by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents
Chapter 14, part 3
Chapter 15, part 1
appear in this issue.
Chapter 15: All For One
part 2 of 2
The brusque series of knocks at Maelene’s office door, only seconds after she had returned, was a replica of those her mother had heard the previous Saturday morning.
‘Oh, hi Sal. What can I do for you? I’m really very busy today ...’
‘Yes, of course you are — no time for a morning coffee, or a walk in the park for lunch, or anything like that ...’
‘Oh, that’s really unkind! I thought you’d promised to forget your silly ideas and leave me in peace!’
‘Well I did, didn’t I? For days! And then he turned up ...’
‘Enough, Sal! You obviously don’t know how much damage you could be causing. Please just go away — right now!’
He stormed back into the library for another confrontation.
‘You seem to be spending a lot of time with Maelene!’
‘Oh, you’ve been spying on us, have you?’
‘No, it’s obvious — yesterday afternoon, coffee this morning, lunchtime today! Maybe you even saw her last night ...’
‘And would that be a problem?’
‘You did, didn’t you? It’s just not fair!’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘What do you think? Oh, get out and leave me alone ...’
Toni needed no further prodding.
Lucia, on the other hand, stayed invisibly behind. And following the Captain’s bidding, she had another little word in Salvi’s ear, and the Chief brought him rapidly up to date on the subject of their latest comrade-in-arms.
* * *
Neither the Mater, nor Homeland Security, felt it worth their effort to tail Toni on this particular short excursion. So he wandered in true isolation around the Capitol area for quite some time, and then spent an hour in the fascinating State Museum. It took him a while to completely shrug off his annoyance with Salvatore, but he managed it, slowly but surely, by focusing on the prospect of another delightfully private evening ahead with Maelene.
* * *
Crofton arrived at the bench in Finlay Park well before five, with a big smile on his face. Nobody there yet. Never mind — he had the result they were after. He could relax at last.
‘Over here, again!’ called Carla sweetly from behind their favourite bush. She would probably not need any Shag Music this time, but she started humming some anyway ...
I see you bring very good news for us, Norm! Mac is clearly happy to entertain Salvatore!
‘Yeah, Chief. Took a bit of persuading, but a cousin’s a cousin. He’ll show Sal around and tell him all he needs to know. But I suggest the guy takes a big bottle of liquor in with him. That oughta keep Mac sweet ...’
Excellent advice, I am certain. And thank you for memorising his phone numbers for me, as well as the address of the mine. I take it we have an open invitation?
‘Sure. I told him there’s no way ya’ll are leaving town tonight. It’s about a twelve-hour trip door-to-door, including connections, whichever route you take. So he’s expecting a call from Sal when he reaches Red Lodge — anytime from tomorrow evening onwards. He’ll be around all weekend, so they can meet up at the mine as soon as they’re ready.’
Norm, I feel your work for us is done at last. Thank you. You may return to your regular affairs, and hopefully catch up with everything before too long.
Please provide Sal and Toni with anything else they require at Forretan over the coming hours. And we shall be having a special final word with you before we depart.
There was little more that could be achieved by the Mater, on the ground, in what remained of that day. And there were still some important short-term tactics to be finalised, so it would be sensible to leave the organisation of travel bookings by Salvatore or Toni until early the next morning.
And there was anyway a greater priority. Following the afternoon squabbles of their new eternal triangle, Quo had highlighted the need for some significant team-building — and not just among their Illuminators. The Captain and the Chief had both readily agreed with her proposals.
So firstly, Lucia was instructed to redouble her efforts to gain Salvi’s strong interest in her as a cherished partner, but also to try and studiously ignore whatever he might continue to do or think with regard to Maelene.
Next, Carla was encouraged, quite firmly, to shape up, reduce the intensity of her own little amorous crusade, and allow Toni and Maelene the time, space and respect which they both deserved. And she was then dispatched to Maelene’s office, for her own first, short, and un-made engagement with their feisty new agent.
Good afternoon again, Maelene.
You will, I am sure, have detected that a different colleague is assisting me at this moment. Your young European friends know her as Carla. I am sure you and she will work very well together, whenever it proves necessary.
Now, things are moving along nicely. Toni and Salvatore are both fully aware of your presence on our team. And we hope to make great strides tomorrow. But for the time being, please still make no mention of this new adventure to your business colleagues, family or friends ...
‘OK, Quo. And I’m looking forward to it — I think!’
Excellent. Now, we detect a strong need for a rather greater degree of cohesion among our three Illuminators. And we are certain you are just the woman for the job. Especially as you seem to be the object of two sets of varyingly welcome attention.
‘What exactly are you getting at?’
Simply that we should like you to bring peace upon the land, Maelene, and turn your little group into a tightly focused and mutually supportive team. A team which will not allow personal relationships to cloud its judgements or its actions.’
‘Fair enough, Quo. But you won’t get me loving Toni any less!’
That is not my intent, Maelene. I am very happy for you both.
Now, I see you have made plans to meet up with him again this evening. Would you please arrange for it to be, instead, a little night on the town for all three of you? This could well be your last evening in Columbia for some time.
And we shall contact you again, here in your office, tomorrow morning ...
* * *
‘Toni? Hi, it’s me. Look, I’m on board now, and I know you know!
‘And I was really looking forward to our evening together. But I’ve been asked by “them” to fix a big night out tonight for you, me and Salvi. And you’ll really have to try and ignore all his stupidities. I’m sorry, but ...’
‘That’s OK, Maelene. I understand.’
‘Oh, thank you so much, honey. I’ll call him now. Pick you both up at eight ...’
‘Sal? It’s Maelene.’ ... ‘Yeah, I’m sorry I was a bit abrupt. I’ve been real busy. Anyhow, you know I’m on your special little team now, right?’ ... ‘Well, we’re all going out for the evening. It’ll be fun. But no arguments with Toni, no crazy stuff with me, OK? You have to promise, truly!’ ... ‘Good! Be down in the lobby at eight — and buy yourself something new and exciting to wear!’
* * *
Homeland Security watched the trio leave the hotel in party mood, and decided there was little need to follow them.
Carla made the opposite decision.
The restaurant was superb. Toni and Salvatore vied (but very courteously) with each other to persuade Maelene that they both held unlimited funds, courtesy of their common management, so there should be absolutely no holds barred when it came to selecting the dishes and the wine. Her natural inclination was at once to argue and apply sensible and decent moderation; but she quickly remembered her personal mission for the evening, threw caution and morals to the wind, and happily joined them in their carefree decadence.
Then they strolled down to her favourite music bar, and spent the rest of the evening putting the world to rights, and punctuating their intense political, artistic and environmental debates with jokily sensual little dances, right beside their table — dances in which the only lady in the party evenly distributed her time, and only her time, between both of her very willing partners.
* * *
Maelene was driving, of course, so she had limited herself to two small glasses of fine wine at the very start of the evening. Toni and Salvatore had both drunk a lot more, but not too much, and she was pleased to see they were still being pleasantly jovial and nothing worse.
It was only a three-block walk from the bar back to the restaurant’s parking lot. She linked arms with each of her new buddies, and they marched together down the sidewalk, cheerily singing a rough and ready version of Leavin’ on a Jet Plane.
Toni was holding the inside position and the short straw.
He never saw the two kids who barged into the trio from the darkness of a doorway on the second block. But he felt the pain in his shoulder as they struck, and the sting as his head hit the ground, and the stab of a boot in his ribs, and he heard the voice of one of them shouting ‘Nigger-lover!’ and Maelene screaming ‘No! Leave him alone, you bastards! No! ... Sal, do something! ...’, and he saw her trying to pull them off, and he felt them scrabbling in his pockets, one after another, until they finally found his wad of dollars. And then it was over, and they were running away, and Maelene was down there with him, holding onto him, and crying, and screaming ‘Sal, call an ambulance! ... Sal! ...’
It seemed like an eternity to Maelene, as she pressed her face close to Toni’s and shut out the rest of the world, but a police patrol car was on the scene in less than two minutes. And a few seconds later the urgent lights and sirens of a private ambulance destroyed her strange and intimate tranquillity.
Only then did she register Toni’s voice, trying over and over again to assure her that he was OK — that it was all going to be OK ...
Then the paramedics took control, and insisted he must be taken to hospital for a full examination. And he snapped angrily back to full alert, and told them he was fine, and he just wanted to go home. But despite his continued protestations, which soon turned into formal objections, he was treated like a porcelain doll and gift-wrapped according to all the latest rules and regulations. And while all this was happening, a police officer was smelling his breath, and checking all his pockets, and locating his happily untouched wallet and passport, and taking down all their details.
There was room in the small ambulance for only one extra passenger.
‘I’m going with him, Sal. You just get back to the hotel and tell them what’s happened. Where are you taking him, guys?’ ... ‘You got that, Sal? OK, do it!’
As the ambulance departed, Carla pursued it unseen and in helpless trepidation.
They checked him out carefully at the city centre hospital, which was only two blocks away from the Forretan offices. No broken bones, no dislocations. Nasty graze to forehead, bruised ribs, strained shoulder, mild shock. Thirty-six hour compulsory observation, to ensure no adverse developments following the bump on the head.
Maelene stayed with him until he was comfortably installed in a private ward, and the pain which had hit him, after the rush of adrenalin had subsided, was being assuaged by some strong medication.
‘I’ll see you in the morning, honey — you’re going to be fine.’ And she left him with a long and tender kiss.
* * *
The Homeland Security agent’s cell phone rang.
‘You wanted to know when Mr Murano was planning to leave the hotel. Well, it may not be for some time now. He’s apparently in Emergency at the Palmetto Baptist Medical Center. Street mugging. Cuts and bruises, possibly worse ...’
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd