[If you have not already done so, you must
read the Introduction
Revenge Should Have No Bounds 020
Chapter 8 (1 of 4): The Hero
It was thoroughly good to get back to my own apartment. The sweltering afternoon had left me drenched, and I felt dirty. I headed for the shower, where I scrubbed myself twice all over to wash off the distastefulness of my recent unpleasantness with Nathan Hoe.
After toweling and slipping into a light shift I notched up the A/C and got the CD player going with some Bobby Troupe. Jazz with class. With an ice-cold Lemon Pepsi in a tall glass of rattling ice cubes I flopped down in front of the computer and surfed to all corners of the world.
My idea of a great Saturday night.
I had one appointment scheduled for tomorrow morning at 11. At my favorite venue, the presidential suite of La Ville. And with one of my favorite clients, though he was an infrequent one. Agung. An obscenely wealthy Indonesian, he had heard about me from a close friend, Chick, who was a long-standing client of mine and a mathematician at the university, with a specialty in the arcane field of number theory and encryption algorithms. Agung, ever discreet and self-effacing, had actually asked Chick if he would feel me out regarding my willingness to meet his friend. Chick availed himself of the opportunity one rainy March day a few years back after we had finished up and were sitting around in his suite at The Griffin Group. We were snacking on cold La Bastide Chèvre coated in a crust of basil and chopped walnuts and washing it down with sweet Cinzano aperitifs in crushed ice.
Since Agung is going to figure in crucial ways in what happened to – and almost destroyed – me, I think it’s important that I recount what Chick told me about him. If you understand the kind of man he was you will understand why he eventually did what he did on my behalf. In my endless pursuit of Homeric homologies Agung indisputably came up as Odysseus: monster-slayer, crafty and resourceful improviser, comforting friend to friends and terrifying foe to foes; a traveler, a warrior, a lover, a hero.
“I wanted to ask you,” Chick had begun, loading up a cracker with the crunchy goat’s cheese, “about a friend of mine. I’ve told him about you, and he would like to meet you.”
I said nothing.
“I mean, that’s O.K., isn’t it?” He was a little embarrassed.
I put my hand on his arm and reassured him. “That’s fine,” I purred. “Tell me about your friend.”
“He’s from Indonesia, and he wants to be sure this would not be a problem for you.”
Chick’s friend should have seen some of the crud I’d had to deal with. They could have learned some basic notions of politeness from this Indonesian.
“No, of course not. Why should it?”
Chick shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. He’s a very a cautious kind of guy.”
“I wouldn’t hold that against him,” I laughed. “So go ahead, tell me about this friend of yours.”
“Well, he’s definitely sui generis.”
“Yes. Very much so.”
“I’m already intrigued. Go on. Talk. Tell.”
Chick sipped his Cinzano, put the glass on the table, and settled back in his chair.
“You understand,” he began, “that what I’m going to tell you is based largely on the account Agung gave me after the fact, and only in part on the basis of what I myself saw.”
“Agreed,” I said.
“Well, one day back in the mid-nineties I was surprised to get an e-mail from Agung, or, as I had come to think of him by then, the Sultan of Java. He was a brilliant oddball I had met a few years earlier in a chat room set up by some graduate students at M.I.T., where he himself had just finished a Ph.D. in physics. As you know, I had been finishing up my Ph.D. in mathematics at Harvard at the time. After a few months of hanging out on the internet, when spring finally broke some of us would get together Thursday afternoons for a few hours of informal soccer along the Charles River, and that’s how I met him in person.
“We would all hit a well-known bar in Harvard Square after our soccer, and although he was a Muslim and did not drink alcohol, he would join us and down caffeine-free diet cokes. He and I hit it off from the start, since we both shared an interest in, among other things, so-called non-linear systems. We had a common dream of being able to model such phenomena mathematically.”
“Is it fair to ask what a non-linear system is?” I interjected. I’d come across the term in the course of my own studies but I needed a refresher.
“Sure. Briefly, a non-linear system is a set of phenomena whose outcomes are, supposedly, explicable after the fact but, definitely, not before – two classical examples are weather and the price movements of stocks and commodities. O.K.?”
“Agung was an unusually attractive young man. God knows I am not gay, but nor am I blind: Agung was almost beautiful. He had exquisite café-au-lait skin, jet-black hair, very long eye-lashes, and he was tall and muscularly lean. He had taken his undergraduate degree at Jesus College in Oxford and spoke a clipped Oxbridge English in his deep, rich voice. He came from one of the oldest and largest families in Java, and their personal history went back about half a millennium before the Dutch colonized the islands. They survived that, they survived the oil-thirsty rapacity of Hirohito’s brutal war machine during World War II, and they survived the revolutionary chaos of the post-war decades. Under the dazzling corruption of Suharto’s regime the family had multiplied its already considerable wealth many times over and become super-rich. But it was my friend, the Sultan of Java, who increased the family’s wealth by truly astonishing proportions, orders of magnitude, if you will: first, his interest in non-linear systems had led him to write a complex currency trading program, and he had anticipated almost to the day the implosion of the Suharto regime in May of 1998 and the consequent disastrous collapse of the Indonesian rupiah. Being correct on the London Exchange about currency those crucial spring months in the year of living dangerously 1998 had made him — and his family — US dollar billionaires. Yes, that’s right, billionaires – several times over. And it had all been entirely legal.
“But you’d never know about his wealth from being around him. He was really quite unassuming, and though he dressed with a sophistication and elegance that his physique and pocket-book enabled him to push almost but not quite to foppishness, he very much wanted to be and indeed was ‘one of the guys.’ But even in the company of admittedly very bright people he stood out as something of an intellectual phenomenon in his own right. He had an uncanny nimbleness of mind and, I suspect, a completely photographic memory. In addition to fluency in English and Bahasa Indonesia, he was fully at ease in Dutch, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Malay, Japanese and several other Indonesian dialects besides Javanese — and when I first met him he was meeting regularly with a fellow physics student from Beijing who was teaching him Chinese. It was actually unnerving to watch him do a Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle in about twelve minutes!”
Chick shook his head in wonderment.
“Of course he was not a Sultan of Java or anything else, but it was a sobriquet I privately attached to him the first time we met: there was something so regal about him, both physically and intellectually. And when I told him many months later of this nickname he smiled softly and nodded his head in amused acquiescence. But he said I could call him Agung.
“In any event, most of us had sort of lost touch after we all left Cambridge, but the Sultan of Java and I had, in spite of his travels all over the world looking out for the family’s wide-spread interests in every imaginable enterprise, kept in fairly close contact over the years, and it was he who now had e-mailed me — from Palawan, a large island in the archipelago that is the southwestern Philippines. He had given me rather mysterious instructions to call him two weeks after receipt of the e-mail at a certain number in Puerto Princesa at six o’clock in the morning my time, as there was something he wanted me to help him with. I was as surprised to receive his message as I was intrigued to learn what it was all about.
“Two weeks later I did as he had requested.”
My friend stopped to take another bite and a little more Cinzano. Brushing a few crumbs from his lap, he continued.
TO BE CONTINUED