Crow could not believe it. He had spent days trying to figure out how that ring was a fake. He certainly didn’t switch it. He’d just gone along with Berlati because it seemed the only feasible method of surviving the old man’s wrath. Rath and Carson couldn’t possibly have cherished a fake so greatly. In fact, when he had told Rath about the incident, she had been just as confused as he was. And yet Carson was telling a different story…
“Wait, Jerry. Are you telling me you switched the ring?”
Carson seemed to take particular pride in regaling Crow with this tale. “Well, in the sense that I paid somebody else to do it…”
“A friend of mine within the CIA tracked Berlati’s calls and saw that he contacted a Dr. Vincent Conlon of Florence about verifying the authenticity of a ring fabled to be Andvarinaut.”
“Who’s Vincent Conlon?”
“That voice on the telephone you mentioned, most likely. He is the director of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze. Apparently they’re quite a reputable body for these types of evaluations, don’t ask me why. However, their repute does not extend to their employees. I contacted Conlon’s secretary and promised to pay off his mortgage if he switched the ring when it came into Conlon’s hands.”
“Oh boy, did he ever! Turns out Conlon had to come to Shanghai to evaluate the ring, but he didn’t much like the idea of spending a few nights in a city that isn’t in Europe. So guess who he sends in his place?”
“You’ve gotta be kidding.”
“I kid you not. He had eight hours with that ring, only two of which he was under supervision. Bloody daylight robbery!”
Crow was sitting in the exact same spot he had been weeks ago, when Carson had first sent him on his mission. It was now late evening in D.C., and Crow had recounted to Carson what had happened during his assignment. Now Carson was proceeding to tell Crow his own little story about what he had been doing over the past few weeks.
Crow responded, “Well, that was lucky for you.”
Carson replied mischievously, “I don’t think luck came into it…”
Crow suddenly realized, “You tipped Berlati off about that ring, didn’t you?”
“I told him if I couldn’t have it, Rath shouldn’t either…”
“So all that crap I went through was for absolutely nothing?”
“More or less,” he paused. “What, you didn’t think I would actually part with the Ark Wood, did you?”
Crow pouted, “You sure know how to waste a guy’s time, Carson.”
Carson rubbed his forehead, thinking hard.
“I suppose I should give you something extra, for all your trouble, then?”
Crow smiled mischievously.
“Sixty-million too much to ask?”