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March 27, 2023

Geistmann Redux: John Robinson Investigates, Chapter Sixteen

By Ron Singer

Chapter Sixteen
New York, NY. Friday, June 6 - Monday, June 9, 2025.

As he flew back to New York, Robinson felt he was on a roll (a small dinner roll). He now had a good idea that Iosub Ceban's father was someone other than Armande Amrouche. Who this someone was, was less important than the implication that Ramesh Subramanian/Samir Gupta had been using Iosub as a tool in his revenge plot against Robinson, and not vice-versa.

As usual, there were further complications. Was Subramanian in cahoots not only with the Pan-African Cartel, but with their (erstwhile?) affiliate, the Donduceni mob? Even if this were the case, it was unlikely that the Moldovan gangsters would share Subramanian's desire for revenge against the man who had killed their nemesis, Geistmann. He remembered having already had this thought when he was starting to profile Iosup and "Samir" three weeks ago, in Cape Town. Was he losing his short-term memory? And why did he want to go to Moldova, anyway?

To begin to answer these questions, Robinson reviewed what he had been told in Cape Town by his F.B.I. associates. Fred Neugeborn had directed him to the Bangor home of Iosub's mother, Ellie Clark. From CCTF members Bob Martinez, Mitsuko Yamamoto, and especially Patsy Santos-Oliveira, he had learned the background and M.O. of Ramesh Subramanian, including the man's techniques for cyber-bank-robbery, design of the block book and Logic bomb, and penetration of the Bureau's Geistmann files, including the DNA data.

All of these pieces of information pointed toward the same conclusion that Robinson had drawn from Ellie Clark's inadvertent eleventh-hour confession (at ten, actually): his principal antagonist was Ramesh Subramanian (whom he no longer thought of as "Samir Gupta").

Which still left the question of why Robinson was now thinking of going to Chisinau? In computer argot, the idea was a work-around. He knew about Subramanian's past. He thought he knew his present whereabouts (Cape Town, or somewhere else in Africa), and he knew some of the tricks he was up to. To help to find and, thereby, apprehend him, Robinson had two plausible resources: Piet Dykstra and Diodur Fedoruk. Dykstra was known to have been in communication with Subramaniun. In that sense, he might be the better bet. But Piet was notoriously devious and secretive, and he would probably still regard Robinson as an enemy.

That left Diodur Fedoruk, whose connection, if any, with Subramanian was slender. As Robinson knew, however, the Donducenis had been associates of the Cartel; in fact, one of them had been a PAC Director. So, if Fedoruk was now working on an operation against the Moldovan mob, he might also wish to see Subramanian taken down. Then, too, ever since the renegade Ukrainian policeman had been "turned" by the Bureau, in 2003, or 2004, he had been Robinson's reliable friend and ally (allowing for one or two further turns, or "returns"). In Botswana, Fedoruk had saved his life. Besides, time and again, he had been in possession of the best information. And, finally, in some ways, his mind was similar to Robinson's: logical, incisive, imaginative. All Fred Neugeborn had told him was that Fedoruk was back in Chisinau, fighting Moldovan war profiteers. This did not sound as if it had much to do with Ramesh Subramanian, but who could tell?

These questions preoccupied Robinson on the flight from BGR to LGA, and on the bus ride home. When he was back in the apartment unpacking, he realized that the one thing he had not thought of was how he could possibly convince Judy that he needed to go to Moldova. He further realized that he had not thought of this because he did not care.

He rationalized not caring by recalling that the email threat he had received in the Bangor library yesterday had included her and the children. If he went to Moldova, it might actually lower the danger to them. But he immediately realized that this idea was sophistry — or, in common parlance, bullshit. Nevertheless, he drafted an email to Diodur Fedoruk, hoping his old F.B.I. address, diodfed@vicap.fbi.org, would still work. Adhering to the premise that Neugeborn's email had followed, Robinson's was brief, and included no unnecessary details:

Diodur, my friend,

I'm hoping you might assist me with a current research project, involving someone who might be called "G-Redux." Should arrive in C. soon. Will get in touch via local HQ.

(signed), Still on the trail, John.

Surprised to receive an almost immediate reply, Robinson inferred that Fedoruk must already have been online. The brevity of the reply suggested how busy he must be:

John, Come ahead!

(signed), Still, DF

On receipt of this laconic message, Robinson had a new worry: was it possible that Fedoruk might feel a lingering loyalty to Geistmann? Robinson longed for the simple old days when he thought it was JOLETAF versus Geistmann. But that had been an illusion. By now, Geistmann was an unquiet ghost. Would he ever go away, or would Robinson ultimately follow him to the land of the dead? (Wherever that was!)

When Judy and the children got home from the car-rental office, at a few minutes past five, Robinson decided he should wait before mentioning Moldova. As soon as the bags had been unpacked, George and Amy were fed supper, and dispatched to their rooms, to (respectively) play video games and watch cartoon re-runs. When John and Judy were in their usual places in the living room, he waited, still, through her circumstantial account of the Berkshire weekend and his own brief summary of Bangor. Then, he finally broke the news.

Her response was not surprising. "Well, John, since your wanderlust has apparently overcome all of my threats, I guess it's time for us to move on. As any teacher knows, you should never make a threat you can't back up. ("Never back down," he silently altered the cliche.) So. Here's my suggestion." (She had anticipated this conversation.) "You go off to Chisinau, dear, and do whatever it is you're doing, for however long it takes." (Uh oh!) "But if, and when, you come back, things will be very different." (Suspense mounts!) "There'll be no divorce, John, not even a separation. I'm thinking of George and Amy. Their emotional well-being. And financial, too. So you and I will go on living here together, as best we can. And we'll still act like parents, do the best we can— as we've always done. But the marriage will be over. That is, no more sex."

(Where will each of us sleep?)

"Does that work for you, John? We can discuss the details later." He nodded his agreement, thinking there would be no end of "details." Judy had even prepared an exit line. "Don't get up, dear, I'll do the dishes." (Anger.)

When she was gone, Robinson immediately used his phone to make flight reservations to Chisinau, for Wednesday, June 11. When he heard the ticket price, he thought, "This will be one of those details." For whatever reason, he did not yet reserve a room. But he did email Fedoruk again, with his ETA.

The next issue Robinson faced was how to ask Ian Bostridge, his boss at the Library, for yet another leave. Since Spring term had ended, and his duties during the summer term were always limited, he decided to tell Ian a half-truth.

At ten o'clock, on Monday morning, June 9th, he was sitting across from Bostridge, trying to make eye contact above the tall stack of papers on his boss's cluttered desk.

"Another call from the Bureau, Dr. B." he said. "This time, they want me to go back to Moldova."

Bostridge did not look surprised. His eyes twinkled above his half-glasses. "Well, then, John, if duty calls ... again, and you want to take the call ... again, I see no problem." He shrugged. "As long as you're back in time for the start of Fall semester, that is, by ... " Watching him struggle to access the date, Robinson did it for him.

"By September 7th. Yes, I know, and yes, I'll be back in time for the festivities."

The reference was to the start of the Rare Book Division's 95th year, which would be kicked off with a fund-raising banquet. Robinson knew that the reason they were not waiting for the Centennial was that the budget had already been broken for almost a decade. If they ever erected a statue of Ian Bostridge, they might pose him with hat in hand.

"Well, John," he said with a sigh, "I don't suppose you've found any more Kurghinian poems, have you? And I don't suppose your trip to Moldova will include any work on Songhai incunabula. So would you consider, er, an unpaid two months' leave, this time?" He flushed with embarrassment.

"Sure. Why not?"

Bostridge's gratitude, expressed through an uncharacteristic handshake, was inordinate. On the way back to his desk, Robinson went over several reasons why he should have curbed his generous impulse. First, he had no idea what his and Judy's current bank balance was; that was her department. A second, related reason was that suspending his salary for three months would surely have a big impact on their anticipated discussion of "details." A long summer on half-wages might mean many things, none of them good.

These concerns prompted a possible solution. Could he ask the F.B.I. to commit to footing the bill for his Moldovan junket? Probably not. Like everyone else during the pandemic and war, the Bureau was on starvation wages. Also, if he did go ahead and ask (Fred?), he knew that his reason for going to Moldova, to seek Fedoruk's possible assistance in tracking down Ramesh Subramanian, would probably not stand scrutiny. And, to add to his desperation, Robinson understood that, even though the TMP had footed part of the bill for the Cape Town junket, he could not possibly ask RAM to contribute to the new venture. In short, none of the good guys had money to spare, these days.

He decided it was time to live dangerously. He would add to the threats Judy had already made against him by not telling her about his self-inflicted pay cut. She would not get their next weekly bank statement until he was in Chisinau. And, by the time the credit card statement (including the plane tickets to Bangor and Chisinau) arrived, near the end of the month, he would have thought of something else. Unemployment insurance? A large gift (from whom?), on the occasion of his sixty-sixth birthday (which was the day he was scheduled to arrive in Chisinau)?

Maybe, he should rob a bank.

Article © Ron Singer. All rights reserved.
Published on 2023-02-20
Image(s) are public domain.
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