by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 8: Murky Depths
Quo decided, immediately after arranging Harvey’s conversion and then hearing his personal commitments, that Lawrence Veight could himself now safely be left unmonitored. The temptation for her and Lucia to surreptitiously pursue Kuhler back to Washington, and absorb his follow-up discussions, was far too great to resist.
But they were once again destined to have a long wait. His scheduled early-morning departure from Sacramento was delayed by several hours for, as the airline helpfully announced, “technical reasons”, and by the time he was finally en route, and they had all added a further three hours to their watches, it was almost seven o’clock Eastern Time as his plane touched down at Dulles.
Harvey had already made the calculated decision not to disturb his master at home that evening. So he presented himself instead to Deep Fraught’s personal assistant at nine on Thursday morning, only to discover he would have to kick his heels for a further hour until there was a brief gap in the big man’s agenda.
Precisely seven days had now passed since the SOG-E made its appearance.
* * *
‘... so everything they told me ties up with what I saw at the mine. And their “witness” — that’s Acorn, remember? — must have painted a really vivid picture of the extraction itself to her Representatives, because it’s deeply etched on my own mind now, even though I had it from them second-hand!’
‘So it’s your conclusion, Harvey, that we really do have an alien spacecraft floating around up there, completely undetectable? And that it sent down an invisible probe, which caused that meteor effect, and collected that huge mineral sample, and went back to its mother ship? Countering all we know about gravity and light, and a thousand times stealthier than anything we have in the USA? And that it has somehow managed to co-opt at least two citizens, probably both American, as its go-betweens?’
‘You got it, sir.’
‘OK. Anything else?’
‘No. Well, I checked out the people behind the mining operation, but I’m not interested in the petty crimes of a madcap scientist and a faded film star and a bunch of get-rich-quick financiers. That has nothing to do with this business ...’
Fascinating, thought Quo. So you’ve been to see our friends in Los Angeles as well — I never thought to ask, during our brief encounter in Sacramento — and you’ve failed to complete the jigsaw from that direction too. Excellent! Now we just need to hope the Homeland Security agent from Las Vegas has been equally ineffective in joining up the dots connecting Toni to it all ...
‘Very well, Harvey,’ said DF. ‘We don’t keep dogs and bark ourselves in this office. I’m going to accept everything you’ve said as a working hypothesis, ridiculous as it all seems ...’ — Good for you, Quo nodded to herself — ‘... and move on to this crazy list of demands.’
‘With respect, sir, they are not demands, nor are they crazy. I must have read that document a hundred times by now. It’s a very reasonable set of proposals for trade, and in every detail it benefits us greatly. There are no downsides. Their only “demands” are for fair dealing, and for a joint negotiation meeting to be held next Monday, in specific. And quite frankly, I just call that sensible and effective administration.’
DF gave his most respected intelligence officer a long hard look, and decided against any rebuke for the man’s unnaturally straight talking. He had only a few minutes to spare before his next meeting.
‘And your own Security Assessment?’
‘If we play ball, no risk. If we don’t ... Undefined.’
‘OK. Who else knows about this, Harvey?’
‘That was the correct answer. So first we have to decide if anyone else needs to know. Do you believe we should we tell the boss? Or even Hi Rack?’
‘It’s my feeling now, sir, that three or four very senior officials, including yourself, should consider these proposals carefully and establish a firm opening position on each particular item. I’m certain our visitors will come to the meeting similarly prepared.’
‘I’m not happy with that. Congressman Veight stressed the need to keep it tight, when he first called me. I agreed with him then, and I still do. And look at the final words of their communiqué: “We conclude by counselling a high and perhaps unnatural level of discretion in your own close handling of this initiative.” No, I read all of that as a strong hint to bring no-one else in at this stage. I think I should simply take a fuller look at this document later today, and then have another brief word with you to agree our position.’
‘I’m not sure it’s wise to limit it in that way, sir ...’
‘Harvey, I have respected and accepted your analysis of the situation to date. I’ve now heard your opinion on the way forward, and on that I disagree. We shall involve nobody else prior to the May 12 meeting, and then we’ll take it from there. On that basis, who do you believe should attend?’
‘Well, we don’t yet know where it’s to be held. That’s apparently to be advised by Hermes, some time soon. Let’s at least assume it’ll be in the States! So I figure it should certainly include you, probably me, definitely Veight, and maybe Pruston — but there’s no real need for her to be further involved. Hermes must be planning to be there, and I’d expect Acorn to show her face as well.’
‘That sounds about right. But I have several pressing appointments here on Monday. I may well not be able to make it. So we might have to bring someone else on board after all, at short notice, when we finally get the call from Hermes. By the way, I expect you to trace that call ...’
‘I don’t think that would be wise either, sir. And I very much doubt ...’
‘I didn’t ask for your opinion this time, Harvey.’
‘Very well. But there is one other important thing I need to tell you about Acorn and Hermes ...’
‘Later, Harvey, later. I’m badly behind schedule now!’
Quo was surprised to hear there would be so small a quorum, which might well also turn out to be missing Jennifer and even DF himself.
But she again decided to let them do things their way, for now. At least they were not fighting categorically against the proposition, as Kuhler had before.
And she was wondering if DF was presenting a perfectly honest picture of his true thoughts to his own trusted agent. Should she take a closer look, here and now, and apply some Truth Delta Analysis, and if necessary some stronger direct encouragement?
No, she could wait. There would be plenty of time for that later. She would continue to enjoy gathering her evidence on the semi-public face of the man ...
Lucia and Quo were still close by in spirit as Harvey returned to his own office and picked up his phone.
‘Mr Veight? It’s Kuhler. I’ve talked with DF and he’s taken his position. He hopes to attend the May 12 meeting, and I shall be there too. We expect you and the envoys, of course, but we don’t see a real need for Mrs Pruston.’
‘Only the two of you?? Surely it needs a broader executive team?’
‘That’s what I said too, sir. But he’s insistent. He and I will be working on the content later today, and I intend to recommend it again then. But I don’t hold out much hope. They all have a lot of other things on their minds right now, and I can only go so far with my persuasion ...’
Quo understood enough from Harvey’s comments to feel vindicated in her own reactions to the very close control that DF was choosing to exert.
‘I think I’d better talk to him again myself.’
‘I strongly advise against that, sir.’
Lawrence Veight took the hint.
‘So what next, Congressman? Will I be receiving a call from Hermes? Somehow I doubt it ...’
‘You doubt correctly. Hermes will look after himself rather more carefully than that. I shall be in touch with you myself, as soon as I’ve been advised of a time and place for Monday’s meeting. And Harvey — please remember the visitors’ admonitions, and do not start a witch-hunt or a stakeout as you soon as you have that information.’
‘I’m surprised how easy it is for me to say this, sir — but I promise I won’t. And I’ll do my best to discourage DF too. Won’t come so naturally to him, though ...’
Unaware of Lawrence’s specific whereabouts until further notice, Lucia was of course unable to join him and listen in to his own follow-on phone calls. But Quo was unconcerned. They would stay here and see how much effort DF cared to put into building the agenda for the summit meeting. And how much he might be willing to budge on the question of participants. In both cases, Quo unfortunately expected, it would probably be not a lot.
* * *
‘It’s me, Jennifer. I just heard from Kuhler. Looks like they’re not taking this thing too seriously back east. I don’t think you should waste your time and effort on Monday’s meeting.’
‘Hold on, Larry. I’m still as involved as you are. And I think Kristy would appreciate my company ...’
‘I’m going to advise her to stay away too. They’ll probably send a very small contingent from DC. With Hermes there as well, we’d drown them out, and Kuhler has made it clear that wouldn’t be good tactics. I’m sure there will need to be further meetings, and we should hold the two of you in reserve. I think you need to trust my judgement on this, Jennifer.’
‘All right, Larry, that all makes good sense. Keep me posted.’
‘Kristy, it’s Lawrence. Still all OK?’ ... ‘That’s great. Well, we’re getting there. But it looks like May 12 is going to be just the warm-up round. Jennifer and I agree we should keep the two of you on the bench for now.’ ... ‘Good. Thank you for your faith. So, you’ll call me as soon you hear from Hermes?’ ... ‘Fine. Hang on in there, Kristy.’
* * *
It was Thursday evening in Dubina, Texas.
Quo had learnt all she was going to learn about DF’s further plans for the initial summit meeting, and that had not taken very long. Lucia had then finally been relieved of her Washington watch, and she and her radimote were busy doing nothing, taking a well earned break until it was time to rejoin the party in LA on Saturday.
Carla, who along with her colleague guardian angels had been enjoying a relaxing but hardly stimulating time overseeing Raymond Graves during his week at home, was now delighted to be back on more active service.
With her protégé sitting quietly in his study, and unlikely to be disturbed for a few minutes, she materialised in the corner, greeted him in her usual irresistible way, and embraced him to the cause once more.
Well, here we are again, Raymond. We are most gratified to see that you and your wife have had an enjoyable break from your work with us. But time waits for no Doman, and we must now call you back to service.
‘I understand this, Quo. So let us please dispense with the oratory and just get on with it ...’
And the well-meaning Number Two, once again put firmly in her place by the accomplished diplomat’s own smooth and silver tongue, then proceeded without further ado to update him with everything the Mater knew of the past week’s events and the government’s plans for the May 12 meeting. And while she was at it, she discreetly picked his brains on a specific topic of general knowledge into which she really needed a fuller insight.
The transferrals were done.
‘Thank you, Quo. That is all understood. Not ideal, but understood.
‘So I can now make the final arrangements. I always expected the summit would take place on the West Coast, of course — I have to travel to LA for our team rendezvous on Saturday and the shakeout with the Brighter Vale boys the next day. I see no reason for us all to trek across to Washington late Sunday night, especially since their main player may not even make it. Anyone they decide to nominate in his place will have the whole weekend to prepare and fly over with Harvey Kuhler. And if we do keep it out west, we can call on our own extra troops at short notice, if required.
‘When we get a higher level of commitment from the Administration, we can move east for future meetings.’
That seems a very sound assessment, Raymond. We leave the fine details to your equally sound judgement. Lead and we shall follow.
* * *
Graves spent the rest of the evening building his plans for the summit. Yes, they should definitely hold it relatively local to the three apparently on-board NorCal politicians, and to Toni and Maelene holidaying down in Santa Monica, and also to the Mojave mine (just in case they needed to call on Dave Evans or make a special site visit).
But with the State Department guys obliged to leave the comfort of their East Coast nest, it would be politic to get everybody else off their home territory too. And maybe Washington needed an extra incentive to send a higher profile team out for a long weekend.
He decided on Las Vegas. Then he slept on it.
* * *
Early on Friday May 9, Raymond booked a suitable hotel meeting room under a false name, and arranged advance payment in cash through a discreet courier service.
Then, with Carla still nesting up unseen beside him, he telephoned Kristy Toresito — and learnt rather more about the situation than Quo had earlier been able to tell him.
‘So it’s not just the other Congresswoman they’re pulling out of the summit? You won’t be there either?’
‘Well, I have my doubts about the wisdom of this. But I guess I can understand Mr Veight’s thinking, and I’ll just have to proceed on that basis. You will remain on call to attend future meetings, as and when needed?’
‘Yes, Raymond. I have a clear sense of my responsibilities here. But you and others remain in the front seats.’
‘Very well. The May 12 summit will be held in Las Vegas. I have made appropriate arrangements, well away from the main Strip. The participants are to congregate in the lobby of the High Stakes Hotel at twelve noon. I do not expect the Congressman to be recognised in that relatively modest establishment, but I’m sure he can handle it if that should happen. He will then receive further instructions. Is that all quite clear?’
‘Good. Now, on a different subject, Kristy, I have to ask you to agree to something which I’m sure will not be easy for you. We wish you to voluntarily sign a statement describing fully your role in the Brighter Vale affair. I shall make good use of this declaration when the time is right ... for all of us.’
‘You know, Kristy, our visitors could force you to do this at any time, if they chose to. So surely it is morally better for you to bite the bullet yourself, and take whatever penalty awaits you? Remember what I told you back on May Day, up in your cabin: if you continue to give your own colleagues and masters your full co-operation in the pursuit of the trade proposals, everyone with influence is likely to recommend minimal censure or punishment for you. Plea bargaining always works, everywhere.’
‘No, Raymond, this would destroy me ...’
Quo was very surprised with what she was overhearing. She really had believed that Ms Toresito’s heart had already been fully changed.
‘I think you’re wrong there, Kristy. But if you really want to look on the black side ... if the worst came to the worst, and you resigned your seat, you know perfectly well that after only twelve months you could become a registered Capitol Hill lobbyist. And in the meantime you could work, without any constraints, as a lobbyist anywhere else, and even better, as a consultant — and earn fees far in excess of your current Congresswoman’s salary. After those twelve months, you could renew your direct, everyday contact with all your ex-colleagues in the House, through your retained right to the continued use of its dining room and gym. And there’s more, as I’m sure you know ...’
‘This is hard to handle, Raymond.’
‘Well, you now happen to have an extra period of grace to think it through. Since you won’t be coming to Las Vegas, I can’t hand over the document I have prepared for you there. But I shall hold it ready for you to sign wherever we meet next ...’
Graves cut the call and went to prepare for his upcoming flight to Los Angeles.
* * *
Kristy was clearly still very nervous as she passed Raymond’s message on to Lawrence. He was glad they’d agreed she should lay low for now.
Veight at once phoned Harvey, informed him of the arrangements, and then pressed him for an update on the Washington position. But, as Quo was already aware, Kuhler could offer little more, saying their views were unchanged and there would be no need for any further planning.
‘But DF will definitely be there, right?’
‘In Las Vegas, Monday! That’s extremely ... undefined, sir.’
Very surprised at all of this, and rapidly losing his own motivation and confidence as time dragged on and the whole business seemed ever more wobbly, the politician gave up trying to pull the government team together.
‘Very well. Mr Kuhler. I’ll see you there. And remember our visitors’ insistence on no spooks. Any sign of surveillance, or worse, and all bets are off.’
When Deep Fraught received Harvey’s call passing on this news, he was most frustrated to learn that the “witness” Acorn would not be showing her face in Las Vegas — and that the information had come to them through Lawrence Veight, so no trace on Hermes had been possible. He then indicated his strong interest in locating and identifying the mystery man, at or near the High Stakes Hotel, and well before the summit meeting was due to begin. ‘And you can forget about that totally unauthorised promise of immunity you gave them ...’
Kuhler listened quietly to these instructions, then nodded to himself and simply said ‘I understand, sir.’ But his missioning by Quo in Sacramento had been sound, and he had already taken the decision not to obey.
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd