by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 7: Sacramento, California
At five o’clock on Tuesday May 6, Jennifer, Lawrence and Harvey Kuhler sat down in the comfortable chairs of Veight’s private conference lounge. Lucia perched unseen on the drinks cabinet, and Quo watched and listened with long-delayed anticipation.
‘So you’re our famous witness, Mrs Pruston ...’
‘What! No way, sir. Where did you get that idea?’
‘Since you’re the only other party in the room, I felt it was a very reasonable assumption. What’s going on, Congressman?’
‘Calm down, Kuhler. Nothing’s “going on” here. I never said the witness would be joining us. She remains incognito until we are all a lot more certain of our positions.’
‘This is not good, Mr Veight. I’m investigating a ... well, I’m investigating ...’
‘Exactly. You don’t know what you’re investigating. And nor, frankly, do we. But it is certainly not us. And for reasons way beyond your present level of insight, the identity of our witness — we shall call her “Acorn” — will remain a secret for as long as she chooses. Now, are you ready to listen and learn, Mr Kuhler?’
Between them, Lawrence and Jennifer then related Acorn’s story ... or, as Quo did not fail to observe, a carefully selected subset of it. They chose to say nothing about her dubious activities with Brighter Vale. Indeed they gave no hint of any of her several professions, past or present. And they did not speculate on why she had been selected by the visitors as their U.S. government envoy.
They simply began with Kristy’s visit from an apparently trustworthy American (‘ ... let us call him “Hermes”, Mr Kuhler ...’) who gave every indication of being the bona fide ambassador of those visitors.
Harvey at once took aim at what he imagined was the softer target in the room. ‘I’ll need a full ID on this guy right away, Mrs Pruston.’
‘No, you won’t,’ she countered firmly. ‘And we’ll come back to that later. For now, you’ll just listen even more carefully ...’
And they then relayed, in considerable detail, Acorn’s account of the “video” of the mineral extraction. They affirmed that she had described it to them individually, on two separate occasions, and that the details had been identical each time. ‘And none of us,’ Jennifer was at pains to stress, ‘has any doubt that it was projected, specifically for her, using an inexplicable “non-Earth” technology.’
Harvey had gone very quiet. Lawrence took his cue.
‘Your reaction, Mr Kuhler, suggests that this report matches well with what you have seen with your own eyes. I am right, am I not?’
‘Yes you are, sir. I’m no scientist, but it would seem to correspond precisely with everything the specialists have already concluded. The stuff from the hole just disappeared. Stolen. No mess, all left clean as a whistle. But hey — how can you be sure your witness was not actually there on-site, and saw it with her own eyes? That would take this “alien video technology” crap out of the equation and put us back in the real world of some kind of crazy prank, with her at the heart of it ...’
‘Because, Mr Kuhler, the lady in question was, at the documented time of the incident, four hundred miles away and actively participating in a public meeting involving a large number of respected citizens, all of whom would confirm that fact if and when required to.’
‘OK,’ said Harvey reluctantly. ‘I still don’t buy it, but we’ll run with her story for now. You said you also had something in writing from the felons ...’
And they summarised the message of the visitors’ communiqué, and Jennifer handed a photocopy of Raymond’s document over to the Intelligence Officer for his personal inspection.
As their guest approached the end of his reading, slowly shaking his head in increasing bemusement and incredulity, Lawrence again seized the initiative.
‘Now, Mr Kuhler, before we take this discussion any further, and in exchange for the mass of precious new information which we have now provided, would you kindly bring Congresswoman Pruston and myself up to date with the latest findings and opinions from the mining site? Then we can all perhaps move forward on a level playing field ...’
Harvey rather grudgingly gave them a limited but essentially truthful report on the complete lack of progress. The experts had finally been allowed to take a proper look at the bore hole late on Friday afternoon, soon after the arrival of the State Department’s Situation Manager. But nothing new had been deduced. They were all still on the case, but it remained a total mystery, and the SitMan was reporting back as much to his masters, every six hours.
But the Intelligence Officer said nothing about his fruitless investigations that morning into the middle management and financing of Brighter Vale.
‘Thank you, Mr Kuhler. Now, we must press on ...’
‘Yes we must, sir. This is a matter of National Security. I do need to know the names of your witness and her co-conspirator ...’
‘No, Mr Kuhler, that is not what is required! On the contrary, you need to give us your absolute assurance that both of them will be granted Diplomatic Immunity when they eventually reveal themselves to the appropriate parties. If you have read the communiqué carefully, you will know that this is a prerequisite to any further progress.’
‘You mean you just expect me to go along with this whole charade as if it were really true?’
‘By George, you appear to have got it! Our job here is not to persecute our honest fellow citizens, but to smooth the path to a summit meeting which purports to be of extreme gravity to all concerned. I, for one, despite all my innate reservations about what I have seen and heard, am determined to do that to my utmost ability.’
‘And so am I,’ added Jennifer. ‘So will you please, on behalf of the Department of State, give us your personal word on those guarantees of immunity, and allow us to move on with arrangements for the meeting?’
‘No, I’m not willing to do that, Mrs Pruston. We have a major conflict of interest here.’
Lawrence Veight was now feeling very frustrated that, despite making significant efforts before the meeting had begun, neither he nor Jennifer had managed to find anything “useful” about this man — or indeed anything at all. Harvey Kuhler clearly operated in very shrouded deeps. So no scope for dirty tricks here.
‘Time Out, please, Mr Kuhler. Jennifer and I need to discuss this in private for a few moments. Please remain here, and help yourself to more coffee ...’
Quo was feeling similar frustrations, and coming to the conclusion that, after many days of self-control and patience as she allowed these leaders to develop their own strategies for the handling of this extraordinary situation, she was after all going to have to intervene with a little dirty trick of her own.
As soon as the politicians had left the room, she seized the moment. The Mater had no idea of Kuhler’s musical tastes, so to get him quickly in the right mood for a brief word, they would have to run with their own limited knowledge of what inspired the man ...
From her vantage point behind him, Lucia materialised and immediately began to hum a faithful rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. He turned around in shock and surprise, and was at once caught in the tractor beam of her smile. He stood up and moved quickly towards her, she grasped his head in her hands, enabled the Missioning Sphere, and promptly disappeared again, and Quo took over.
Mr Kuhler, I shall be brief, for I suspect your friends will return very soon. And I choose that word carefully, sir — you should indeed treat them as very close allies in this whole affair.
You need know nothing about me, save that I am one of the visitors mentioned in the document you still hold in your hands.
We had hoped to find you more co-operative than you presently are. Your opposition sorely disappoints us. Time is rushing on, and regrettably we must now intervene to ensure rapid and positive progress, as well as the total security of those who have already selflessly assisted us in our mission.
Let me quickly paint a simple picture in your mind of the “movie” that has already been played by us to the lady known as “Acorn” ...
There. I trust it now makes much better sense. So, you will at once suspend all disbelief in what you have heard today, you will make the commitments clearly required of you, you will give the situation your full ongoing support, and you will act with expediency to smooth arrangements for the planned summit meeting.
And we shall talk again. Good day, Mr Kuhler.
Only seconds after Quo had returned her subject to his normal plane, Veight and Pruston re-entered the room in determined mood and found him standing in front of the drinks cabinet with a faraway look in his eyes.
‘Thinking of pouring something a little stronger to help your decision-making, Kuhler? Well, let me tell you ...’
Harvey held up his hands in an unmistakable gesture of submission.
‘It’s OK, Mr Veight. I’ve had second thoughts about it all. I accept everything you’ve told me, and I agree to guarantee Acorn and Hermes the protection they need.’
The politicians exchanged uncertain looks, their latest game plan suddenly rendered unnecessary. Then Jennifer Pruston picked up the ball and made a dash for the line.
‘We’d like that in writing, here and now, Harvey — I may call you Harvey, right? — along with your spoken word of honour on Mr Veight’s Bible. I’m sure you have one to hand, Larry ...’
‘OK. That’s everything, I think. I’ll fly back to Washington first thing tomorrow, and talk with DF in person straight away.’
‘And with no-one else in the meantime, Harvey?’
‘Get back to me soon, Mr Kuhler. We need to be well prepared before Hermes contacts Acorn with the details of next Monday’s summit. He could do that at any time.’
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd