Following similar “leads” to the other financial capitals of Europe—Frankfurt, Zurich, Geneva—Israel discovered it was maddeningly difficult to trade the mythical bonds. It was also treacherous. Israel was chased through the streets of London by rival factions, he tells me, assaulted in Amsterdam, and dragged behind a vehicle in Zurich.
Along the way, Nichols gave Israel a master class in alternate world history. “The government has been keeping things from the public for years,” Israel remembers Nichols saying. “The people you think are running things—politicians, bankers, diplomats—are not even halfway up the food chain.”
“I’ve heard that there are five families that run the world,” Israel said.
“Thirteen,” corrected Nichols.
Israel reveled in the intrigue as he was ushered into the world of black ops—or what passed for black ops in Nichols’s telling. Like learning to check for a tail in the reflection in your own sunglasses, shopping at the Counter Spy Shop in London’s Mayfair, or speaking only in whispers, preferably whispered codes. Israel came to call the conspiracy “the Octopus”—the title of an unfinished book by the journalist Danny Casolaro, who died under mysterious circumstances in 1991 while investigating PROMIS. His death had been reported in Time magazine, Vanity Fair, and The Village Voice; Israel believed he’d been “suicided” by Nichols.
But the weeks continued to pass without a single trade. Nichols told Israel the market schedule was limited and the “paper” was scarce. Hoping to force some action by creating leverage, Israel wired his $150,999,847.42 back to Bayou’s Citibank account in New York. He may even have begun to doubt that Nichols could pull it off.
Then, in July, Nichols announced that he had found a tranche of bonds in Germany. Israel had to act immediately, Nichols said, if he was going to cash in on the trade with Postbank in Hamburg.
Before Israel was willing to send the money back to Europe, where Nichols could gain access to it, he insisted on meeting an official at Postbank. Following Nichols’s instructions, Israel flew to Hamburg, rendezvousing first with a man he was told was Pakistani intelligence and given a bag containing two 9-mm. Beretta handguns, each equipped with a silencer.
Nichols arrived the next morning, in full black-ops mode: Hundreds of operatives had descended on Hamburg to try to stop them from making a trade, Nichols told Israel, and urban combat was highly likely.
The meeting was scheduled for Saturday morning, a short walk from the hotel. As Israel and Nichols cautiously made their way, the streets of Hamburg seemed eerily empty. Israel and Nichols were greeted by a German banker at the rear entrance to a nondescript brown-brick building and ushered through the back door and into the lobby—completely deserted, aside from two cleaners vacuuming. In an office, the banker explained that the transaction involved $2 billion in medium-term-note prime-bank debentures. The instruments were “seasoned,” he said, meaning they’d been traded already.
To perform the final step of due diligence, Nichols borrowed a phone to call Phil Severt (also a pseudonym), who Nichols claimed was a former Reagan official and a member of the Trilateral Commission who would be responsible for the charitable component of the trade—a water-treatment facility outside Karachi. Israel had talked to Severt once before—it was a conversation that had made a strong impression on him.
“When we spoke, Severt repeatedly told me he had what he called a stupid face,” Israel recalls. “He said he had the kind of face that was instantly forgettable. He could vanish into crowds. He said he was invisible because his face was so average—so stupid.”
Severt assured the men that the Karachi initiative was in place. All that remained was for Israel to transfer $120 million to a “non-depletion” account in Postbank.
For security purposes, Israel left the meeting ahead of Nichols, walking out the back door.
“Across the street there was a man standing next to a telephone pole,” Israel remembers. “He was short, maybe five-five, wearing a turban. He appeared to be Pakistani. One of his eyes drooped down. He started to walk toward me. As I got near him, he passed by and he said—I swear to God—he said, ‘You have a really smart face.’ I stopped dead. I knew it was Severt telling me he’d sent people to watch us in Hamburg. So I threw the guy against the wall and asked what the fuck was going on. He wouldn’t talk to me, not in English. All of a sudden he could only speak Urdu. He kept saying the same thing—‘No, sahib, no, sahib.’
“I let him go. I walked a couple more steps, and then I turned around to see if Bob was behind me. As I turned, I saw the guy reach into his jacket and pull out a gun. Now Bob was coming out of the building. The guy was taking aim to shoot Bob. I pulled my Beretta out, and I shot at the guy. I hit him in the left hip. Everything was moving in slow motion. The guy dropped the gun and fell to the ground. By that time, Bob had pulled out his gun, and he plugged the guy in the right shoulder. I walked over and shot him in the head. Point-blank. Killing him. His head exploded all over the sidewalk. Blood and brains were everywhere.