Bewildering Stories

Table of Contents
Chapter 19, part 1 appeared
in issue 138.

Observation One:
Singing of promises ...

by Michael E. Lloyd

Chapter 19: Brussels, Belgium

part 2

When Toni awoke, Carla was already sitting in the chair near his bed, waiting to plan the morning’s events.

‘Oh, hello Carla. Did you sleep well?’

‘In my own way, yes, thank you, Toni.’

She made no mention of the previous evening.

‘Now, Toni ... at eight-thirty you must call Raymond Graves and read out a message to him, in English. Please write this down ...’

Toni rubbed the sleep from his eyes and found a pen and paper.

‘OK, I’m ready ...’

‘Is this Raymond Graves? ...

‘Good. Listen carefully. Do not speak. Do not argue.

‘We have Mireille. She is wearing the pretty little silver bracelet you gave her for her birthday. She is very frightened. We are not squeamish. If you do not co-operate absolutely, she will suffer at length. You will hear her suffering, each time we telephone you ...’

‘Carla ... what is all this?’

‘Toni, please do as I ask. This is our mission. Do not fear ... I promise you that no harm will ever come to Mireille or Raymond. This is only a means to an end ...’

Toni was not comfortable, but had little will to fight.

‘If you say so. OK, carry on ...’

‘... and after that, your involvement with Mireille will become publicly known. And your fingerprints will be found on several of the items used to inflict her injuries ...

‘So do not argue.

‘We require you merely to do a small favour for us. You will follow these instructions precisely. Providing you do so, Mireille will be freed unharmed, and she will telephone you later this afternoon. And it will all be over.

‘You will travel at once to Brussels, and you will purchase a bouquet of roses, for recognition. Then you will enter the City Park, by the entrance opposite the Royal Palace, at 1100 hours precisely. Your initial contact will be a woman standing nearby, who has no idea what you look like. As soon as she sees the roses, and is sure that you can see her, she will sit down on a bench, and you will approach her and receive a further message.

‘You will appear cheerful and carefree throughout.

‘You will inform nobody of this. If the police or any other forces appear near the Park at any time, we shall observe it, and Mireille’s suffering will begin at once. If the police approach the bench, your contact will loudly claim complete ignorance of you, and will make a formal complaint that you are propositioning her. This will not be good for your reputation with the police or your masters ... and Mireille’s suffering will immediately increase. You will bear the blame, and hear the results.

‘Now, do exactly as I have instructed.’

‘This is preposterous, Carla!’

‘No, Toni, it is just our way of encouraging him.’

Toni was revising his opinions on the desirability of visiting Dome.

‘I’m still not happy, Carla.’

She left him to dress and eat his hotel breakfast in uneasy peace.

* * *

But at exactly eight-thirty, Toni Murano, retained Illuminator, telephoned Raymond Graves and slowly dictated his frightening message.

The seasoned diplomat began to apply his situational analysis experience after hearing the very first few words. He knew there would be no time to try and set up a trace on the call ... and anyway, that would bring everything out into the open. Dragging it out by arguing would also be counter-productive. So to buy himself precious thinking time, and to avoid worsening the situation, once Toni had finished speaking he merely said ‘All right. I’ll be there ...’ and put down the phone.

He soon decided to follow his first instincts, concluding that his girlfriend’s young life was more precious than whatever information, influence or betrayals her captors might be seeking from him, at this time of all times — the height of the operations in Iraq. He phoned his secretary and regretted that he was feeling most unwell. Leaving her to handle the effect of his absence on several very important meetings, and figuring that, for this critical journey, the railway was safer and more predictable than the roads, he drove carefully to Mons station.

Halfway through the train journey, he suddenly remembered it was April Fool’s Day, and began to pray that this would turn out to be just a very sick joke ...

* * *

As he cut the phone call, Toni was absent-mindedly reflecting on Raymond’s accent in the few words of English he had uttered. It didn’t sound at all like that of a Frenchman or a Belgian.

Carla, already re-made and observing from the corner of the room, interrupted his thinking and politely demanded a situation report, which her aide-de-camp at once provided with surprising aplomb.

‘Excellent, Toni. Thank you! Right — you must go straight out and buy a small portable CD player with speakers, and two set of batteries, and a CD of Rhapsody in Blue. Oh, yes ... please also pick up some Strauss Waltzes while you are there! Get the Gershwin piece all ready to play. And throw away that sheet of paper with the message I dictated!

‘Then you must go to the Park, using the entrance opposite the Palace (yes, I did my reconnaissance last night!), and sit down at a quarter to eleven at one end of the first empty bench you see. I shall then join you, and we shall wait for Raymond to arrive. After that, you can leave it all to me. But I’ll probably need to disappear, when it’s safe to do so — so please don’t watch ...’

* * *

As Toni was about to leave his room, he suddenly realised he could have some music to accompany him around Brussels. He delved into his rucksack, pulled out the one and only CD he had brought from home, and tucked it into his jacket pocket.

He got directions to the nearest shops from the hotel concierge, and remembered, while he was there, to ask about the trains to Amsterdam.

On his way to the shops, he took the note he had written for Graves, tore it into several pieces, screwed them all up, and dropped each one into a separate litter bin.

He soon found and bought everything Carla had ordered. He made sure that the copy of Rhapsody in Blue sounded all right, then swapped in his own CD and set it playing. Now he had nearly an hour to spare. So he revisited the Grand Place, this time in daylight and with Between the Lines playing quietly in the background, and tried to recall at least some of what Mireille had told him about the glorious square.

Then he strolled up the hill to the east, passing the magnificent Saint-Michel cathedral and the Parliament building, then crossed the Place de la Nation into the north entrance of the Park and walked its full length, watching the Palace façade come steadily into full view. He turned back once he had reached the square, and sat down on an empty bench, just as Carla had instructed.

A couple of minutes later, she appeared from behind a large tree.

Hola, Toni.

‘Hi, Carla.’

‘Toni, your own music sounds wonderful, as always, but will you please set up the Gershwin CD straight away ...?’

‘Oh, I’m sorry ... I’m not thinking!’

‘Well, you are, Toni, but maybe not exactly the right things for this moment ...’

‘Your jokes are getting good, now! Anyway ... there, it’s all ready ... listen ...’

* * *

Carla moved off a few yards to Toni’s left and admired the view of the Palace.

Just before eleven, a stocky man with a round, confident face and blond crew-cut hair lumbered through the gates, cradling a large bunch of beautiful red roses rather self-consciously in his arms.

‘He’s seen me, Toni,’ said Carla, without moving her lips. ‘Start the music. I’m coming to sit down ...’

With his internationally respected mind in an unaccustomed ferment, Raymond Graves was trying unsuccessfully to ignore the young man who was seated at the end of the bench and listening to the music he loved so much.

‘Good morning, ma’am ...’ he managed, rather unconvincingly.

As soon as their visitor opened his mouth, Toni’s suspicions were confirmed ... he was certain now that Graves was not European, but was most definitely an American! Then Carla smiled with a vengeance, and took control, and Rayo was hers.

And now, at last, Toni was thinking clearly.

‘Let me take those ...’ he insisted, relieving Raymond of his roses before they could be thrust upon the insubstantial Carla. Then he noticed that Carla was making faces at him, realised that there was no-one nearby, and remembered her advice. Taking an inspired cue from the military activities at the palace across the square, he turned on his heels and mounted guard duty directly in front of the blissful new couple, only seconds before Carla vanished into thin air ...

Quo’s first action, upon engagement, was also to relieve the worried Mr Graves, in this case of all his unnecessary concerns about Mireille and the awful blackmailing plot. Raymond’s large frame at once relaxed visibly into the contours of the bench, where he had sat down next to Carla and been embraced by her charms.

Quo naturally established the basics straight away. And the skilful talent spotter’s self-confidence, as an identifier of potential subjects for engagement, was then very quickly restored.

Raymond Martin Graves, it was revealed, was born in 1950 in Houston, Texas.

His father, Alan, had been an air force engineer throughout the war in Europe, returning to Houston with a good command of French and joining a large business equipment corporation in 1946. Two years later the high-flying young salesman had met and soon married the youngest daughter of a Czech émigré couple, who had followed other members of their family to Dubina, Texas in 1906 and built up a farm of their own. Milada Novák had spent the first thirty years of her life labouring on the farm, but when the demands of the war were over, she had moved to the big city in search of her man.

Just after the birth of their first son in 1949, Alan and Milada had been sent to Paris to support his firm’s rapid expansion into the European market, and his steady rise through the company ranks had continued at an increasing pace. But they were able to return regularly to Texas, and especially to the farm, now run by Milada’s brothers, which Alan had adopted as his tranquil second home. Their second son Raymond had been born there during one of those happy family vacations.

And the pattern was thus set for the rest of Raymond’s life. Most of his childhood and teenage years were spent in and around Paris. From the age of seven onwards, he was despatched to a series of good international boarding schools. He correctly did not interpret these early, long separations from his family as rejection, but took the changes in his stride and continued to develop into a very well-balanced young man. From the start, his academic results were excellent across the board. And despite his bulk, he performed well in many different sports — except, to his eternal regret, his secret favourite, basketball: there were many other strapping young Americans in his teenage schools, but he was a mere 5'10" in height and rather too cumbersome ... so when sides were chosen, his name was never called.

His family continued to return to the Texas farm at least once every year, and so he gained from his grandparents, aunts and uncles a deep and direct understanding of the history of Bohemia and Moravia, and a good command of the Czechoslovakian languages, to supplement his ever-increasing knowledge of European history and fluency in French.

At the age of nineteen, Graves easily won a place at the London School of Economics, gaining, over the next five years, an excellent BSc and then an MSc in International Relations. He returned to Paris in 1974 to join an international strategy consultancy, and three years later he married Mlle Claire-Louise Carnac, a long-standing family friend and a highly acceptable career accoutrement. He then proceeded to move easily on to ever greater responsibilities over the following twenty-five years.

Inspired by his father’s war record, he initially focused his sights and his continuing studies on politico-military strategy, and rapidly became a sought-after junior member of some highly influential teams, judged by colleagues and clients alike as a provider of consistently sound and complete analyses and conclusions.

After eight years of learning the ropes from the outside, he left the consultancy and joined the US diplomatic service, subsequently being posted to embassies in many countries throughout Europe and beyond, and rising to the position of Consul. Seconded later to various government agencies as a senior security advisor, he was soon recognised as a highly skilled negotiator, and proceeded to enhance his reputation in his handling of several high-profile international situations.

And in early 2000, he accepted the position of Deputy Political Advisor in the NATO SHAPE Command Group. The Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), and his Deputy, relied on their team of political advisors as their primary liaison with NATO’s political authorities and with all the member and partner governments.

He had now been three years in post. His team’s mission embraced continuous information collection and analysis; the briefing and influencing of NATO governments; the maintenance of ongoing dialogues with countless security agencies, academic bodies, embassies, and the foreign ministries of both NATO and non-NATO countries; the exploitation of informal channels to oil the wheels of subsequent negotiations; the co-ordination of high-level visits to and from SHAPE; and of course, based on all the insights thus gained, the provision of invaluable strategic advice to their commanders.

And Raymond was aware that he was tipped to take over from the head of his team in the not too distant future, and become the next NATO SHAPE Political Advisor.

(‘Yes,’ thought Quo privately, happily finding the perfect American expression. ‘You will do nicely ...’).

Raymond and Claire-Louise Graves had only one son, born in 1983 and named Alan after his grandfather. Towards the end of 2002, he too had opted for a career in the US Air Force.

And Raymond had known Mireille Daurant for nearly eighteen months.

Quo was most grateful, though rather surprised, that this guru of international security had chosen the path of quiet diplomacy, rather than vocal force, in his strategy for saving Mireille from apparently great danger. In fact, Quo would never be able to decide whether Raymond’s necessarily rapid analysis of the degree of exposure to himself, and to countless other important personalities and situations, had been very sound or seriously flawed.

The man himself would, of course, never consider the question again ...

One other item of interest to Quo emerged from this initial transferral. Graves was familiar with the name of Hilde van Wostraap. She had, it seemed, been only recently elected to the European Parliament. Graves had never met her or investigated her particular agenda, and was not aware of any significant intelligence held on her within his group. His knowledge of Ms van Wostraap extended only to her general reputation as a woman of high moral ideals.

Quo could now see that this would need to be a relatively complex engagement, conducted in several waves; but it could then culminate, with one broad sweep, in the netting of a loose shoal of very big fish, and get the Mater’s unofficially sustained Insight Gaining programme nicely back under control ...

This initial transferral, about to be completed, would establish Raymond’s own public and private views on some key issues of the day. That would give Quo a starting point, a baseline for understanding how far the secret opinions of such a well-informed and influential man might actually differ from his official posture.

Graves could then be sent off to do some direct collecting of the apparent views of his immediate team of professionals, on one or more of those issues, and report back with the results. That would provide a further set of baselines ...

But the key to the success of the overall engagement would then be the full Empowerment of Raymond himself.

The systems on the Mater had by now had more than enough time to analyse the workings of the human brain and to generate the appropriate empowerment procedures. Quo was thus already in a position to recruit Raymond, during their next encounter, as a fully-fledged Sub-Engager. Then, Quo confidently predicted, the political advisor’s extensive world would be their oyster.

So now the game plan was built, and Quo could move on to the first real business ...

To be continued ...

Copyright © 2003 by Michael E. Lloyd
Lyrics credits and copyrights

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