“Rudy Ghest, I’d like you to meet Patrick Mullan, from the Lyon office.”
“Bonjour, Monsieur Mullan.” Rudy held out his hand.
The French Interpol agent smiled and shook it.
“Enchanté. You are our new convert from the FBI?”
“Since the first of the month. Mr. Jackson here is still teaching me the ropes. Interpol has a different flavor to it.”
“Hopefully you will have a better time of it. The USA is gradually learning that we can be useful.”
“Are you here with the President’s entourage?”
Patrick shook his head, “No, we have to pay our own way, but having the French President get out of the Elysée Palace and speak at the United Nations General Assembly was a good excuse to hold another conference on international crime here in New York.”
Jackson nodded, “That’s why we’re here. Lots of people to meet, and no additional travel budget to worry about.”
Patrick Mullan waved at the seats. “He’s about to speak, would you care to sit with us?”
Jackson demurred, “Thanks, but we’ve got to hurry.”
Rudy followed in his footsteps as they exited, down the corridor to the UN security office. Jackson had wrangled an invitation to view the speech from behind the security cameras.
He peered over at the monitors where one held the pre-released version of the speech.
“DISCOURS DE MONSIEUR JACQUES JOSPIN PRÉSIDENT DE LA RÉPUBLIQUE DEVANT l’ASSEMBLÉE GÉNÉRALE DES NATIONS UNIES
“A L’OCCASION DE LA...”
Where is the English version? He knew joining Interpol would require him to work on his languages, and this new president was a stickler for never using English.
Luckily, since he was a US Interpol agent, he would be dealing with Americans, but still, what was the point of international information exchange if he couldn’t speak the languages?
The French President approached the microphone to give his address. It had been billed as an important statement on terrorism and all the news media were ready, with a stable of translators.
President Jospin got several paragraphs into his speech. The crowd of dignitaries and news media were listening patiently, some through simultaneous translators.
Then, a bright light appeared behind his head.
The startled noise from the crowd brought Rudy to his feet.
A giant glowing ball moved high above the podium, its brilliance swamping out the stage lights on the President. The speech stuttered to a halt.
“Greetings to the people of the world.” The voice was computerized and distorted. It was loud enough to shake the walls. “Salutations aux personnes du monde.”
Other greetings came, in a dozen languages.
The UN security agents were scrambling. Commands were being shouted into radios. “Track down where that is coming from!”
Rudy assured himself that all the recorders were running, and then ducked out. He had to see this for himself.
The disembodied, stilted voice was saying, “The rest of this statement will be in English.”
Thank God for small favors. Rudy edged closer to the podium. The aisles were already crowded with people urgently moving in both directions. The one word that repeatedly drifted from the crowd was ‘terrorist’.
“Unknown to you, I have wrested sovereignty from all the nations of the Earth. This day I have become your Emperor.”
Oh no. We’ve got a kook.
“Imperial taxation shall be up to one billion US Dollars equivalent per nation per year. You need not gather nor deliver this tax. Appropriate goods and services will be taken directly. Fair-minded national governments will see that the suppliers are appropriately compensated.
“Your Emperor has the welfare of all humanity at heart and those who acknowledge his control and cooperate with his actions will prosper.
“A token of Imperial sovereignty is taken immediately from the permanent member nations of the Security Council.”
A ripple of red fabric appeared to jump out of the stage, so quickly that Rudy couldn’t see where it came from. Like a bullfighter’s cape, the fabric waved and snapped, and then disappeared just as rapidly.
Five platforms were arranged side by side where there had been nothing. Rudy blinked. That’s the best stage magic I’ve ever seen.
Suddenly, President Jospin shouted, and strode over to the closest.
That’s the Mona Lisa. I thought it was in the Louvre.
So, apparently did the President. His bodyguards came running, and he had them surround the painting.
Other national delegations were on their feet as well.
Quickly, the UN security forces were forced to play buffer between the clusters of security guards that were collecting on the stage to protect their national treasures.
The voice from above continued.
“All these treasures now belong to me. Remember that.”
And then, the glowing globe vanished.
Jackson came up behind him. “I think your introduction to Interpol is over. Here’s your new assignment—connect with the FBI. You’re our Emperor contact.”
The television reporter was listing the ‘tokens’. “In addition to the Mona Lisa, just reported stolen from the Louvre museum in Paris, the Russian treasure is a Faberge Egg stolen from the Armory Museum in Russia. It commemorated the 300th year of the Romanov Empire. The British Imperial Crown was reported missing from the Tower of London just moments before it reappeared in New York. The robe is reported to be a yellow Dragon Robe worn by the Emperor of China in the Qing Dynasty, missing from the Forbidden City Palace Museum in Beijing. In contrast to these great artworks, the ‘token’ from the United States appears to be a stack of ten gold bars taken from Fort Knox, Kentucky.”
James watched with an open mouth. Behind him Coach Barlow tried to calm down her French Class.
It had been a fiasco for her. She’d spent days arranging for her two classes to meet together to watch the French President’s speech, live on CNN—without the subtitles.
And then, it all fell apart when the Emperor spoke.
“James, get back to your seat!”
He blinked. He didn’t even realize he had gotten up out of his chair to get closer to the TV.
Is this Dad’s work? His heart hammered. He moved back to his chair as if in a daze.
“Initially, reports were that the ‘tokens’ were copies of the original treasures, but with the reports now coming in, it appears that a simultaneous international theft occurred across the world, just moments before the UN announcement.”
CNN was in high-drama news mode, and the French President’s speech was forgotten. Coach Barlow realized that finally and went up and turned off the set.
Suppose there’s more to the spheres than just invisible spy cameras. Could you move objects through them? That’s teleportation!
It would be trivial to raid the world’s treasures then, just pluck them through a sphere.
And then leaving them on the stage, that almost cinched the idea that his father was involved. He’d never steal anything for himself, but as a demonstration? Maybe.
He had to find out!
Rudy Ghest reviewed the tapes. Reports were coming in from other law enforcement agencies. The ‘tokens’ were authentic. And the thefts had taken place far too recently to be real. The European treasures had all vanished within a thirty-minute period, about an hour before they had reappeared on the stage. Not even a military jet could have transported them across the ocean that fast. The theory of the moment was that they were stolen earlier, and replaced by holograms or some other duplicate good enough to fool the first class security measures in those national museums. But no one could figure out how the duplicates were able to vanish without a trace.
Rudy stepped through the video frame by frame, paying particular attention to the red drapery. It appeared out of a single point near the podium, and then when it disappeared behind the treasures, he could see it withdrawing back to that same location. While the view had been obscured, the treasures had appeared within a second or two.
Much better than Las Vegas.
He scratched his chin. Five impossible thefts. A Wizard of Oz-like manifestation in the UN building. No demand for action from the nations of the world, just an announcement of his Empire.
This Emperor is not finished. The thefts made no sense as thefts.
Okay, the crowns and jewels aren’t fenceable. But those gold bars—melt them down and the gold could be sold anywhere.
And why steal impossible items, and then return them immediately.
What if his billion dollars a year, per nation, tax was not just a theatrical flourish?
Had some genius somewhere invented a new way to steal?