Prose Header

Observation Two

Standing Divided

by Michael E. Lloyd

Table of Contents
Chapter 19
Chapter 20, part 1
appear in this issue.

Chapter 20: Los Angeles, California

part 2 of 2

The Captain and her colleagues at last knew what they had long suspected about the application on Earth of the lutetium from the new, high-quality ore. And they were once again both pleased and dismayed by this latest uncovered truth.

They had discussed their attitudes to this probable outcome many times, since detecting the first light rumours of it from Marie-Anne Holden and the much stronger signs from Norman Crofton. And they were united in their views. They were determined to put a halt to it as soon as possible — for three very different reasons. They firmly believed that the way it was being done was immoral and inequitable. They were also convinced that humanity was not yet ready for such a sea-change — if indeed it ever would be. And last but not least, they themselves wanted as much lutetium as they could get their Doman hands on.

So they would need to clearly indicate, to just the right people, the high desirability of getting that extraordinary element globally banned and “taken away”, for a very good price, by a helpful disposal and recycling agency. And to achieve that, they would have to involve both those behind the current mysterious operation, and their rich and probably very influential customers.

Professor, we shall need you to arrange an immediate meeting between ourselves and Steven Shenner, in the privacy of his own office here. And this is how we wish you to do it ...

Humphrey had got the message.

‘OK, Quo. I’ll do my best. But he’s a hard man to please.’

Please just phone him now.

‘Stevie? Hi, it’s Dirk.’ ... ‘Yes, I know what time it is!’ ... ‘Well, I think you’ll want to get yourself up for this. I have a really hot prospect waiting for you, now, right here in the office! Her best friend’s broken the rules and told her about us.’ ... ‘What? Look, Stevie, I’m certain this is a big one! I really don’t think you can just stay in bed!’ ... ‘Who?? You must be kidding!’ ... ‘You’re not kidding. Right, I understand now. So when can you be here?’ ... ‘Twelve-thirty, your office. Got it. I’ll try to persuade this lady to stay ...’

An excellent performance, Professor, almost meriting nomination! And when he deigns to drag himself away from his present preoccupation, we shall, as they say, take it from here with your Mr Shenner.

‘Break a leg, Quo.’

I shall take that as an encouragement, Humphrey.

And now, let us return to our earlier meeting of minds. We should like you to immediately arrange, by telephone, for some important colleagues of ours to pay a short visit to the Mojave mining site in the very near future.

You will inform the Operations Manager (I detect his name is Dave Evans, and that he still loves the songs of the Beach Boys) that they are both trained geologists, that their purpose is to conduct a short, ad hoc inspection for you personally, that their visit is completely confidential, and that they should be allowed full and free access to all aspects of the extraction operation. Please do it now ...

Humphrey tried.

‘His wife says he’s taken the dogs out for a walk, and he doesn’t have his phone with him. Back in about half an hour.’

Very well. Pussy and I will meet with you again, here, in precisely one hour’s time, to receive your confirmation that the job has been done. You will also then provide us with all the information needed to enable our inspectors, at their own convenience, to arrange hotel accommodation, make direct contact with the manager, and travel to the mine itself.

Carla motioned Toni to open doors for her, and they made their own way down towards the relatively fresh air outside. But before they reached the front entrance, Carla passed him a simple message.

‘I’m staying in here, to finish things off with the Professor and then get ready for Mr Shenner. You’re free for a while now, but please don’t stray too far away. And be back in clear view of this building by twelve-thirty. I’ll be coming out to give you further instructions soon after that.’

He strolled around the downtown streets quite aimlessly for about an hour, largely ignoring the views, preoccupied by the previous night’s little tiff with Maelene. Then he had a bright idea. It would now be half-past eight in the evening in Bilbao. He pulled out his phone ...

‘Paula? It’s Toni.’

‘My God! I was wondering when you’d burst back onto the scene!’

‘Please don’t be silly. I’m calling for a bit of advice.’

‘Huh! You wouldn’t stop to listen to me when I was trying to explain about Lisa ...’

‘Paula, I don’t care about Lisa any more. Or you — in that way, I mean. I just want to know what to do ...’

‘About what, Toni Murano?’

‘I’m in love. Properly this time. And it’s all going wrong!’

‘Gee, Toni, I don’t need this, you know.’

‘Please, Paula ...’

‘All right — I’ll try. Fixing things is often much simpler than you think. What’s the problem?’

‘There’s this girl ... and she’s had to go away for a while ... and she’s working with another guy ... and she hates him ... but I’m still really jealous that he’s with her ... and I said some cruel things to her on the phone last night ...’

‘Is that all? You men are useless — every one of you! You want to know how to fix this fast, Toni?’

‘Yes, please.’

‘Call her, say you’re truly sorry, tell her to hurry home, and when she gets back just give her some good loving.’

‘Is that it?’

‘That’s it.’

‘OK. Thanks. And — how’s Lisa?’

‘She’s fine, Toni. And I do appreciate your asking. By the way, where are you?’

‘Los Angeles!’


* * *

The image of Pussy Galore slinked in through Humphrey’s open door and gave him another welcome cuddle. He was fully prepared.

‘OK, Quo, it’s all fixed up. Dave’s expecting a call whenever your people are ready. Here’s his number, and road directions to the site. And here are the details of three good hotels in the south of Las Vegas, close to the airport. They’re only about sixty miles from the mine ...’

Thank you, Professor. I feel your work for us is now almost complete. I shall pass no fuller judgement on your role in these affairs, but I do counsel you to cast around for a new contract for your little refinery.

Now, kindly conduct Pussy to the precise location of Steven’s office — but no touching, sir! And after that you may comfortably eradicate this morning’s events from your memory for ever and, as I believe the saying goes, get the hell out of here.

It was nearly noon, and the Mater was now all ready to move the geologists on from Montana to the second stage of their parallel mission.

So while Carla and Quo waited patiently for their engagement with Steve Shenner, Lucia and the Chief rapidly passed the marching orders over to Salvatore.

* * *

Carla had not had the benefit of access to the services of a professional make-up artist, but had been obliged to rely solely on her own vivid imagination.

The Vice-President of Sales smoothed his moustache and marched into his office to find a long-faded Hollywood starlet seated behind his very own desk in his very own very big chair. And as soon as she observed the look on his face, Carla knew she had got her latest characterization close to perfect.

‘Steven Shenner, I have been waiting here for over two hours, and I am not amused. That is almost longer than I ever had to wait on set in the morning ...’

‘I’m sorry, Miss ... ah, heck, I forgot to ask Humphrey your name, and I’m afraid I just don’t recognise you ...’

‘Couldn’t you have done a bit better than that for me, Stevie? No, of course not — you always were an awful actor, weren’t you? But there’s the rub — nobody recognises me these days, not even you. After all those good times together. And you are still looking disgustingly young.’

Shenner was feeling an intense combination of greed, nostalgia and indefinable shame. Just the way the Mater liked things. As they had anticipated, there would be no need for music this time.

‘I’m very sorry, ma’am. Time passes, you know ...’

‘OK, Stevie darling — I’m willing to forgive you and move on. And I have lots of money to spend. So come over here and give me a big kiss, just like in the good old days ...’

Well that was fun, wasn’t it, Stevie!

‘Who the hell are you? And who was that crazy dame?’

My name is Quo. But the “dame” is of no consequence, Mr Shenner. Discard her from your memory, like so many others. And you must also forget dear Humphrey’s role in this wee charade — for he bears no narrow blame for that.

Instead, please concentrate on Brighter Vale alone, and paint for me at once a full picture of its beginnings and its munificent operations ...

‘Look, I can only tell you what I know, OK?

‘I get this phone call outta the blue, from a woman name of Kelly Leinz. Says she’s the PA to someone called “The Man” ...

‘So, cut a long story short, she offers me a position in a brand-new business operation. “Salesman to the Stars”, she says.

‘I tell her I don’t need a day job any more. She says she reckons I’ll keep talking once I hear the deal. She’s right. Small fortune every month!

‘I ask her why she’s picked on me. She says the word is I’d known most of their planned customers very well when I was a kid.’

A fascinating script, Stevie. Now, perhaps we may move on a little faster?

‘OK. Sure. Turned out they were based in San Francisco, and their new business was being funded by three venture capitalists up there. “The Man” had approached them individually with an irresistible opportunity. Each of them was privately sworn to secrecy, of course, and promised full protection for their continued loyalty — and the opposite, if they should let one another down ...

‘Those financiers got together and quietly established Brighter Vale here in LA — nice and convenient for Beverly Hills, right? First off, they carefully chose themselves a sleeping Chief Exec. That guy’s owed more favours around town than Santa Claus, but he’s always too spaced out to call them in for himself. No matter — they do that for him.

‘Next, they picked up Humphrey. What a character! He already had a nice little refinery hidden away in the eastern hills! Then they found their one and only Sales Rep — yours truly! And finally they hooked a smart young Admin Manager. First off they gave her the full story — usual rules — and then a very different one, for her to sell to any support staff she needed to recruit.

‘So only those eight people know anything about the end-product — we call it Eau de Regnolt Saluoy ... that French stuff really impresses the punters — and only the Admin Manager and I know the names of our customers. We still have just twenty-six of them, but business is booming ...

‘Those customers have been selected as carefully as the company staff. They’re sworn to secrecy just like we were (it always works!). And they know that if they were crazy enough to break that promise, and claim to have found the elixir of life, the company would go to the ends of the earth to make sure they’d be ridiculed in the press and Hollywood society for the rest of their days. And they would never be allowed to buy any more of it!

‘It’s also so expensive that they would never consider sharing what they buy, even with their best friend! And none of them wants anybody else around them to start looking younger — if they wish to do that, let them make the financial sacrifices themselves! So my treasured customers reckon it’s a very good thing to see the price of the stuff rising all the time. A lot of ‘em are investors too ...’

That would appear, Mr Shenner, to be a complete reversal of the principles of the natural market economy.

‘Neat, isn’t it, Quo? You wanna join us? No, only joking!’

Well, that makes just one of us. No, rather than join you, I hope instead to undo you. I suggest you take a very deep breath. Here are your immediate instructions, to be obeyed without fail ...

‘Kelly, it’s Steve.’ ... ‘Yes, I’m sorry. Me too. Look, I have something very important to tell “The Man”. Could be a problem, could be a big opportunity. We need to talk it through. Can’t say any more on the phone.’ ... ‘Wait, are you sure I can’t see him personally?’ ... ‘Yes, yes, I know the rules. All right, when can you get away for a few hours?’ ... ‘Tomorrow morning? Fine.’ ... ‘San Francisco? OK, whatever you say. I have a pen ...’

You are a natural salesman, Mr Shenner.

‘I’m an actor, Quo.’

Exactly. So, just what have you sold Ms Leinz?

‘Well, she said “The Man” would never go to such a meeting, and she told me I should know that already! She’ll come instead. And she doesn’t want it to be “at home” — so she’ll fly into Oakland in a private plane first thing in the morning. She’s going to book a meeting room, in her name, at the Starblaze airport hotel, and I have to be there at eleven o’clock.’

That will do nicely. And the good news is that you will not need to move your poor, tired body another inch. We shall represent you in person at the meeting with Kelly, and you may retire back to the world precisely as you knew it before we so thoughtlessly disturbed you this morning.

Until, that is, your world should change ...

Up on the Mater, the Captain had been following these events most carefully.

Now was the time, she was deciding in the light of Shenner’s revelations, to bring the political muscle of Raymond Martin Graves back to their aid of their party. And as Carla had observed to Toni in Dublin, it was extremely convenient that the seasoned diplomat, consul and security negotiator had recently returned home to Texas, after what appeared to be a rather abrupt recall from his NATO job in Europe.

Toni was hovering not far away outside, as instructed, and Carla circumspectly rejoined him.

‘So, carísimo, it’s time for you to make some new travel arrangements. Let’s go to San Francisco! Have you spotted an Internet café around here?’

‘No, I haven’t. LA’s such a big place ...’

‘Never mind. Use the phone and got hold of a travel agency that’s open on a Sunday. Find out the times of flights in the early evening. Hopefully there will be several to choose from. Please don’t book a ticket yet — just in case we need to change our plans. But we do want you to find a nice downtown hotel there, and reserve a room for a couple of nights. Quo and I have to know its name before we can move ahead ...’

* * *

Half an hour later, the job was done.

‘No problem with the flights, Carla. For example, I have a choice of three in the space of just ten minutes around half-past six. And that’s just the ones from LA International! There are two other city airports with flights departing in the same period. And on a Sunday, no less. It’s amazing — I’m used to waiting at least half an hour for a bus in Bilbao!’

‘Well, there must simply be huge market demand.’

‘No, they told me there was plenty of space on each one.’

‘In that case, they obviously have infinite reserves of oil to squander. Not what I had understood ...’

‘Hmm. Anyway, I’ve booked my room, at the Beechland Hotel, down near Fisherman’s Wharf. I’ve heard that’s a nice place to go in the evening.’

‘Great, Toni — thank you. Now, you can have a few hours off to see whatever sights Los Angeles has to offer. Meanwhile, Quo and I have another little job to do. You remember phoning Mr Graves for us, when you were in Ireland?’ ... ‘Well, we hope he will be joining the team again soon. But we can’t let you leave for the airport until we’re sure of that. So we’re going to have a little talk with him, and you must be back in your hotel room by five o’clock, packed and ready to go — and stay there till I arrive to give you the word.’

‘Whatever you say, boss. And the best of luck!’

As Carla hurried away to find a secluded spot for her broader disappearance, Toni turned his attention to locating somewhere for lunch. He would give Maelene a call while he was there, and try to sort things out. And he could ask the waitress for advice on how best to spend the next three hours ...

He soon found a suitable diner. And Carla, un-made now but watching developments carefully for a few minutes more, noted — as she had suspected — that the gentleman who had been close behind him all morning was also happy to stop for a bite to eat before hitting the tourist trail.

‘It’s me.’

‘Feeling a bit more sociable today?’

‘Yes, I am, Maelene. I’m very sorry I said all those stupid things last night. No excuses.’

‘I reckon you do have plenty, actually, Toni. Perhaps I could have been a bit more understanding ...’

‘You’re not really mad at me, then?’

‘Probably not too much, now you’ve apologised.’

‘Oh, that’s great! Any idea when we’ll be together again?’

‘Can’t say. We’re off to Las Vegas now, and another patch of desert! Don’t know how long we’ll need to stay there. How about you?’

‘Having lunch in LA. Probably leaving for San Francisco this evening. Come and join me!’

‘Out of my hands! But thanks for calling. We’ll talk later — in private!’

To be continued ...

Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd

Home Page