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1916 - Gerard Le Caillec, a French intelligence officer with the Foreign Intelligence Section is trying to rescue his moribund career. In a calculated move he applies, and is selected, for an assignment his superior warns could become a career enhancing proposition or quite possibly the end of his career.
Le Caillec is sailing to New York City to fill the position of overseas resident officer. His mission hatched in Paris is to set in motion a sabotage operation--the destruction of armament warehouses on a Hoboken, New Jersey pier.
Set against a portrait of prewar New York City, WWI is raging in Europe but America is still neutral. The spymasters in the French capital want to pressure the Americans to put an end to their highly profitable practice of manufacturing munitions for the Germans, which are in turn being used against them on the battlefields of Europe. Operating out of the Upper East Side French consulate on Fifth Avenue, Le Caillec has his sights set on recruiting a bankrupt young French-American investment banker named Armand Barsoum to place the explosives on the docks.
Immigrated to New York from Paris, Barsoum is an inveterate handicapper and crippled by a crushing debt owed to a notorious bookie known as the "meanest man in New York." Le Caillec extorts Barsoum's help by agreeing to pay off his markers and to stand behind any further losses. But Barsoum balks. He wants to become an American citizen and worries his extorted cooperation by French Intelligence will lead to his discovery as a saboteur jeopardizing both his immigration application and his employment in the 'white shoe' firm that employs him.
But just as the plot is finally taking shape the Military Attaché at the Imperial German Consulate learns of it from a romantic interest of Barsoum's, and makes immediate plans to deal with it.