by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents
Chapter 22, part 2
appear in this issue.
Chapter 22: San Francisco, California
part 1 of 2
Toni was at the airport sales desks earlier than he had predicted, and as promised he had a huge choice of immediate flights.
His plane landed at Oakland International soon after seven-thirty, and less than two hours later he was unpacked and already strolling down towards Fisherman’s Wharf. His latest Homeland Security tail, another woman this time, had spoken briefly with the hotel manager and then left him to it.
As he walked, his phone rang, and it was Maelene. His call from the lunchtime diner had obviously had the desired effect!
She had just arrived in her own new hotel in Las Vegas. They were getting closer together again with each day that passed. And they talked for a while, and they finished making-up, and they blew their speak-to-you-soon kisses.
He had a rather late dinner, then took a gentle walk around the Wharf, enjoyed its wide range of street entertainments, and finished the evening with a couple of relaxing beers in a welcoming music bar.
* * *
As Toni’s flight was landing, Raymond’s was only just departing from Houston, twenty minutes behind schedule.
It touched down at San Francisco International shortly before midnight, Pacific Time. An hour later, he was climbing gratefully into bed at the Beechland Hotel, and looking forward to a good sleep before his nine o’clock rendezvous.
* * *
Well before that hour the next morning, Carla waited un-made outside Toni’s room until he emerged, right on time. She then pursued him stealthily down one corridor, up the stairs, and along another.
Although she had eyes in the back of her radimote head, she had not been aware, during Toni’s walking tour of busy New York City, that he was being followed. But she had begun to suspect it on the more open streets of Columbia. And then, properly alert to the situation at last, she had quickly spotted his tail in Los Angeles.
The Mater had concluded that this mysterious behaviour could only be related to the strong concerns expressed by that Immigration Officer at Kennedy Airport. But they did not want to mention their discovery to Toni — it would undoubtedly scare him, and also affect his natural behaviour. And there was little that he or they could do about it, anyway. They would just have to try and sort out any problems as and when they arose.
More crucially, they did not want to make things worse for their already troubled, precious diplomat-in-waiting, Raymond Graves. So they would be taking pains, out in the field, to keep their own two operatives reasonably well separated in time or space.
Carla had not yet identified Toni’s latest pursuer. But she was confident he had not so far been watched this morning, since leaving his room just two minutes before.
And now he was stopping outside what must be Raymond’s room. She instantly re-made behind him in her familiar elegant form.
‘Oh, hello, Carla. So, here we are again.’
‘Yes indeed. Just like a song on the background music here this morning. Monday, Monday ...’
‘I don’t like Mondays.’
‘Well, let’s get the work done and then perhaps you can go and play, down by the bay. Maybe I’ll be free later, too.’
‘I’m really missing Maelene, you know ...’
‘OK, Toni, let’s just get on with it. Knock on the door, and let me go in first ...’
Neither Raymond Graves nor Antonio Murano could remember their previous melodramatic phone call in Belgium or their subsequent brief, non-speaking personal encounters there. So Raymond stood up, smiled politely to Carla as she waltzed in to make the introductions, and extended a cautious hand of welcome to his new colleague. Toni, thankfully also unable to recollect his delightful night out in Amsterdam with his new buddy’s girlfriend Mireille, grasped and shook the proffered hand as convincingly as he could manage.
Carla took immediate charge.
‘Close the door, Toni. Thank you. Now please sit down, both of you, and relax, and listen carefully ...
‘Yes, you have already noted a small change to our usual modus operandi, have you not? You see Carla talking, and you hear her normal voice — but as you can tell, this is Quo speaking with you now.
‘A most effective way to proceed, I hope you will agree, with two fine Illuminators needing to be briefed together. And it is also a useful illustration of the role that we expect you, Raymond, to be playing for us in the very near future ...
‘Now, you are both well aware of the broad terms of our mission here. Circumstances suggest that we shall have great need for the individual talents of each of you in the hours and days ahead of us here. So, gentlemen, I trust you will both make every effort to work effectively and co-operatively together.
‘Now, to business.
‘Toni, I need to deal first with your crucial role in today’s anticipated proceedings.
‘Carla will be meeting our next contact, a Ms Kelly Leinz, at eleven o’clock, at the Starblaze Hotel at Oakland Airport.
‘You will go there by taxi as soon as this briefing is over. You will find somewhere to sit in the lobby, in sight of the reception desk, and you will await the arrival of a moustachioed dandy who looks to be aged seventy going on forty-five.
‘That unmistakable character will give you a clear signal of the room to which you must admit him. Follow him there, open the door, and wait for further instructions ...’
‘Look, I was never very comfortable with drama at school. I’m not certain I can handle this. I’m not even sure I’m needed here at all ...’
‘Nonsense! You have already revealed your acting talents on countless occasions. Deep breaths, that’s all it needs, my friend. And many other times you have served us well, by only standing and waiting. Never forget the value of dry powder at the ready!’
‘You are very kind, Quo.’
‘No, Toni, I am simply a manager.’
‘I see. Anyway — will I need my CD player?’
‘A very good, positive question! And the answer is “No” — we have not been able to establish this particular target’s musical predilections. We shall be obliged to move hard and fast on her, and gain the advantage we need by the power of friendship and persuasive argument alone ...’
‘Will that be enough?’
‘We hope so. But this is remarkably active thinking on your part! Do you perhaps have a bright idea or two?’
‘Well, I thought we might just make a guess. Choose something that everybody over here enjoys. Take a chance ...’
‘I am impressed, Toni. Any particular suggestions?’
‘Let me think about it ...’
‘Certainly. Now, let us turn to you, Raymond. You are, of course, our powerhouse: our trusty envoy, our go-between, our near-paragon of virtue ...’
‘Steady on! You’re making me sound like Henry and Bob and Geri all rolled into one ...’
‘Precisely. Like a man or a woman who can ride forth into the choppy waters of the middle ground and bring common thinking to opposing hearts ...’
‘Well, I’ll do my best for you, whatever the job turns out to be. At least I can understand why you’ve asked me to do it, Quo, rather than trying to handle it yourself. It’s best to keep the language of diplomacy clear and simple, and stick to one metaphor at a time.’
‘I shall take that observation in the right professional spirit, sir, and move swiftly on.
‘If things proceed as we hope, we should not need your assistance with our initial meeting. We shall keep you in the wings. More dry powder, if you will. But Toni will phone if you are required, and we shall brief you there and then, as necessary.
‘However, assuming we are completely successful in our first engagement, we shall most definitely bring you on stage for the second act, whenever that may turn out to begin. Carla will put you fully in the picture, in advance, once we ourselves know what it is, and have set our specific goals.
‘And your polite but pointed little jest, Raymond, is actually well-aimed: only a flesh and blood human, and one of fine reputation to boot, could ever play this particular part ...’
‘Touché, Quo. Compliment accepted in the spirit in which it was given.’
‘Dare I say touchée in return?
‘Now — for many good reasons, we wish to avoid the two of you being seen together in public. So please exchange mobile phone numbers straight away, and then arrange to take separate cabs to Oakland, at least five minutes apart. Toni will leave here first, and will go straight into the hotel when he arrives; but you, Raymond, must take a nice little walk in its grounds, staying well away from the lobby — and please make sure your phone is switched on and working perfectly ...’
‘It’s a deal.’
‘I’ve got it!’ Toni suddenly piped up. ‘Carla gave me a clue, without realising it, just before we came in. She should sing California Dreamin’ to Kelly Leinz!’
‘What do you think, Raymond?’
‘It’s a very good idea.’
‘Bravo, Toni! Let the lesson begin ...’
Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd