Sonya was a globetrotter. She was regularly dispatched from the Moscow home office, along with a colleague or two, to review commercial operations at startups that benefited from her firm’s financial backing. Those young companies were generally headquartered in emerging markets. Her Russian passport included a montage of visas and entry stamps for destinations like Mexico, South Africa, and Indonesia.
This trip to Dubai, however, was different. Sonya had been sent to interview an executive who was a prime, albeit early-stage, candidate to head their due-diligence team. He was based in Mumbai. They agreed to rendezvous in the Gulf. Awkwardly, she did not know that he would be a no-show until she read her email on arrival at the high-end restaurant where they planned to meet. His flight had been diverted from landing at the last minute.
Sonya welcomed the respite. Armed with her iPad, she was able to catch up on overdue correspondence and check in with a few friends who were also online. But her attention was sidetracked by a briefcase apparently abandoned on a nearby side chair. It was a stylish attaché in top condition, made with rich crocodile leather. The clasp was particularly eye-catching. Its elegant design and gold-plated finish announced that this piece of business regalia was far more than a department store close-out. Sonya stared at the attaché throughout her solitary meal. Uncharacteristically, she decided that she would simply take it as payback for the skewed business trip, assuming it was still there when she finished.
The allure of discovering something astounding, if not magical, overpowered her common sense.
Sonya returned to her hotel room on Sheik Zayed Road before she opened the attaché. Its weight implied that it contained only paperwork. But the allure of discovering something astounding, if not magical, overpowered her common sense in walking out of restaurant with the someone else’s briefcase. She justified her spontaneity by telling herself she would eventually return the “fashion accessory” to the restaurant, explaining the improbable heist as a casual mistake to the coat-check clerk.
As she pilfered through its contents, Sonya thought that the attaché might have been misplaced by a government trade official. She found an array of ten or so colored folders containing notes on economic trends and clippings on political developments. A red folder was called Project Salsa, while a green one was called Halal Advantage. Other folders seemed to have a colored-coded relationship with their business-savvy labels. When she realized that the briefcase probably belonged to a like-minded investor in the asset-management industry, her sense of intrigue deflated instantly.
However elegant the briefcase, its contents were routine. Then a stray piece of office letterhead caught her attention. In a quote attributed to American actress Uta Hagen, the hand-scripted note read, “We must overcome the notion that we must be regular… it robs you of the chance to be extraordinary and leads you to the mediocre.”
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