Observation Three

Changing Hearts

by Michael E. Lloyd

Synopsis

Table of Contents


Chapter 6: I Get Around

part 1 of 2


Nick Sanoutrio picked up his rental car after arriving at LA International the previous Friday morning, and aimed its GPS system at Hancock Park, West Hollywood. It then led him, quite painlessly, straight onto the front drive of Steve Shenner’s expansive home on the fringes of the Wilshire Country Club.

The poorly matched business partners quickly finalised their short-term tactics, and an hour later they were just four miles to the west and enjoying an ice-cold, pool-side glass of low-calorie Chardonnay with Lia Garedez in her own secluded little corner of Beverly Hills.

‘ ... and so, unfortunately, Miss Garedez, the supply has suddenly dried up. We thought it would be good for years and years, but it won’t. In fact we only have enough left to meet outstanding orders. I’m afraid you really are going to have to wean yourself off it, and quite quickly. We’ll do what we can to help you.’

‘Mr Sanoutrio, I already gave Steven my answer a few days ago. I’m very pleased with my lovely Eau de Regnolt Saluoy and I am not willing to go back ...’

‘We’re now in a position to offer you double the sum I mentioned on Tuesday.’

‘Double?’

Nick glanced across at the VP of Sales and raised a discreet eyebrow.

‘Lia, you were still beautiful when you started taking the Eau. And you’ll still be beautiful after you stop ...’

‘You silver-tongued lizard, Stevie Shenner!’

‘I mean it, Lia. I promise. So, what do you say to our new offer?’

‘I say it’s a lot of money, and it’s very tempting. But ...’

Nick spotted the clay skimming low over the tree-tops, and took rapid aim. ‘We’ll give you an additional 50% if you’ll help us persuade some of the others over the next few days.’

She looked at him hard. Then she turned back to Shenner.

‘OK, I’ll do it. For you, Stevie. And I’m going to call Trish right now and invite her over. We’ll need to help each other through this. Please open another bottle, Mr Sanoutrio — and make it Champagne this time.’

* * *

Walter and Phil had both spent most of the day tidying up affairs in San Francisco, and they finally landed at Los Angeles late in the afternoon, just in time for the traditional Friday gridlock. They would clearly need to postpone the confrontation with their redoubtable first target until the following day.

So a taxi rushed them slowly to their downtown hotel, where they met up with Nick for dinner and heard the good news about Lia and Trish.

‘Good news? Sounds like two more nails in our coffin!’

‘Get a grip, Phil ...’

* * *

Jaine Ayer never shirked confrontation. Neither did Walter or Phil. That was why they had chosen to start with her. If they could tame that famous Rancho Park bronca in the first round of this contest, everything would be downhill from there.

But at her entrance gate speakerphone, everything was already going downhill.

‘I told Shenner where he could stick his compensation! And then he sends in you two goons! Get away from my property now, and tell him not to show up here till he’s got some more Salts for me!’

‘Ms Ayer, please let us in. You really have to believe me. There are no more Salts. All used-up. Finito. Empty bottle. And we do have a much better offer for you now ...’

‘Are you deaf, Tessing, or whatever your name is? No deal. I have the cameras on you, and if you’re not gone in the next twenty seconds, I’m calling the cops!’

Felipe Doreza pushed his colleague aside and got very intimate with the microphone grille.

‘No you won’t, ma’am. You do that, we spill the beans, and by the end of the morning every gossip sheet in Hollywood knows your little secret ...’

‘You bastards!’

‘We’re willing to pay nearly three times what Steven offered, if you’ll play ball and help us buy off the others ...’

‘Buy off? Oh, that’s what you call it, is it?’

‘Wrap it, Phil!’ said Walter urgently. But his partner wasn’t listening now.

‘Let’s face it, lady ... you’re past it, and not just in name!’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Your clever little stage name. “Ayer” — that’s Spanish for “yesterday”, in case you didn’t know ...’

‘What??’

‘Sounds like she didn’t know, Phil. You’ve really done it now. Let’s get out of here.’

* * *

Walter called Steve with the latest good news from a coffee shop in Century City Mall.

‘Oh, great! I knew she’d play hard to get, but did you guys have to make it even harder?’

Tessing was determined to employ rather more finesse here than Phil had earlier managed. He wanted to get this thing back on the rails fast, and he’d still be working very closely with his rash but rich old buddy for the next seven days — and hopefully a lot longer than that, once this particular no-win game was over.

He crossed his fingers and took a deep breath.

‘Not our fault, Steve. The dame’s crazy. Your want my advice, she needs a good dose of your famous ... charm.’

‘You think so?’

Hook, line and sinker. A good salesman is always the easiest sell.

‘I do.’

‘OK, Walt. I’ll give her another try tomorrow. Never shirk a challenge. But I won’t need Nick with me. Call him and tell him he’s free till further notice, will you?’

‘Sure. So, do we hit on Anne instead?’

‘Yeah. But can you try and be just a little more subtle this time?’

Walter bit his tongue. ‘Yes, Steve, we will.’

* * *

They found Anne Vorna doing some light gardening in the warm afternoon sunshine. Steve had told them she was one of the few clients who could still get around unassisted.

‘Hello again, Mr Tessing. And this must be Felipe. Steve’s told me all about you, young man. What a pleasure!’

Phil, who was already a natural forty-eight himself, looked askance at Walter and decided to play this one deep.

‘Good afternoon, Miss Vorna. Yes, this is Phil. Lovely boy, isn’t he?’

‘Watch yourself, Tessing,’ hissed Doreza out of the corner of his mouth. ‘I can’t keep this smile up for much longer.’

‘What was that, my dear?’

‘Nothing, ma’am. Delighted to meet you too.’

‘Good. Now, sit yourselves down in the shade over there and I’ll make us all a nice pot of tea ...’


‘Well, it’s very kind of you to offer me even more money, Walter. But I don’t need it, you see, and I really am delighted with my Regnolt Saluoy. So I think I’ll just stick to my original decision, if that’s all right with you. More tea?’

‘Er ... Anne, I really don’t think you fully understand. We’d love to be able to continue to supply you with the Salts for as long as you’re still ... for as long as you wish.’

‘Good. Then everything’s fine.’

‘No, no, no, I’m afraid it isn’t. We have no more to sell you, or anybody else. It’s as simple as that.’

‘No more for anybody else? But what will poor Sophie do? And the others? Oh dear, this is all very distressing ...’

‘By George she’s got it,’ said Phil through his toothy grin, and sotto voce.

‘ ... and on such a lovely day, too.’

‘Listen, Anne, I think I may have a solution here.’

‘Oh I do hope so, Walter. Have you remembered where you left your stock of Salts after all?’

‘No. There really is no more stock. But I think we’re going to need you to help us break the news gently to your closest friends, and maybe some others too. Because you care so much about them ...’

‘Yes, dear, I do.’

‘And we can give you even more money, if you’ll do that with us — and if you really don’t need it for yourself, we could use it to help your friends with their own rehabilitation, or maybe give some of it to your favourite charity ...’

Phil was now engrossed in the delicacy of this performance from his normally very forceful business partner, and was happily keeping his own brain engaged and his mouth firmly closed.

‘Yes ... that really does all seem to be for the best, Mr Tessing. Very well, let’s do it! Shall we begin at once?’

Phil shook his head rapidly to make sure he was still awake, and concluded that he was. And Walter was still on a roll ...

‘Well, that’s just great, Miss Vorna. Let me shake your hand. And I know Mr Doreza would love to do that too, wouldn’t you, Phil? Good! That’s all agreed then. But there’s no huge rush. Perhaps we could start by visiting Sophie tomorrow morning?’

‘Certainly. You boys can both join me for Church, and we’ll go straight from there to her house ...’

Phil grimaced, but Walter’s own wide smile and cautionary glance kept him still at bay.

‘That would be delightful, Anne. We both love a good service ...’

As they waved their goodbyes and retreated quickly from this most unfamiliar world, Tessing murmured, mainly to himself, ‘The sooner Steve gets her signature on a contract, the better. She’ll probably change her mind a dozen times between now and the weekend ...’

* * *

‘It’s me, Jaine.’

‘Are those oafs with you?’

‘No.’

‘Did you bring me some more Salts?’

‘Yes, Jainey.’

The gate swung open.


An hour later the gate swung closed again as Shenner drove away. His charm had once more been irresistible, and the lady had been very grateful for all the supplementaries he had delivered, but her defences in the matter of Salts suspensions had remained impenetrable.

He was not overly concerned about that. He would play his trump card on dear Jainey later in the week.

* * *

The gang of three gathered in Tessing’s hotel room on Sunday evening. He dialled Steve’s number, put the phone on speaker, and passed his report.

‘You hooked Anne and Sophie? That’s great, Walt! Now, I didn’t manage to crack Jaine yet ... but I shall, in the end. OK, six down, twenty to go. I think we got us a convoy. So for the next two days I’d like you and Phil to go after Harold and the first three women on the main list, OK?’

‘Right.’

‘Nick ... you and I can target Gordon and the next three ladies, as agreed.’

‘You’re the boss.’

‘And we’ll take that rain-check at my place tomorrow night. I’ll fix up a full dinner service.’

* * *

Maelene Bay’s itchy feet that evening, as she and Toni planned the next day’s agenda at Hal’s Bar and Grill, were aimed firmly at their car’s pedals rather than any downtown streets.

‘Right, baby, here’s the map. I wanna see some of the country round here. Happy with that?’

‘Sure. I’ll be resting up in the passenger seat all day ...’

‘Hah! Don’t you dare go to sleep on me again tomorrow. In fact, we’ll make certain of that by going straight to sleep tonight ...’

* * *

They set out nice and early. As Maelene had deftly engineered through her overnight inaction, Toni the Townie was surprisingly refreshed and even showing mild interest in the seascape ahead as she took the ramp down onto the Pacific Coast Highway and pointed the car at Malibu.

They were soon in its long, glittering embrace.

‘Fine surfing beaches straight ahead now, Toni. Maybe Dave Evans learnt his skills here.’

‘Who’s Dave Evans?’

‘Ah, he’s the manager of the Mojave mine. Well, he was until recently ...’

‘So, planning to learn to surf yourself while we’re here?’

‘Be careful ...’

‘Loosen up, honey!’

Ten minutes later she continued her commentary.

‘OK. So, that was some of Malibu. Not quite as grand as I expected, but I bet the fat cats who live up there like it just fine that way. Now, we’re gonna go back a few miles, then head up into Topanga State Park towards the San Fernando Valley. The guide book says the view from the top of these hills is magnificent ...’

* * *

‘OK, we’re at the summit now ... there should be just a single viewing area ... it must be coming up very soon ... ah, here it is ... there’s just one space left ... hold on!’

‘That was a rather abrupt stop.’

‘If I hadn’t done that we’d have missed the view completely. Wow! Just look at that, will you?’

Ahead and to the east, the sprawling masses of Woodland Hills, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Pasadena, Downtown LA and countless square miles all around lay spread out far below.

‘It’s all so big!’

‘I know, Toni. That’s one of our problems.’

‘But it’s stunning, Maelene. And I want to visit all those places this week!’

‘Hey, I knew I could interest you in some scenery ... even if most of this is man-made. But we’ll soon fix that ...’

They sped down into Woodland Hills, skirted the urban sprawl via Chatsworth and San Fernando, and joined Interstate 5 for the run up towards Santa Clarita.

‘Feels like a good time for a coffee break ...’

They slipped off the freeway at the next exit, and discovered that the road immediately doubled back into a short strip of simple shops, cafés and Realtors’ offices. Maelene pulled into the first of the watering holes, and they wandered in, ordered their drinks, and took them straight out to the small, sunny back patio.

‘Still enjoying it, Toni?’

‘Yes, of course I am. But mainly because I’m with you ...’

‘You sweet-talking guy! Where’d you learn those tricks?’

‘Eh?’

‘Just joking. Thanks for being so nice!’

‘Hey, look at that building up above us, behind the end wall. I really like the style! And I haven’t said that about much of what I’ve seen in the USA ...’

‘I keep forgetting you’re an architect’s son! But I have to agree — it’s a lot cuter than most of the stuff around here ...’

‘Can we spare a moment to take a closer look?’

‘Course we can!’

They hunted around for a footpath for a couple of minutes, then Toni gave up and walked back towards the waiter who was now clearing their table.

‘Excuse me, sir ... do you know how we can get through to that building?’

‘Ah, if I wanted to get there, man, I wouldn’t start from here! You’re gonna have to run on down the road and pick up the freeway again, then it’s about five miles to the next exit, and then ...’

Toni eventually established that it would be a total distance of nearly thirteen road miles, and would take them anywhere from twenty to thirty minutes, depending on traffic.

‘And it’s a government building, man, so there’ll be a long wait for vehicle security processing at the entrance gates. Look over there, through the trees ... you can see the line of cars for yourself!’

Toni wandered very disappointed back to Maelene, who was still diligently footpath-hunting for him, and told her the sorry tale.

‘ ... and what a cost in time and fossil fuel!’

She was delighted at his brief flash of environmental awareness, but wasn’t about to give him licence to relax.

‘Rare insight on your part, Mr Murano!’

‘Oh, thanks for nothing!’

‘Listen — we should be very, very glad that Quo’s not watching us this week. She might just have concluded we have an awful lot of that fossil fuel to spare.’

‘But I’ve already concluded that’s exactly what all of you believe, over here.’

‘You’re stealing my thunder, honey ...’

They pressed on towards Santa Clarita, but soon after Maelene had made her planned turn to the east and was running through Valencia, Toni called for an early lunch. She sighed, and decided not to argue. They stopped at Appleby’s Neighborhood Grill, and got rapid service and good meals before the place began to fill up fast. Toni devoured his huge, all-American burger, while Maelene looked on in mild disgust and savoured her cheese salad.

‘Right, sunshine, now you’re gonna see some of the real USA. I was on the eastern side of the Mojave Desert a week ago, and boy was it was impressive! Today we can see the south-western corner together. Better pick up some extra bottled water, just in case ...’

They set out towards Route 14, but Maelene decided against it when they reached the ramp, and instead headed north-east through the Angeles National Forest on a set of small roads that gave them a superb and ever-changing canyons tour.

‘So, how about this?’

‘Marvellous, Maelene. Just marvellous ...’

They finally came to the outskirts of Palmdale, and she picked up Route 138 eastbound and hit the gas for the fifty mile drive over to Victorville. Toni eyelids were already drooping, and soon he was asleep. She decided to give him twenty minutes and no more ...

* * *

As they took the exit for Route 18 and headed on east, she lost her patience.

‘OK ... wakey wakey, sunshine! There’s too much to look at here for you to be cat-napping!’

‘Oh, wow! That is dramatic!’

‘Told you so. And look at the peaks of those mountains! I can’t work out if it’s snow or white rock ...’

‘Well, we’re not far from Nevada, are we? That’s “snowy” in Spanish. So I’ll run with that.’

‘Good thinking, Batman. And the town of Mojave itself is at the foot of the Sierra Nevada. But Death Valley’s not far away, to the north, and that’s one of the hottest places on earth. I should have done some better research last night. ’

‘Death Valley’s a sun-trap below sea-level. I remember that from my school lessons. And up in those mountains it’s probably a lot colder than you’d think.’

‘Yeah. Guess I knew all that already. I’m embarrassed, Murano, and you seem to be awake again.’

‘Thanks a lot.’


Proceed to part 2 ...

Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd

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