Operation Phoenix Chapter 10 part 2Tuesday, October 11th, 2011
Author Allen Currie
Please accept our apologies regarding the truncated posting of Chapter 10. Due to an overflow error the original manuscript was cut off at about a third of it’s run. We are happy to say that the situation is in hand and those responsible have been sacked. Oh wait that would be me… Thanks again for your continuing support of The Texas Ring.
Chapter 10 Part 2
“What good would a Swiss Franc check be in the US? It would cost me a fortune to cash it. Can you send it to a bank account here?” Gary knew that rental agencies everywhere wanted credit cards so he was going to have to bend a lot. Ultimately there was already a paper trail to Switzerland in the bank shipment so he would give in and produce a credit card if he had to because he needed that van.
“Yes, we could do that.”
Gary gave the clerk the data for an account he had opened some years ago, cash, passport and driver’s license and they received their van. When they got outside the weather was a high thin overcast and almost shirt-sleeve temperatures. Although the breeze was a bit fresh at this altitude it just helped make it smell like crisp, unpolluted mountain air.
During WWII much of Germany was bombed to smithereens and during the rebuilding attention had been paid to modern transportation needs. Not so in Switzerland which had remained neutral. On the other hand the highways were modern and a pleasure to drive on. No expense had been spared tunnelling through mountains where necessary. The roads were well maintained even now, whereas pot holes abounded in the US at this time of year. Unlike England they drove on the right. The city streets were another story. The architecture was largely from a bygone era. Both Eric and Lynn commented on the narrow streets and the scarcity of really tall buildings. Aside from the massive financial buildings, of which there were many, the three to seven story structure was common.
It was late, nearly 11 PM, when they got to the hotel. It was a stately pile of rocks obviously catering to the moneyed crowd with massive old portrait paintings, deep carpets and velvet wall hangings. Again they were met with a demand for a credit card but Gary felt on firmer ground here. At worst he knew that pensions and smaller hotels accepted cash and a passport so he didn’t need the hotel. Not only that, but since this was a better hotel he presumed that lawyers often referred clients who preferred anonymity. “I presume the law firm that made our reservation uses your hotel for guests frequently. We are a customer of theirs. I will pay you cash in advance for three days, and settle any extra charges daily.” The hotel clerk agreed, probably because Gary didn’t object to their obscene rates.
Despite jet lag the three of them immediately spread out to gather information. Lynn purchased several thick newspapers, rolls of plastic adhesive tape, and a city map, while chatting up the hotel shop clerk. Eric engaged the hotel desk clerk while Gary talked to the concierge. Later they gathered at Eric’s room to compare notes.
The main Zurich offices of the three largest Swiss banks were gathered a short cab ride away. Since Gary already had an account in one of the banks Eric and Lynn each chose a different bank to open their account. The plan was to obtain a larger than minimum sized safety deposit box to add to the interest of Swiss bankers, making it easier to open an account. Nobody pays money for a box they won’t use. Nor do they use boxes to store non-valuables.
Gary briefed Lynn and Eric. “Opening an account at a Swiss bank is a real pain. They are arrogant and might deign to accept your money. You will spend most of the morning cooling your heels waiting to see a clerk who is entitled to take your name. You can avoid most of the rest of the hassle by casually mentioning to that clerk that you work as a head-hunter for my firm, dealing pretty exclusively with the world’s foremost international banks in New York.”
“Do they speak fluent English?” Eric asked.
“Definitely, most Swiss are fluently tri-lingual or more. If you really want to make him pee his pants, you can mention that the market for private bankers for high net-worth individuals seems to be heating up. Do take a resume if offered, or have it sent to your home address so you can ‘be sure it won’t get lost among all the other resumes we receive daily.’ Just ask lots of interview type questions about what he has done. Be very slightly impressed. You know enough about my business to wing it. Then just be a dumb American who wants to open an account and get a safety deposit box. I don’t know how much good this will do us because the total world financial system is likely to collapse.”
“Now why would we want to open an account if the banks are going to fail?” Lynn demanded.
Gary, with his elbow on the arm of the chair he was sitting on, leaned his chin into his palm. “It’s a long shot but the Swiss have been playing this ‘secure centre for world banking’ game for centuries, and it seems reasonable to bet they will find a way to do so again. It seems worthwhile to gamble a couple of thousand Swiss Francs to be customers in good standing. We will probably need it for trading purposes later. Another thing, you can offer credit cards as identification, but no swiping. We have enough of a paper trail with the Willis shipment to Zurich. We don’t want to make it easy for someone in the US to see we were here by having a credit card paper trail as well. Use your passports instead.”
They had also found nearby stores selling heavy moving dollies, as well as information about how best to go about finding short-term commercial space to rent. There appeared to be two largish chains of public “U Store” companies in Zurich.
Monday February 20th, — Day Seven.
Gary left fairly early with the van to look for some commercial space to rent as a drop-off point in preparation for the gold and safes that would be delivered Tuesday. They planned to store the safes at public storage as they had in New York. Eventually, he found a small storefront with a loading dock at the rear but the one month rental was astronomical. Probably about six months cost. When he objected he was told “It does not make sense to lease for only one month. Too much paperwork to make it worthwhile.” He opted for six months rental in case it might be useful later and used Lynn’s newspapers and tape to cover the store windows.
Eric and Lynn were off opening their bank accounts and purchasing the moving dollies to complete the gold hiding project. They met back at the hotel to drop their purchases, and left immediately to make a round of the banks and become second signators, so that all three able to access each others accounts and boxes.
At Gary’s bank, a huge ancient imposing stone pile of a money temple, as all of them were, on impulse Gary asked the lady serving them if they still sold gold.
Behind her marble counter with its antique metal anti-robbery grill work, she replied, “Yes, we can deliver certificates of deposit for gold purchased and stored with us today. If you want physical bullion there is now a one-week waiting period before delivery. By the way, I see you are from the US. If you are planning on using credit cards, American credit cards do not work today. The US just declared a bank holiday.”
Gary and Eric exchanged significant glances. “What is a bank holiday?” asked Eric.
“The government orders all banks and financial institutions closed and not to do any financial transactions. So neither credit cards nor debit cards will work. We just learned about it a half an hour ago because it was only announced at 7A.M. New York time, and we are in different time zones.”
Gary said, “Oh, we were planning on using our credit cards for a vacation. What are we going to do now? Did they say how long the bank holiday would last?”
“They said for a week.”
“Are you exchanging dollars or travelers checks for Swiss Francs?” Eric asked.
“No, we don’t know what exchange rate to use.”
Gary said, “Let’s finish up here and go have a coffee and discuss what to do.”
Outside Lynn said, “Is it just me, or is it poor math? You wanted to see what the Swiss were doing about the dollar.”
“Yeppers,” Eric said, “If the Swiss are not exchanging dollars it is probable that no one else around the world is either. All international trade is kaput. Anything for the US not now on a ship won’t get on a ship.”
Lynn said, “High in the mountains of upper Switzerland, guarded for centuries by Norwegian fish herders lies the secret: the Swiss could care less about the American dollar.”
Gary shrugged. “It is still an abstract to them. It is happening somewhere else. Recession is when your neighbour loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. America’s credit rating has just gone from triple A to triple Z.”
At the hotel Gary sat down. “Do you think this changes our plans at all?”
Eric considered for some time. “The speed this is moving at is dangerous, but I don’t think so. One change might be helpful. We talked about using public storage in that little town on a lake about an hour outside Zurich. Rapperswill, I think you said. Looks like we have only two major public warehouse chains in Zurich. Taking one stash outside of Zurich would spread our risk.”
“Yes, or Stafa, another town on the way to Rapperswill, which is a bit larger and not quite as touristy. I like the idea. Judging by what the woman at my bank said this is moving at lightning speed and it is becoming very urgent to get our other plans underway. We should try to go back tomorrow rather than Wednesday when we are scheduled. I think there is a flight leaving at 6PM. We won’t be able to receive the safes and gold shipment, get it packed, stored, and also drive an hour each way to Rapperswill and make the flight. One of us will have to stay over and do Rapperswill and come back Wednesday as scheduled. But which of us should stay? We both have things in New York that have to go forward urgently.”
“So what am I? Chopped liver?” demanded Lynn.
Gary blinked and said, “Oh. Sorry. Of course you are right Lynn. I was thinking of my little girl and the weight to be moved. I guess I view females as fragile things but that’s rather dumb. You are as capable as any of us. The truth is that none of us could move that safe alone. We will have to have local help.”
Gary paused for a moment, remembering them as babies and how very different they’d been. Lynn had loved being cuddled. From the day he was born Eric stiffened up and screeched if you cuddled him. They were still very different but he was so proud of them. He regretted that the divorce was largely his fault. His wife had been a good woman who had worked hard at the marriage. She had even given him custody so the children would get to know their father, because he had worked so much to provide for them that he’d seldom seen them. If only I hadn’t been so rigid.
Lynn said “I’ll bet the lawyers referred by Ron Thompson can help us find a storage place out of town. They should know Switzerland.”
It was a great idea and their luck was in. They saw the lawyer half an hour later. By then the secretary had found a storage place and booked a room at the Movenpick Hotel in Rapperswill for Lynn. The lawyers were able to arrange that Gary and Eric be second signators at the storage unit using a photocopy of their passports.
There was a flurry of activity as they rushed to get back home to confront the problems there. They were able to change their flight plans before other fliers realized their credit cards didn’t work and tried to get seats. Being in first class made changing much easier. While they were at the lawyers they arranged a number of legal affairs including setting up a number of anonymous companies.