1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 27
“Well, the problem is that we can’t foreclose on it.” Dori Ann Grooms hesitated and Vladimir saw the blush rise. “I’m sorry. That really wasn’t the best way to put it, Herr Gorchakov. What I mean was that your collateral is simply too far away for the Bank of Grantville to accept it as surety for a loan. It’s not like it was in the old . . . ah, new . . . back up-time. And even then there would have been issues with using property in a different country.”
Vladimir nodded. He’d thought that might be the answer, but it had been worth a try. He needed more money, cash on hand. Most of his family’s wealth was tied up in land. Much of the rest was tied up in the Dacha research center. “Do you have any suggestions, then?”
Dori Ann shook her head. “Edgar said you might have better luck with the Abrabanel Bank. Seems like they’ve got agents everywhere.”
The young man ushered Vladimir into Uriel Abrabanel’s office in the Bank of Badenburg, closed the door and left. Uriel was behind the desk, while Don Francisco Nasi sat in a corner and grinned.
“Ah . . .” Vladimir was clearly unprepared to discover that Don Francisco would be sitting in on his conference with the president and primary owner of the first down-time bank to become a member of the New US Federal Reserve System.
Don Francisco waved reassurance. “I’m not here to interfere in your business with Cousin Uriel, Prince Vladimir.” He smiled at the look on Vladimir’s face.
“You do understand that I will not . . .”
“Betray your people? Please. Do I look like John George of Saxony?” Francisco waved away the whole idea. “All that is going on here is that when I learned of your appointment with Uriel, I decided to take the opportunity for a semi-private meeting. But I am more than willing to wait my turn. Please go on with your banking.”
Then for a while Francisco mostly watched as Vladimir and Uriel discussed banking matters. He did put in a comment here and there. “Vladimir’s Dacha has already produced half a dozen products that are being licensed to various groups in Russia. Are you sure, cousin, that speculative venture is the right description?” That got Francisco a dirty look from his elder cousin. And a curious one from Vladimir.
Then, some time later, Francisco said, “Paper rubles with the printing in the hands of the Boyar Duma? No disrespect intended, Vladimir, but the czar’s cabinet isn’t exactly known for its restraint.”
“A lot of that was simply not being aware of the consequences. Printing gobs of money would not benefit the great houses,” Vladimir said.
“If they realize that and if they care,” Uriel said. “Printing gobs of money, as you put it, may not be good for the economy but in the short run it can be very good for the printers. Even if they show restraint, determining the amount of money needed to run the economy without causing hyper-inflation is no easy task. Not even with computers. I can’t avoid the conclusion that accepting payment in the czar’s paper would be a speculative investment. I really have to insist on New US dollars.”
So it went for about two hours. Francisco mostly watched the exchange, and kept Uriel from skinning the Russian prince too badly. Vladimir wasn’t as good at this as he apparently thought he was. But, finally, agreement was reached and Vladimir was provided with a letter of credit.
At which point, by prior arrangement, Uriel excused himself and it was Francisco’s turn.
“The reason I invited myself to your meeting was that I wanted to talk to you about where you think the alliance between Sweden and Russia is headed. Also what role you see the New US playing in those relations.”
At first Vladimir demurred, pointing out that mostly his mission had to do with information that was mostly free for the asking, from the National Library and the Research Center.
Nasi grinned. “That is true enough, but incomplete. Yes, your shop is getting most of its information from legal sources, but you are also involved in what the up-timers call ‘industrial espionage.’ For instance, the sewing machine that went to Moscow with Bernie Zeppi was accompanied by rather copious notes on how it was made and what machines would be needed to make more. And your tour of the power plant was unusually focused on their new steam engines.”
Vladimir smiled. “The twins were more than happy to explain how it was done. It isn’t like I broke into their factory in the middle of the night and stole the designs. And as for the tour of the power plant, that was all perfectly legal. ”
“And Fedor Ivanovich Trotsky? Is he also staying within the bounds of law?” Nasi laughed at Vladimir’s expression.
“Never mind. Trotsky is competent but unimaginative. We aren’t that worried about him. However, I’m not here to threaten or browbeat you. I have an offer to make. I can provide you with information that Trotsky would find difficult to gather and all I want in return is the same consideration. Please consider my offer. There are things I won’t tell you, but I won’t lie to you unless absolutely necessary. All I ask from you is the same courtesy.”
“I think I understand,” Vladimir said, “However, I’m just a part-time spy. Little more than an apprentice. You’ll have to be more explicit.”
“Because of its situation, Grantville has a large group of spies working here. When you combine that with the ease of transferring information provided by the phones and computers, you get a situation ripe for counterespionage. The fact is that spies tend to know a lot about what their employers have in mind, both because you tell something every time you ask a question and because if a spy lacked curiosity he’d probably have gone into another line of work. Put it all together and you have a whole other reason to come to Grantville to spy. Information is our stock in trade. We trade it amongst ourselves. So a spy for Monsieur Gaston and one of Cardinal Richelieu’s intendants, while not fond of each other, might trade information about the actions of Spain and Sweden. And each benefits by being able to inform their employer both bits of information.”
Vladimir nodded sagely and Don Francisco grinned at him.
“All of which puts you in a most enviable position,” Don Francisco said.
“Ah, how?” was all Vladimir could come up with.
“Because with only a few exceptions, nobody cares what Russia knows about anything,” Don Francisco said bluntly. “Poland, certainly. England, if it has to do with trade. Sweden, if it’s to do with the grain Russia sells to the king of Sweden every year at very low prices. Other than that? No. If you should learn Spain’s military dispositions for the next two years the king of Spain would lose not a wink of sleep over it. Cardinal Richelieu’s upset would be strictly a matter of principle and what the cardinal doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Ferdinand II, under other circumstances perhaps. But between the Lion of the North and the Turk to the south?” Nasi shook his head. “Russia barely makes a blip on the radar.”
None of which was very complimentary but all of which Vladimir had to acknowledge was true. He nodded reluctantly. “And this situation is enviable how?”
“Because as a spy who must report back to the embassy bureau you have every reason to be asking the sorts of questions that will make you look good to Moscow and there is very little reason for people to be unwilling to answer them. I, on the other hand, am all too well known as an associate of Mike Stearns.” Nasi gave a histrionic sigh. “No one wants to talk to me.”
Vladimir barked a laugh. “So you want me to gather information and give it to you instead of my government.”
“Oh, not at all. In addition to, not instead of,” Nasi said. Which was precisely what Vladimir thought he was going to say.
“And for providing you with a carbon copy of the information, you will provide me what?”
“Why, carbon copies of the information I gather about places like Poland and England. And occasionally I’ll be able to direct you to people who won’t talk to me, but will talk to you.”
“I see a problem,” Vladimir said. “No one is going to be all that surprised that you happened to be visiting your cousin while I came seeing about a loan . . . once. But if we keep meeting like this, what will it do to my reputation as a titled nonentity? People might stop talking to me. That would be a disaster for me and inconvenient for you.”
“That’s what makes Grantville such a nice place with its phones and computers.”
“Even I know the phone system has been penetrated,” Vladimir said. “If you start calling me a lot or I start calling you a lot, someone will notice.”
“That’s where the computers come into play. You know that the local nodes of the internet came through. There is in Grantville a local area network that covers the town and several outlying areas. You can post encrypted information to various sites and no one will the wiser about who is posting what. There’s also an encryption program that is called Pretty Good Privacy that came though the Ring of Fire. Apparently it was free for anyone up-time. I understand you bought a computer?”
“Yes.” That was one reason that Vladimir had needed the loan. He knew that they were only going to get more expensive for the foreseeable future.
Nasi passed him one of the compact disks. It was unlabeled in its jewel case. “On that disk is a copy of the program Pretty Good Privacy including the source code and one of my public keys.”
“What’s a public key?”
“The thing that makes this such a good system is that it has two keys. One key encodes and the other decodes. What you encode with the public key can only be read with the private key. What is encoded by the private key can only be read with the matching public key. I would suggest that after you’ve had the program checked you make yourself some keys and post a key to one of the message boards listed on the CD. Encode it using the public key I included on the CD and only I will be able to read it, so you know that any message using that key is from me.”
They talked about processes and procedures, which mostly came down to neither seeking each other out nor avoiding each other. They would use the local area internet in Grantville to transfer data. For the foreseeable future if anyone wanted to transfer information without anyone else knowing they were doing it, Grantville was the place to be. In effect, each became a part of the other’s spy network. For Nasi it was one more tiny link in an increasingly extensive network. For Vladimir, even with the filtering that he was sure Francisco Nasi would do, it represented a doubling of his capabilities or more. It was not a bargain he could afford to pass up.
When Vladimir got home he found mail had arrived from Moscow and the Dacha. There were several letters, requests for specific information for him, packages of goods for trade, mostly furs and pearls. There were also a set of letters and packages, to be delivered to Brandy Bates, some from his sister and some from Bernie. Vladimir thought for a moment about delivering them himself. He was a bit curious about what they might contain. But the truth was he simply didn’t have time. He was snowed under trying to find answers to the questions sent to him. He sent his man Gregori.