Like many cities, Philadelphia has a number of private clubs for members and their guests only. Many date back to the nineteenth century and were established by men of privilege, mostly the old-moneyed White Anglo-Saxon Protestants that made up the city’s elite. Some clubs that came later were established by those who, for a variety of reasons including bigotry, weren’t eligible for admission into the existing clubs. In the past, most of these clubs were where the real business was done between the city’s movers and shakers. While the old traditions weren’t followed as much anymore, the new generation of powerbrokers, and those they entertained, still found these clubs a good place to conduct negotiations, forge consensus and reach agreements away from the office. The staff of these clubs, many with tenure numbering in the decades, understood and honored the strict code of discretion.

The Privateer’s Club was Abelard Gunter’s club. In many ways, the Privateer’s Club—or the PC, as the members referred to it—resembled other private clubs. While not as pretentious as the more famous Union League, the PC still radiated a quiet aura as a place of power. The six founding members, one of whom was a very successful ship’s captain during the War of 1812 and hence the club’s name, made up the “Council,” which determined the type of club they wanted the PC to be. They agreed the PC would be a place of discretion, of course; but more than that, it would be a place where the business and political elite could come together, especially those who were known to take opposing views.

The Council’s successors maintained that philosophy. If the walls of the former downtown mansion could talk, they would have amazed listeners with tales of who had been seen talking to whom over the years. Each of these conversations was held away from interested parties, whether those were political, financial, social, or the press. Even trusted aides were not invited. The building itself was located away from the handful of downtown streets where the other clubs were clustered, and the founders had even instructed the architect to install hidden entrances and exits so members or guests could enter and leave without being seen. At the PC, privacy was its raison d’être.

Cassidy walked through the tall double wood doors at 6:20 p.m., exactly ten minutes early for her dinner with Morris Stone. She’d been to other clubs in the city before for receptions and meetings, but never the PC. The concierge greeted her and when she mentioned Abelard Gunter’s name, he escorted her up the marble staircase to the second-floor members-only dining room. As she walked down the quietly lit hallway, Cassidy noticed the wall plaques and photos of members engaging in past club activities. From what she could tell at a glance, many of them seemed to be for the betterment and enjoyment of club members. I wonder what the founding members would have thought of me walking these hallowed halls. Still, she reflected, the PC was one of the first clubs in the city to admit women, something some of the others had resisted mightily until the 1970s or ’80s.

The tuxedo-clad maître d’ met her outside the private dining room. He checked his list, found her name, smiled, and opened the French doors. As he led her to a table towards the back, Cassidy was amazed by what she saw. While the rest of the club was typical old-world, with its dark wood, glass, brass, and aged marble, the private dining room had the flavor of a five-star cosmopolitan restaurant, the kind to be found in New York, Paris, or London. Blonde wood paneled the walls, while luxurious beige carpeting cosseted her feet. The tables were covered in dusty rose-colored linen, while the crystal glassware sparkled. The bone china dinnerware was of the finest quality. They arrived at her table, which was discreetly separate from the other tables. It was a place where a private conversation, a very private conversation, could be held. She slid behind the table with her back to the far wall so she could survey the entire room, and looked around.

The room seemed about a third full, predominately middle-aged-to- older well-manicured, well-established men in expensively tailored business suits. The smattering of women at various tables were equally well-kept and expensively tailored. No bimbos here. Definitely a business partner or fellow senior executive, perhaps a second wife or two, and maybe even a mistress, but no twenty-something gum-chewing secretaries having a fling with their boss. She looked around some more and even recognized a couple of the faces, and with at least two parties, was surprised to see who was dining with whom. Interesting. These men meant business. Hell, she corrected herself, these men are business.

I wonder what Michael would think of this place. He might decry the haughtiness of it all, but would be impressed just the same. She almost wished he was here.

She looked straight ahead as the maître d’ approached with another man, and thoughts of Michael evaporated. She stood as the two men arrived and shook the hand of Morris Stone. They both sat as she examined him.

Morris Stone was a good head shorter than her, and she guessed he was in his late fifties or early sixties. He certainly wasn’t an athlete. His pale complexion, thinning gray hair and paunch suggested a life spent mostly indoors, probably hunched over a typewriter or computer screen. His suit, while not on the cutting edge of fashion, was of good quality, and his white oxford button-down shirt and conservatively patterned tie were clean and pressed. All in all, he made a respectable representative of the fourth estate. His blue eyes were clear and she realized he was sizing her up as much as she was him.

“I hope I don’t offend you, Ms. Jevon,” he said with a trace of New York-ese, “because I am delighted to make your acquaintance. But I must say from the outset that I’m disappointed Abelard Gunter sent a lackey to do his bidding for him.”

Cassidy kept her cool. “Mr. Stone, I want you to know that I have the utmost respect for your work, but in response, I should tell you that I am meeting with you with the direct personal authority of Mr. Gunter. I am not a lackey, sir, anymore than you are a hack.”

He stared at her for a moment and then burst out laughing.

“Touché, Ms. Jevon. I withdraw my rude remark and ask for your forgiveness. My sources said I’d like you and you have indeed passed the first test.”

What sources? “Test, Mr. Stone?” she asked.

“I wanted to see how you might handle an obnoxious New Yorker with a chip on his shoulder. Manhattan’s full of them, you know.”

“Oh yes, Mr. Stone, I’ve met many of them before. Some are even your colleagues.”

“Yes, I know. I’ve hired a few of them.” He began again, this time taking a more conciliatory tone: “Ms. Jevon, I’m not here to have an adversarial relationship with you. In fact, I’ve asked to meet with a representative of your company over a most serious matter. However, you must realize that meeting here puts me on your turf. Or rather Abel Gunter’s turf, not mine.”

And just where is your turf?”

“It’s not places like this, I assure you.”

Okay, now it’s my turn, pal. I’ll show you you’re messin’ with the wrong woman. “Really?” she said innocently. “Then perhaps you can explain to me, Mr. Stone, how it is you manage to report on some of the most powerful business leaders and politicians with in-depth profiles and analyses. You seem to get information and comments other reporters and news organizations can’t—your well cultivated sources, no doubt. And I’m sure you’re quite used to being in CEO offices, corporate boardrooms, limousines, and private jets.

“You’ve been noted to appear at various black-tie affairs wherever there are powerful people around, whether it’s Washington, New York, the Hamptons, or Hollywood. You’re quite comfortable moving in the upper strata of modern society, and have been for a long time. So let’s drop the pretense of the downtrodden press versus the wicked corporate establishment, okay?”

Stone was visibly surprised and Cassidy decided to press the point.

“I too, have sources, Mr. Stone.”

He smiled. “You’ve stated your position quite articulately, Ms. Jevon, and I give you full credit. You should also know I’ve decided I like you, and depending on how the rest of our discussion goes, by the end of the evening I may just want to hire you.”

Now Cassidy was visibly surprised.

“Okay,” Stone said. “Enough sparring. Can we call a truce?”

Cassidy nodded. I am here for business purposes, she reminded herself, not to piss him off. That wouldn’t make for a great report back to Stu. Or Gunter.

“We have serious matters to discuss,” he continued, “but if it’s all right with you, I’d like to eat first. I’m starved.”

“You sure you can stomach being on this ‘turf’ long enough to have a meal?”

Stone’s eyes were twinkling. “Oh yes. One thing I’ve learned about the rich and powerful. They eat better.”

Cassidy motioned to a waiter, who brought the menus. They perused the contents for a few minutes, and then ordered. Stone had the filet mignon and a glass of wine, while Cassidy chose Dover sole and stuck with mineral water. She wanted to maintain a clear head. For the first few minutes they made small talk. Stone talked readily about his magazine and his staff. He was pleased she’d read some of his books and wanted to know what she thought of them. He gave her critiques his full attention. He even told her a few funny “behind the scenes” stories. After a bit of a bumpy start to the evening, the more he talked, the more she found herself fascinated. She tried turning the conversation to Stone’s “serious matters,” but it was clear he’d discuss them when he was ready.

By the time they were finishing their main entrees, he was ready. “You know, I truly do regret the way I behaved when I first sat down,” he began, “but there was a reason for it. I needed to know if I was dealing with someone of substance or someone who would just hand me the company line.”

“And?”

“After spending the last hour or so with you, Ms. Jevon,” he continued, glancing at his watch, “I find you highly intelligent, well-read, cultured, and a credit to any employer who hires you. You are indeed a person of substance.”

Cassidy was flattered, but dared not let it show.

“Which is good, because I’m afraid I may possess some information that could threaten the very employer you’re such a credit to.”

“Mr. Stone, as we’ve talked, I’ve told you about our corporate history, the rumors over the years of Nazi involvement, our own internal investigations, and the refuting of any and all allegations. The Halden Companies never were, nor are now, involved with any Nazi or neo- Nazi organization.”

“No Cassidy,” he said softly, using her first name for the very first time, “they’re involved in something much worse.”

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“You’ve heard of United Oil?”

“Of course.”

“And Sexton Aerospace?”

“The British defense contractor, yes.”

“How about Dragon Eye Enterprises, Ltd.?”

“No.”

“Xenos Shipping? Qual Machines? Sovenskaya Industries? Lopocato, Inc.?”

She shook her head.

“Those are just a handful of names on a list of multi-national companies. Each has certain specialties making them a world leader in trade.”

“And what do they trade in?”

“Death, Ms. Jevon. And they’ve been doing it for more than half a century.”

“That’s…quite an accusation.”

“I know I may sound crazy, but hear me out. As you might have guessed from their names, those companies represent multi-nationals based in China, Greece, Russia, Argentina, and a host of other countries. They each produce, or are in some way connected with, the manufacturing or transportation of goods and services that run the world economy, from oil and aerospace to shipping, information technology, food, financials, energy, and munitions. They have enormous influence not only with the governments of their own country of origin, but in the global economy and with global trade.”

“Welcome to the modern world, Mr. Stone,” Cassidy replied. “Like it or not, that is the world we live in and how business is done.”

“Yes, but not like this.” Stone looked at her. “Are you familiar with the Nazi gold hunters?” he asked, changing tack.

“You mean the people who forced the Swiss banks to come clean about the amount of gold they held left over from World War Two? That happened in the ’90s, didn’t it?”

“Yes,” Stone replied. “That, along with stolen artworks and other valuables. To this day, not all of it has been accounted for. For example, it’s estimated that twenty percent of France’s looted artwork is still missing. But that’s an aside. Let me give you a very brief history lesson.

“To finance their war efforts, one of the first things the Nazis did when they invaded a country was steal from the central banks of countries they conquered. The banks were always one of their first military targets. They then laundered the looted gold from various national treasuries through Switzerland. According to official figures, there was more than 600 million dollars worth of gold missing from European Central banks occupied by the Nazis. By the way, that’s a 1945 figure. Today, that’s worth over five-and-a-half billion dollars. In individual dormant Swiss bank accounts alone, there’s a current estimated amount of about seven billion dollars that was stolen. Put it together and you have over twelve billion dollars in today’s currency. And remember, that’s just an estimate of the banks’ holdings. Combine that with the untold fortunes stolen from wealthy European families— mostly Jews—and the sum increases exponentially.”

Cassidy was visibly staggered.

“Thanks to organizations like the World Jewish Congress and others, individual claims have been filed, and after more than sixty years, some of the survivors of the Holocaust or their descendants will finally be receiving what is justly theirs.”

Cassidy nodded. “I agree it’s long overdue. But what does all this have to do with us?”

Stone looked at her soberly. “The twelve billion dollars I mentioned? That’s only a tiny fraction. There’s at least another two hundred and twenty billion dollars unaccounted for.” He reached below the table and pulled out a thin letter-size envelope, handing it across the table to Cassidy.

“What’s this?”

“A list of companies. Do you recognize any one them?”

She opened the envelope and scanned the names on the list. She looked at him questioningly. “These are some of the biggest companies in the country. I assume the others are just as big in their respective countries.”

“That would be correct. The Halden Companies is on the list, you’ll notice.”

“What are you implying, Mr. Stone? I thought we just went over this.”

“Hold onto the list, Cassidy.” He handed her a card. “Then we’ll talk again.” She took the card and looked at it. It was blank except for a phone number. “That is a private number known to only a handful of people. After you’ve thought about it a few days, call that number.”

She paused a moment. “Why are you telling me? Why don’t you just go ahead and publish this information yourself?”

“Because I need your help.”

“My help?”

Stone nodded. “Yes, the story’s not complete yet. I need your help to finish it.”

Cassidy was confused. “How do you think I can help?”

“I think you’ll know after we talk again. By the way, please keep that card in a safe and confidential place. It’s potentially very dangerous.”

“Dangerous to whom?”

“To those very companies, of course.”

And with that, he stood. “Thank you for the excellent dinner, Ms. Jevon. I enjoyed your company enormously and look forward to the next time we can spend a few hours together.” He walked out, leaving her at the table holding the envelope and feeling very confused.