by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents
Chapter 22, part 1
appear in this issue.
Chapter 22: San Francisco, California
part 2 of 2
Toni walked into the lobby of the Starblaze Hotel and sat down in an easy chair in full view of the reception desk. He looked for all the world as if he were simply there to meet or collect a friend, which was certainly the assumption made by the government agent who came through the door a few minutes later and made straight for the little hotel shop.
Carla, not yet re-made for her latest role, noted with mixed feelings that this was indeed the lady who, an hour earlier, had followed Toni out of the Beechland Hotel and pursued his taxi in her own car, while Carla rode invisible shotgun for him. With this latest intelligence breakthrough made, she moved away to dress for the next part.
A few minutes later a figure bearing a striking resemblance to Brighter Vale’s VP of Sales emerged from a quiet corner and approached the reception desk.
‘Hi. I’m Steve Shenner. I have a meeting with Ms Kelly Leinz in one of your private rooms.’
‘One moment, sir.’ The receptionist picked up the phone. ‘Ms Leinz — your visitor is here.’ ... ‘Yes, exactly so, madam.’ ... ‘Certainly.’
She smiled politely to Carla’s perfect disguise. ‘Identification confirmed, sir. Take a left by the elevators and go through the door at the end. Room 4 is the second on the right. Have a nice day!’
‘Thank you, my dear!’
Carla moved away, then turned to face Toni, with her back to both the receptionist and the agent over at the shop, and held up four discreet radimote fingers. Then she paced manfully off towards the elevators and disappeared round the corner.
A full minute later Toni stood up, stuck his hands in his pockets, ambled casually off in the same direction as if looking for a lavatory or a coffee machine, turned the corner, and pulled opened the solid wooden door to the corridor which Carla herself had already been able to transit quite effortlessly and unobserved.
She was waiting for him outside Room 4. Her look said ‘Ready?’ and his said ‘Yes.’
‘Come in, Steve!’
Toni stood to one side, turned the handle, and pushed the door wide open. Carla strode in singing California Dreamin’ with baritone gusto, marched smiling and with arms open wide toward the already rather bewildered Kelly Leinz, and embraced her before she knew what had hit her.
‘OK, Toni,’ Carla called out gently. He cautiously stepped into view, entered the room, and closed the door swiftly behind him.
By the time Homeland Security realised the target had not simply gone in search of a coffee or whatever, and had come looking for him in the maze of ground floor corridors, he was safely out of her sights.
Well, well. Surprise upon surprise, Ms Leinz ...
‘Who is this?’
I am known around these parts, madam, as Quo. But that sobriquet is merely one remove from my own real name. Whereas you, it seems, are positively revelling in obfuscation ...
‘For crying out loud, what are you talking about? We speak American here! And what’s happened to Steve? And who’s this kid?’
So many questions! Well, let me address them all. Firstly, I shall try hard to make my meanings plainer for you. Secondly, Mr Shenner need no longer concern you today. The business of the “special news” was a mere tactic to allow me to meet you. Please lay no blame at his door. And finally, you may completely ignore my young assistant here ...
Now — as I was attempting to say — it appears that you are not at all what you seem, Ms Kelly Leinz, Personal Assistant to “The Man”. I should rather address you, I think, as Kristy Clear ...
‘How in blazes do you know about that?’
Ah, we already know far more than this about you, my dear. Ah, yes ... Miss Kristy Clear — minor Hollywood starlet for a few years in the fifties and sixties. But I see you believe you could have been so much greater, had your candle not been eclipsed by far brighter flames. Hmm — how they come and go ...
‘This is a huge intrusion into my private life, Quo, or whatever you’re called!’
Oh, it has only just begun, Miss Clear. Because of course, you never really were Kristy Clear, were you? That was just another screen name, and one you were happy to drop like a hot coal when you realised the fame you sought could never be, and the scandals were instead threatening to destroy you ...
‘If I could manage to move out of this chair, I’d be calling my lawyer right now!’
We shall in fact require you to make several important calls, very soon — though not to your lawyer.
But we have not yet finished, have we? So, you abandoned the failing steed of your movie career, and reverted to your real name — Kristy Toresito. And you kept your head down for many years, and then rebuilt your reputation with your well-saved cash and fine, charitable work. Most admirable. And I must say you are looking remarkably well, for your age.
‘Just what are you after here?’
Merely some truths and some justice, my dear. Now, where was I? Ah yes — and then it was naturally time for politics. We have seen that pattern before, elsewhere. I suspect it is even stronger over here.
And you ran for office, and you wowed your public far more successfully than in your first short stabs at silver screen glory. And you have been a respected Congresswoman ever since.
‘And a mighty fine one! I’ve worked really hard, all my life. I’m proud of everything I’ve achieved for this state — especially for its women!’
You have clearly made a great contribution, Ms Toresito. This I do not deny. But I suspect you have come here today in something of a disguise, to avoid being recognised as that famous politician. Yes, I thought so. For we have still not exhausted the list of your identities, have we?
‘Quo, I think you’re going to regret this ...’
I think not, Madam. I am in fact delighted to discover that, in parallel with your selfless work for your grateful electorate, you are also rather more than a mere PA in the service of the illustrious Brighter Vale. It is now, one might say, as clear as Kristy. You are Brighter Vale. You are “The Man”.
‘When I find out who ...’
Nobody has betrayed you, Ms Toresito. Only yourself. So take no ill-judged retributions.
Now, I am not going to beat about the bush.
We believe that what you are doing with your Lutetium Salts is totally immoral. You are concealing a life-enhancing opportunity from the world at large, and sharing it with only a few select and probably very undeserving individuals.
‘How dare you!’
In addition, even if this were not the case and the benefits of lutetium were in fact being fully publicised, and the salts themselves made available to the population at large (and I mean the population of the world, madam, not just that of, shall we say, western California), we should be still standing against you.
From everything we have so far observed, this planet is insufficiently mature, on almost every ground, to be able to handle the social and economic effects of a world-wide, dramatic increase in human longevity.
‘Which is exactly ...’
Which, I might add before you suggest it yourself, does not provide you with an excuse to fall back on your present policy of exclusivity.
And finally, I have to inform you that I represent a group whose need for lutetium and its derivative products is far greater than yours. Our entire biological existence is now dependent on this single element. Without it, our demographics will rapidly change and our society will disintegrate — even as far grander catastrophes assail us.
We have come, therefore, to make you, and all around you, a most attractive offer. We require you to cease at once your exploitation of ultra-rich lutetium ores; to caringly manage the small number of present customers back into their normal ageing process; and to grant us the right to extract and remove every identifiable deposit of those ores, here and anywhere else they may be found. In exchange, we shall reimburse you, and the peoples of the Earth, very generously in a range of your most truly needed natural resources.
‘Well, the whole idea is preposterous, of course! The minute I come down from this very strange trip, I shall be tearing you and your friends to pieces in every public and private way I can think of!’
I suspect not, Ms Toresito. Our powers of persuasion are probably quite primitive, when looked at in a certain light. But we use them only where we feel the end justifies the means.
Quo moved the subject directly back into the Transferral Sphere, and rapidly ensured that she had, once and for all, undergone a complete change of heart and mind on this particular issue, and now knew exactly what had to be done about it.
“The Man” shook her head in astonishment, swallowed hard, and reached for her phone.
‘Phil, it’s me. We have to meet. Something big. Could be very good news, but it has to be handled fast and very carefully.’ ... ‘No, today. With Nick and Walter too. I’ll be calling them next. Where are you now?’ ... ‘Any idea where they are?’ ... ‘Right, that’ll work. Drop everything. Starblaze Hotel, Oakland Airport. Meeting Room 4. Two o’clock, unless I get back to you with any changes.’ ... ‘I don’t care, Phil. Just be there.’
The Lady’s calls to her two other financiers were equally persuasive, and the day’s extra matinée performance was confirmed.
Thank you, Ms Toresito. Our young colleague will now leave you in peace for a while. You have nearly two hours to kill. I am sure there are plenty of useful things you can be getting on with. You will be back in this room by one-thirty, well in time for our next meeting. And I am sure I do not need to remind you — but I shall, anyway — that you must not meanwhile discuss this subject further with anybody.
‘I understand, Quo.’
Carla, unseen since the start of the engagement, spoke quietly to Toni.
‘Time to go, my friend. Peep out and check there’s nobody in the corridor, before you leave the room. Then I’ll talk to you again ...’
The Mater was very satisfied with the morning’s progress and the prospects for the rest of the day.
Toni was not just an often-helpful Illuminator, and a handy stand-and-wait servant with phone at the ready. He was now about to become, quite fortuitously, a very useful draw-bait. He would hopefully lure the tailing agent far away from the Starblaze Hotel, where the real action should soon begin.
The coast was clear, and Toni was alone again outside the Meeting Room door.
‘Right, carísimo,’ said Carla, out of the blue. ‘Please go straight through to reception on your own and call a cab to take you back to your hotel. When it arrives, I’ll join you inside, but you still won’t see me. I’ll just have another quiet word in your ear, once we’re on the road ...’
The taxi pulled away from the hotel entrance, and the car that had followed them earlier that morning took up its close pursuit once more. Once they were well out of sight of the hotel, Carla passed her whispered message to Toni, and he pulled out his phone.
‘Raymond, it’s Toni. All going to plan. Carla says you should get some lunch and then meet her outside the front of the hotel at one-thirty.’ ... ‘Yes. See you tomorrow, I expect. Bye.’
Carla remained unseen with her protégé for the whole trip back through Oakland and across the Bay Bridge to his own hotel. Homeland Security tailed them as usual, but still made no attempt to interfere with him. And the Mater would have to continue to assume he would not be apprehended, so long as he did nothing patently illegal.
‘OK, amigo,’ whispered Carla, as the taxi drew to a halt. ‘You’re cleared for an afternoon’s sightseeing — but on your own, I’m afraid! Next rendezvous, eight o’clock tonight, your room.’
Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd