by Blayney Colmore
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"I really know very little about that." Oscar wasn’t being totally forthright, but in truth he hadn’t quite figured out what to make of Maudie’s future in her father’s government. He often wished he knew more. He’d been present when her father spoke with her about being the future President. Oscar had wondered how much it was wishful thinking, or whether he could actually make it happen. "I suspect you people at McKinsey may know a lot more about that than I do."
"We only know what we read in the papers." Oscar, despite being a novice in this international world of covert information, understood Gretchen Mallory had just told him a lie. It was common knowledge at Wharton that McKinsey provided major cover for CIA operatives all over the world. That was one reason all those young sharks would love to have a job there. Gretchen clearly possessed a lot more information that what she read in the papers.
Oscar was haunted by mental replays of that conversation with Gretchen. It was the closest she came to saying outright that he was being hired to spy on his client. [Christ, wouldn’t you think McKinsey might want to make their CIA shadow just a little less obvious?] Now, whenever anyone referred to “land reform,” he heard an echo of Gretchen’s caustic voice. It made Oscar’s stomach turn over.
"Maudie, do you have any doubts about Oscar’s being dependably loyal to us, to our interests in these matters, not a stooge for the IMF or any of those other agencies that get their hooks into every IMF matter -- the CIA and their cronies?"
[This conversation doesn’t feel so cozy anymore.] "Father, you were the one who pushed to put Oscar in that position. I’ve never had any reason to doubt his integrity. Have you?"
"Well, no, not really, but he is an American, and he was recruited by McKinsey. And we both are aware that McKinsey is well known for making their people available for clandestine work. And Minister Baunda is, after all, Ndebele, from Bulawayo, and ZAPU."
Oscar’s encrypted conversations with Gretchen Mallory at McKinsey [are they really secure?] erased any lingering doubts he may once have had about her being under cover CIA [not very damn far undercover]. And a stooge for the IMF. "The IMF is pressing very hard on this, Oscar, she told him." Oscar knew they would insist on getting him alone to pump hi for what he knew about the reliability of the numbers. That’s what he had been sent to do; how could he play dumb? Why would he ever consider it? [Who am I pimping for here?]
"Give it a rest, Oscar. You know better. The president’s deputy and daughter living with a white American who also just happens to be here working for McKinsey, the American consulting firm that has been linked to the IMF, not to mention the CIA. Now there’s a formula for a bright political future."
When Oscar spoke with Minister Baunda [is he really my boss, or is he standing in for others? And which others? Mugabe? CIA? McKinsey?] about taking off for a few days and going to the Falls, Baunda seemed pleased that Oscar wanted to go see one of the country’s most celebrated spots.
"Oh, Oscar," Maudie rolled over against him, running her finger along his eyebrows. "I guess you’re just going to have to call it as you see it. I see no reason you need to get all worked up about this. You came here to help Minister Baunda, not to feed information to McKinsey or the CIA."
"Now who’s being the dreamer, Maudie? You know as well as I do that McKinsey, and whoever they may be in bed with, the CIA, the IMF, UNICEF – whoever – are not going to be satisfied with some perfunctory report from me. They’re looking for substance, reassurance that this country is being governed by people who know what they’re doing, and aren’t just feathering their own nests. We’re talking billions of dollars here. You think they’ll buy my pleading ignorance or being vague?"
"Oscar," something about the way she spoke his name cut through Oscar’s fog; he came alert. "In a couple of minutes we’re going to be joined by two men who are interested in McKinsey’s work in Zimbabwe. I’m not going to play games with you; Ethan Pinsky is CIA, not undercover, and Jim Newmark is with the IMF, responsible for servicing their Zimbabwe loans."
"You’ve no doubt heard that McKinsey has a relationship with various agencies of the U.S. Government. It’s as much informal as contractual, but we try to be good citizens, especially in those areas where the government’s limited resources make it difficult for them to get the information needed for making good decisions. And, God knows, our Africa intelligence is pitiful."
[Right]. Oscar was feeling testy. [Don’t let it show, Buddy! Now, there’s some corporate arrogance; McKinsey has better access and deeper pockets than Uncle Sam? Give me a break, Gretchen.]
Gretchen’s voice lowered an octave to a warm, intimate tone, and she took a step toward him. "You’re pretty exhausted from your long trip, and I wouldn’t blame you if you were feeling a little uncomfortable about all this. I want you to know we aren’t in the habit of sandbagging our consultants with clandestine assignments, and we aren’t going to do that to you. All we’re doing is asking you to listen to what they have to say, and then tell us whether you’re comfortable taking a modest piece of the action. Most of all we want you to be clear that it mustn’t compromise the contract McKinsey has with the primary client, in this case the Zimbabwe Finance Ministry and Minister Baunda."
Oscar’s thoughts were racing: [Oh, right, Gretchen. You’re trying to tell me that there’s some way I can sign on with the CIA and not sully my relationship with the people I’m supposedly working for, but really I’m spying on?]
[Others? Did I tell her there were others? Oh yeah, in the phone call.] "I really do need to talk about that, Maudie, but it feels incredibly awkward to me. I mean those other two guys in the room were from the CIA and the IMF. Just as you guessed. Like maybe you already knew.” Oscar waited, watching her for a reaction. Her face was impassive, Shona expressionless. He knew she would outwait him.
“I mean, they didn’t exactly give me a license to kill or anything, but just the fact that those two guys showed up at the meeting spooked the hell out of me.”
“Now, Oscar, you’re a grown man. Your father’s in international affairs. And now so are you. When you signed on with McKinsey to do this job with Minister Baunda, did it never occur to you that they might want you to do something more complex than crunch numbers, something with a little more intrigue? Did it ever occur to you that there are countless Zimbabweans with accounting skills? And that you bring access you can’t buy in a Zimbabwean? Did that never occur to you?”
“Oscar, we’d like you to take this back with you.” Pinksy reached into his attaché case pulling out a small black plastic holder that looked like it might hold a pen or a tiny paint brush. He pulled the ends apart revealing a numerical pad and screen that glowed green. [This meeting’s prize. Fly half way around the world; get a new toy.]. “This is our latest secure phone, just delivered. It runs off our own satellite and uses our scrambler. When you enter your code and press this button it activates and goes through to only one receiver. Either I or my assistant will be on the other end no matter what time you call day or night. The phones we gave you earlier will continue to work fine. For our usual communications, feel free to use them. But for anything perhaps more sensitive, we’d prefer you use this.”
Oscar looked at Gretchen. [So, is this how I keep clear that I’m a McKinsey employee, not a spy for the CIA? You guys are like a sinister cell phone company; every time we renegotiate my contract I get a new phone. Well, I’m not signing up for another two years for this one.]
“It’s all on the up and up, Oscar,” – Gretchen speaking – “We have an open, largely informal, contract with the U.S. government that has been approved by Congress, so we can do this without putting you or me in the position of being inadvertent spies. This information is, despite the secure channels, declassified. There’s a difference between classified and confidential, and this is confidential. Because of our international contacts, we do this with clients frequently, not only with the government.”
[Seems like we’re splitting some pretty fine hairs here. Good job, Oscar; you wanted to do good in the third world, and you’re ending up spying on the guys you want to help, working for the guys you used to trash. ]
He reached across the table and accepted the phone from Ethan Pinsky. “Can I use this to call my Mom? Sure could save on the long distance charges.”
[ So much for the IMF operating independently of the CIA. Jesus, does anyone do business as advertised any more?]
"Let’s dispense with the pretenses. McKinsey is the CIA, is the IMF."