by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents
Chapter 22, part 1
Chapter 22, part 2
appeared in issue 235.
Chapter 24: The Bridge
part 1 of 2
The utterly reliable and heroic Raymond Graves was waiting obediently by the entrance doors of the Starblaze Hotel.
Carla selected her line of approach for maximum impact, re-made behind a parked station wagon, and sauntered up to him exuding her usual fatal attraction. This would need to be the deepest level of Doman engagement.
‘Let’s go for a little walk in the parking lot, Rayo — and then maybe find a quiet corner ...’
‘How the hell did you pick up that nickname?’
Carla smiled still more broadly, in a mischievous combination of delight and misdirected revenge, and led on. And he simply followed, as he knew he always must.
So, Raymond, the storm clouds are bubbling under and it is nearly time for you to walk the planks for us once more!
‘You’re doing it again, Quo. I really do advise ...’
Point taken, my friend.
Now, although you do not recall it, a few weeks ago you provided us with an invaluable service.
As our first Empowered Illuminator, you gained the ability to engage with others in such a way that they would at once unknowingly reveal their true thoughts on any topic that we wished you to pursue for us. And you did this simply by smiling the very special smile which, as I speak, we have now taught you once again.
‘I could have done with that sort of skill in every job I’ve ever had.’
Which probably goes without saying.
So — to the job in hand. You understand the background well, already. This afternoon’s task is quite straightforward.
The delightful Ms Toresito will be attempting to persuade her backers to sell out to us, unconditionally. They will almost certainly refuse. And you, as her newly appointed Special Advisor, will be quietly observing their individual private reactions.
So your mission, Raymond, and we know you will accept it, will simply be to encourage them, very firmly, to accept our offer. But please, without undue rancour, at this stage at least. It is our strong preference to achieve our aims in a spirit of total co-operation. So we shall offer some generous time-out allowances, if required.
I hope you will be able to conduct this delicate little negotiation without further intervention from us. But I shall be on hand to join the fray, at once and through your own mouthpiece, should the need arise.
Now, these are the cards you are holding ...
Raymond Graves opened the meeting room door and walked straight in, without waiting for any go-ahead from Kristy Toresito. Quo had already ensured she would be expecting him.
Then, after giving his brief self-introduction, and receiving her own, as well as the reassurance that she was still quite clear on what must now be done, he sat down by her side, and they waited together in quiet and partial confidence for the knock at the door. Twenty minutes after the stated hour, it finally came.
* * *
‘Ah, please come in, Walter ... and Phil, it’s good to see you ... and you too, Nick. Thank you all for making the effort to be here so quickly! And let me introduce my close associate, Raymond. He is giving me some special advice in the extraordinary situation which has just arisen. So, please sit down, everybody.
‘Now, things have been developing very fast, and even faster since I talked to each of you on the phone. I do appreciate that I was not able to give you any insights, at that time, into the nature of the challenge facing us. I shall remedy this at once.
‘I spoke this morning of the possibility of some good news. I regret that it has since turned into rather bad news for us all. I have received some very strong — how can I put it? — some very strong encouragement, from certain powers-that-be, to close down all aspects of our little operation, without delay, and to take steps to assist our present clients with a regime of withdrawal, and to agree to the sale of the entire business to the extremely persuasive enterprise which is making us this offer.’
The reaction of the three financiers came as no surprise to Kristy, Raymond, or Quo. Nick Sanoutrio beat his partners to it by a whisker.
‘That’s pure crap, Kristy! You don’t think we’ve come this far with you just to drop it all, here and now, when it’s about to break even and start paying the returns we’re all counting on?’
‘Yes, I do, Nick.’
‘You’re crazy,’ snarled Walter. ‘Who the hell are these guys, anyway? Must be crazy themselves if they think they can put pressure on us, just like that. Do they maybe think we’ve got no friends to help us protect our interests?’
‘They know exactly what we do and don’t have, Walter, and they also know that they are infinitely more powerful than we are. I know that too, now. And I’m trying to get you guys to realise it. There is no room for argument. We have to do exactly what I have said.’
Phil was not going to stay out of this. ‘Kristy, you cannot be serious. But I’m giving you my answer straight, right now. It’s “No freaking way!” Is that krystal klear enough, huh?’
‘Phil, I suggest that sort of personal attack will get us nowhere. I recommend instead that all of you take a few minutes to discuss this privately together, and come up with a joint position ...’
The three angry men turned towards each other for a few seconds, and a look of mutual understanding passed briefly between them. Then Sanoutrio looked back at “The Man”.
‘Very well, Kristy. Yes, a few moments to re-consolidate our views would be a valuable investment.’
Graves knew that his moment had arrived. Before any of the trio could begin to make a move for the corridor, he caught their attention with a gentle cough, and smiled the smile that could simply not be ignored. And then he saw the truth of their individual thoughts, and he knew at once that those thoughts must never be pooled ...
Their private reactions had each been almost identical, and had consisted of two simple strategies — to square up to those proposing the takeover, rejecting it using any of the ruthless means at their disposal; and to remove the capitulating Kristy Toresito from the arena, summarily and at the earliest opportunity.
Raymond Graves spoke for the first time.
‘Gentlemen, it seems that I shall need to add my own weight to this debate.
‘Ms Toresito is quite correct in her analysis of the situation. However, I do not in fact act primarily on her behalf, but I speak rather for those who are making what amounts to a very generous offer, which not one of you has yet even been willing to understand in its entirety.
‘More significantly still, I clearly see the need to demonstrate the strength of the power base of those bidders. I suggest you brace yourselves for a shock. You will of course all deny it, at once, but I suspect I shall strike to your very hearts when I tell you that I know precisely what each of you is suddenly plotting to do with the now rather inconvenient Kristy Toresito.’ ... ‘Ah yes, I expected those to be your private, inner reactions, gentlemen. “Unadulterated fear” sums it up rather nicely, I think. Good — I see I now have your undivided attention. Perhaps we are getting somewhere at last ...
‘As Kristy has implied, my employers’ infiltration of your operation has been deep and thorough; and as you have just observed, they and I are similarly effective in gaining insights into very individual positions. So I am hopeful that you will now give us your complete cooperation.
‘For if you do not accept their offer, they will publicly reveal every dubious and illegal aspect of your company’s operations. From the incomplete and misleading description of the nature of the original geological find, as stated in the contract of sale; through the unregulated mining and refining activities presently taking place in the Californian outback; through the unlicensed production and sale of a totally untested medicinal product; to the immorality of the super-rich being the only ones to benefit, in life and fortune, from the remarkable privileges offered by those so-humble Lutetium Salts.
‘I suspect I do not need to expand on the political, financial and social scandals that would erupt from such revelations.
‘But in case you still harbour any reservations, I must point out that if you were to reject this offer — which, without going into the details, I can assure you would be most lucrative for you all — then my employers will anyway be taking unilateral action, and simply helping themselves to some of your product, with little ceremony. So you must see that it is in your interests to acquiesce without further ado.
‘And if you, or your broader allies, were in fact to attempt any resistance to such an unfortunate, un-cooperative outcome — well, quite frankly, that would be both silly and futile, and we should be obliged to deal with it very firmly ...’
There were objections, of course: strongly expressed to begin with, but rapidly countered by Raymond with further evidence of his and the Mater’s grasp of the present realities.
So it was not too long before the financiers stopped arguing, conferred quietly together without even leaving their seats, and then volunteered Nick Sanoutrio as their spokesman.
‘OK, Raymond,’ he said. ‘We get it now ...’
The Domans’ go-between quickly double-checked, and was gratified to see that they did at least appear to be getting closer to it.
‘... but you have to appreciate that we can’t just say “yes” without consulting our clients and getting them to understand what will then have to be done. That will take time — there are nearly thirty of them, and they are all very rich people, and heaven knows where any of them will be hanging out this week. And we don’t even know who they are, yet — that’s a very well-kept secret! We’ll have to get a list of names from Steve Shenner before we can do anything else, and you must recognise that it won’t be an easy sell with any of them ...’
‘Of course I do, Nick. I am gratified to see how accommodating you have all become, and yes, I fully appreciate the need for a little time to persuade those precious customers of your need for their full support. I can offer you twenty-four hours’ grace.’
‘That’s just impossible, Raymond. You know we’re not fighting you now, we’re just being practical. It can’t be done in that time. We need at least four days.’
‘Nick, you are a good persuader. I accept your argument, but four days is far too long. It is now approaching three o’clock, and you will clearly need the rest of today to make your plans, travel home and set up all those meetings. You may then have forty-eight hours to deal with your clients, and you will return to this very room, to report a hopefully successful outcome, at nine o’clock prompt on Thursday morning.’
Once they had left, Raymond turned to Kristy.
‘Madam, I believe your work for my employers is now essentially complete ... for the time being at least. But you will remain on call — they have taken note of your telephone numbers — and if the need should arise, I shall personally be in touch, and you will respond at once. In any event, they will contact you at some future point, once the likely outcomes are clearer.’
‘Good. Finally, please reserve this room, right now, for the whole of next Thursday, in your own name. But also tell them you may well not be present yourself.’
She picked up the house phone, and it was done.
‘Thank you, Ms Toresito. For now, I bid you good day.’
Raymond Graves walked out without further debate, and found a cab to take him back across the bridge.
Carla joined him and offered a quiet and unseen thank-you, a suggestion that he should now take a few hours off to enjoy the city, and a request for him to be back in his room from eight o’clock onwards, for an anticipated full team meeting later that evening.
* * *
At the Brighter Vale mine in the Mojave Desert, Maelene Bay had just phoned for the cab to come up from Baker. And she and Salvatore were soon on the road again, for their ninety-minute ride back to the hotel. The taxi waited while they picked up their bags, and then completed the final couple of miles to Las Vegas airport.
As they prepared to board their six-twenty America West flight, Maelene called Toni.
‘We’re on our way back in! We’ll be in at your hotel by nine!’
‘Fantastic! Has it gone OK today?’
‘Like a dream. In fact, just like a dream. Half of me is doing all I can to help Quo and the Chief meet their goals, and the other half’s trying to work out what’s going on, and what to think of it all. I’m very confused!’
‘Sounds pretty close to the way I’ve been feeling all along too! Don’t let it worry you ...’
‘Oh, but it does, Toni. That’s the whole point. We’ll talk about it properly sometime. Had a good day yourself?’
‘Yes — mission accomplished this morning, and been sightseeing all afternoon. Tell you about it tonight. See you soon!’
The Homeland Security agent’s tired feet were well aware that Toni had been out and about in San Francisco. While Raymond had been doing the real business in Oakland, Toni had unwittingly led his tail on a merry chase around the streets and the parks and the galleries and the museums. He had done nothing to cause any concern, and this agent too was increasingly wondering just what all the fuss was about ...
* * *
Salvatore had by now abandoned any lingering designs on Maelene, and during their short flight from Las Vegas he made a special effort to be simply pleasant, straightforward and polite.
She responded in similar fashion to start with, but only to a carefully managed degree; something told her the man was now going to be more receptive to her continued insistence on his apologising to Toni — once he could bring himself to do so. So, only minutes into the conversation, she took off her kid gloves and hit him with it once again.
‘Yes, Maelene, yes,’ he groaned, nodding heavily in frustrated acquiescence. ‘I’ll make it up with him soon — but in my own way, all right?’
Fair enough, she thought — one small step is big progress in this particular game. And she gave him the famous look that said, very clearly, ‘You’d better, sunshine.’
Lucia passed through arrivals with them, unseen of course, and while they waited for Salvi’s luggage (his colleague was still smartly travelling light), she spoke privately in his ear.
‘There’ll be a short meeting for the whole team, in Room 308, at nine-thirty tonight. OK?’
‘OK, Lucia. And ... when that’s finished, would you like to come out for a little stroll, to see the lights of San Francisco together?’
‘Oh, lovely,’ she thought to herself. ‘I really do know my place now, don’t I?’ And aloud, but still very privately, she whispered ‘Thanks, but no thanks, Salvi. All too easy ...’
As their cab pulled away from the SFO terminal, destination Beechland Hotel, Salvatore was feeling very, very alone.
It was now past eight o’clock, and Carla had got the message that the geologists were on the final leg of their re-join. So she drifted up to Raymond’s room and found him waiting there just as requested. Pleasantly surprising him with a brief and smiling appearance, she thanked him again for his fine afternoon’s work, and asked him to kindly prepare his room for the now-confirmed evening meeting.
Then she un-made, dropped down to Toni’s room, and reappeared from the bathroom with a cheery ‘Hola, chico.’
‘Hi, Carla. Listen ... Maelene’s on her way here from Las Vegas!’
‘Yes, I know. Better than that — right now she’s in a cab between here and the airport.’
‘Oh, that’s great!’
‘Look, Toni — I’m really pleased that things still seem to be going well with Maelene. The last few days have been very hard on you both. And I probably haven’t helped as much as I could. I’ve been a bit selfish ...’
‘I hadn’t noticed that. As far as I’m concerned, Carla, you’re a very fine friend. Always will be!’
She smiled bravely and blew him a big Doman kiss.
‘OK, amigo. Team meeting, nine-thirty, Raymond’s room. Please be very careful as you go up to it, and if anyone seems to be following you, just return to your own room and I’ll sort it out. This is a very delicate business, especially after our afternoon session, as you will soon hear ...’
Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd