.
Who had been arrested? Some had seen their badges and even spoken to them. One was from Ukraine, the other from Slovakia. Or perhaps Slovenia. They were both businessmen. Both were quite well-known in their home countries, apparently.
Googling filled out some background. They were "billionaires" and "oligarchs", as was any business-person from eastern Europe when you looked them up on a mobile phone. Both were more like sixty-something than thirty-something, suggesting that they had made their fortunes in the bargain-basement privatisations after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union.
There was a sort reputational amnesty awarded by The Circle for fortunes acquired in post-communist economies by any means before 2000. Mikhail Khodorkovsky achieved that when he came to The Circle in 2001 and pointed out that Professor Andrei Shleifer had been sent from Harvard to Russia in the early 1990s to teach Russians the power of the Coase Theorem, so why was anybody surprised to see the Coase Theorem put into action? The Russian state sold its assets for one cent on the dollar, then the assets found their optimal owners by Darwinian selection. In the case of the assets which became Yukos, for example, the fittest owner turned out to be Khodorkovsky himself (though it later proved that there was some disagreement on this point).
If you had old money by post-communist standards and if you applied for Upper Circle or Grand Circle membership of The Circle, then probably you were in. But when Philip became The Doc's chief of staff he insisted that all bodyguards must surrender their guns when entering the Congress Centre, even if the bodyguards had White Badges of their own, which meant a lively metallic clattering at the reception desk throughout the day as safety catches were engaged, bullets were removed, and handguns, always quite impressive ones, were surrendered.
"What did you make of that?", Karl asked Olena as they made their way out of the room.
"The police, you mean? Certainly not a routine happening in my experience."
"The Ukrainian oligarch — is he a friend of yours?"
"One has to deal with all sorts of people. A friend, no. I know him by sight. I have seen in him the offices of the administration. He has clout. Zelenskyy supported a law requiring oligarchs to disclose their assets and stop funding political parties. It was assumed that this man was one of the people at whom the law was primarily aimed, and that he would have to lose influence or go to jail. But here he is. Perhaps there are certain people, even now, to whom certain laws do not apply."
"Call me an idealist", said Karl, implausibly, "and tell me that my standards are too high. But you only have to have be a box-checking bureaucrat, which they generally are in Brussels, to see a problem here. You are asking Western countries to fund your reconstruction, while acknowledging, even privately, that once the money gets to Ukraine it may well disappear into an oligarch's pocket."
This particular line of argument infuriated Olena. If you imagined a spectrum of business ethics with, say, Noma at one end and a skid-row bar in Myanmar at the other, then Ukraine was unfortunately not at the Noma end of the scale. But Ukraine could only ever hope to domesticate its predators as a result of engagement with Europe, not as a precondition for it. You could not, in fact, pull yourself up by your own bootlaces. There were people rolling around Kyiv in wheelchairs because they had wanted to award a tender according to law. Norms mattered even more than laws. Bring Ukraine into Europe and Ukraine would become more like Europe. Parts of Europe, anyway.
But that was not the narrative that Zelenskyy's people encouraged, and in tactical terms they were right. Once you were safely inside the EU, you could blame pre-existing conditions on the EU, which was what the EU was for, in a way. So Olena changed tack: "Anyway, we don't even know they have been arrested. They might have been taken away for their own protection. I’m sure the real reason will come to light soon."
Olena was still thinking about Mark Massover, the man who had collapsed in front of her. She pointed Karl towards a sofa in an alcove. They sat down and she asked him point-blank:
"What happened with Mark Massover, the head of Carbon Markets Integrity? I thought you might have an idea".
He stiffened. Almost, but not quite, imperceptibly.
"Not somebody I know well, if at all, though the name rings a bell."
"He was poisoned, and died yesterday from a concussion he sustained when he fell over. I'm surprised you didn't know. It was on the news".
"Missed it, then."
"And nobody mentioned it to you in conversation?"
"Olenka, I missed something, my bad. I've had my head down in papers, I've been on calls to my office, I've been preoccupied with Ukraine, and I've been in your company more than anybody else's. I hate to say 'One more dead person', but it does start to feel that way. Where are we going with this?"
"I’m not sure, Karl. I was right there at yet another bad thing, and you know what they say: A worry shared is a worry halved. Or maybe they say something different in German."
"One thing they say in Germany is: If your neighbour dies, then use another well. Though I am not sure exactly how that applies in this case."
She was silent for a moment, then returned to business.
"You and I have had some useful meetings despite everything. I do have a couple of presentable letters if Zelenskyy shows up — thank you for that suggestion — and I hope he will understand that I did my best in difficult circumstances. That is a concept with which he is familiar. But you and I can at least remove the square brackets from our own discussions. You said on the train on Saturday that you wanted a mechanism in place to certify carbon offsets in Ukraine, apparently under your control. Is that in fact the case? And what is the price of not doing that?"
"I wasn’t categoric. I didn't say dealbreaker. But I think you are far more likely to get the coalitions you need, if you allow the people in those coalitions to enjoy the present value of the future gains they are creating. Structure a derivative, if you prefer, which will be market-tradeable when the offset gain is realised, but which can be pledged as collateral before then. Delivery risk will end up deep in some random bank's balance sheet."
He stopped for a second, wondering if he could be overheard by the couple standing down the hallway, decided not, and carried on.
"I understand your worry about bogus credits, blowback, conflicts of interest, fraud, all of that. I agree that existing carbon credit markets are often grossly manipulated and don't get me started on net-zero claims. Welcome to the green world.
"All I am trying to say is that you have the means at your disposal to self-finance a significant part of your own reconstruction programme. You will be cutting Ukraine's carbon-dioxide emissions by half, decade on decade. That unlocks billions of euros' worth of carbon credits — two billion euros at current prices over ten years, and those prices are going to go up maybe tenfold if governments get serious. And, by the way, if you propose to tell your investors that Ukraine will remain too chaotic and corrupt for the foreseeable future to anchor a relatively small financial market, that will not be a good footnote for your prospectus."
"As opposed to a footnote", Olena shot back, "saying that one stakeholder will be financing some projects on normal commercial terms while simultaneously writing themselves carbon credits based on their own evaluations of their own projects in ten years' time? I am not sure that conflict of interest is quite the right term here, since all of the interests will be your own. Triple dipping?"
"It depends how you look at it. We can put in a Chinese wall. Or have the credit certification mechanism itself certified by the Swiss Accreditation System or an equivalent authority."
"So everything will be triple-A", said Olena, not unkindly, "just like mortgage-backed bonds in 2007."
"I tell you what, Karl", she continued. "How about this: Reconstruct Ukraine pledges itself to the creation of a carbon credit mechanism and a regulated carbon market in Ukraine within ten years. You set up a company which offers to buy long-term call options written by contractors and anybody else on the credits to which you think they will have title when the mechanism and the market are ready. You securitise your option pool and we take the view that we have nothing to do with it."
Olena enjoyed Karl's discomfiture and moved on.
"By the way, we never got a chance to discuss the governance of this new dedicated fund you say you plan to create to hold your portion of the Ukraine programme."
"Good point. Let me lay any concerns to rest. My idea is to create a foundation."
"A nice cuddly not-for-profit, you mean? Or a numbered proxy-run stiftung in Liechstenstein?"
"A not-for-profit. Location to be decided, but EEA or EFTA. We put a ten-year lock-up on capital that goes in, starting with my own. When we start generating returns, the board of the foundation will ensure that profits are directed to funding additional projects within Ukraine. The first of those projects, to close the circle, could be an independent authority charged with certifying carbon credits and making a market in them."
"But you would own this independent authority?"
"The board of the foundation will be sovereign and can choose to appoint independent directors for the new authority."
"So who do you put on your foundation board?"
"I have several names in mind. I am sorry to say, Olena, that with three or four hundred million euros of my own money probably at risk by this point, I will be the chairman. But you will allow me that weakness.
"All other things being equal I would insist that a seat was offered to you. There is a German professor emeritus for whom I have the utmost respect, and whose name you will certainly know, who would be a valuable addition. I am evaluating a member of The Circle's managing board, and I will ask your advice if we come close to appointing this person. And there should be somebody to make the board-meetings amusing – Andrey Kurkov perhaps."
Karl was running the conversation again, without having given any real ground on the carbon credits. In fact he had gained ground by exposing her willingness to talk modalities. All of his spiel about the foundation board was a wrap-around for the offer of a board seat to her, and by not saying No at once she had created her own conflict of interest. And he had dodged her questions about Massover. All of this while she thought she was doing well. Time for a time-out.
"Karl, Thank you. A productive conversation. I want a bathroom and then some fresh air."
She was on standby now for Zelenskyy. Zelenskyy's people would know of the intention to make time for her, but they might not have told The Circle — if Zelenskyy was even on his way.
She pushed open one of the heavy doors and walked out of the Congress Centre in the direction of the Promenade, turning the conversation with Karl over in her mind. He was good value, she had to admit. But if she imagined a prosecuting counsel examining her in court, with a transcript of that conversation in hand, how would the examination go?
"The proposal was to create a foundation, a non-profit?"
"But apparently there would be profits, and these would be reinvested in Ukraine?"
"All of them?"
— Not sure of that.
"And the status of these reinvested profits. Would they be invested in non-profits in Ukraine?"
— Not sure of that either, now you ask.
"And the board of this foundation, under the chairmanship of Mr Manhof himself, would consist of a retired German economics professor and a Venezuelan former deputy foreign minister, neither of whom spoke a word of Ukrainian or had prior experience in any financial institution?
— I suppose so. And me.
"And you, Ms Kostarenko. You, who agreed the terms on which Mr Manhof would make his investments, who shared with him your very considerable knowledge of the bidding process which was in large part of your own design, and who agreed to the creation of a carbon-credit market in Ukraine despite your own well- documented doubts, a market which would in its early stages be dominated by your own foundation".
— I hadn't really thought it through.
"Which is why, Ms Kostarenko, you are now standing trial for accepting a bribe in kind and for conspiring to defraud the European Union and your own investment partners".
Whoa. Put like that, she did not look good. She pulled her fur hat down and her jacket collar up against the falling snow, made sure that her phone was set to maximum ring-volume, and increased her pace.
It wasn't that Karl was necessarily a crook. But he took advantage of people, he couldn't help himself, that was his nature. It was the job of other people to push back.
She remembered the pin that Philip had given her. It was transmitting to someone who was presumably relaying the action to Philip. She opened the top button of her jacket and pretended to be speaking into her mobile phone while directing her voice down towards the pin. "Philip", she said, "reel me in. I have done what you asked. I may be called in to see Zelenskyy in an hour or two but I am not going to bug my own president on your behalf. If you want any more out of me you will have to explain yourself, and I doubt I will want to do it even then".
The phone into which she had been pretending to talk suddenly buzzed into life. A call from an +881 country code. But not a country. An Iridium satellite phone. Zelenskyy's entourage. She took the call.
To be continued, but not tomorrow ...
A note from "Emily Adjarian":
This feels like the right time for a break in the story, don't you think, at least for the weekend?
You have probably worked out by now how and why most of what has happened has happened (as fiction, I mean). You will have a view on Philip's comings and goings, whether Karl is on the level, whether The Doc is really back in the saddle, and so on.
But question marks still hang over the arrest of those two people in the Congress Centre just now; and why the helicopter crashed; and whether Olena is, in fact, telling us her whole truth and nothing but. After all, she is still hiding one or two things from the police; she does some odd things at times; and there are such things as unreliable narrators.
I will return on 23rd January, to recount how the loose ends which perplex us have been tied up by Philip, or perhaps by somebody else in his line of work — EA