by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 10: Las Vegas, Nevada
part 2 of 2
The discussions did not last long. For it was soon very clear, to the great disappointment of Quo and the Captain, that the participants were merely stating and restating their own initial personal comments, with little give or take from any of them, and no concerted line in sight.
Carla whispered Quo’s latest messages to Ambassador Graves, and he took command once more.
‘So — Mr Kuhler, you continue to give the proposals good overall support, but it seems to me that you have some significant, unspoken concerns. I must admit that I find this contrast hard to resolve.’
Quo, of course, understood the reasons far better. Harvey just shrugged his emasculated agreement.
‘Nat, your position is very different, of course. Although you have had several days of exposure to the realities of the excavation at Mojave, you personally still give the whole situation little or no credence, and you have made it clear that you reject the entire offer outright. It does not however surprise me that you feel free to take this line, since you can and should claim no valid credentials for involvement in a summit meeting of this importance.’
The SitMan was ready to argue hard, or worse, but looks and silent gestures from both Lawrence and Harvey confirmed his realisation that he was already way out of his depth.
‘And Mr Veight — well, I am more than confused, I am astonished. I had understood that you were lending your full support to the pursuit of this initiative, providing no evidence were uncovered to disprove its authenticity. That does not, of course, mean that you may not hold strong opinions on the acceptability of the Doman offer. We expect that to be the case for you all. But I observe far more than your essential rejection of it. I sense a firm change in your promised level of commitment, which seems driven by emotion, illogic and more, rather than by sound situational judgement.’
‘You appear to have forsaken your famed diplomacy, Mr Graves. But I am going to persuade myself that your willingness to make so personal an accusation is a direct and very unfortunate result of the extraordinary pressure which is clearly being brought to bear upon you, in some impious way. So I shall not take the matter any further. But I do not expect to hear such words from you again. Do I make myself quite clear?’
Raymond acknowledged this avoiding defence with merely a rueful smile. Then, as the unseen Carla embraced him once more, the tone of his voice subtly but unmistakably altered, and Quo herself took command of the proceedings.
‘I speak now to you all, as the direct mouthpiece of the visitors.
‘We are frankly stunned by your approach to this meeting. We see what we judge to be an incomplete and under-authorised group bringing a set of personal positions to the table with no adequately prepared, single negotiating plan. We are making every effort to avoid being unreasonable, but we find it impossible to move towards a resolution when there is no uniformity of thinking on your side.
‘For us, the concept of Consensus is key to our survival. Where there are different opinions on Dome, they are aired — and always, unavoidably, in the public eye and ear. The consensus is then achieved, and is respected. There can be no other way. So we believe it essential for you to establish such a consensus on your initial position, and with appropriate authority in your team, before we can proceed.’
They all waited, but none of the other participants seemed willing to speak, and the impasse was confirmed.
Raymond was still centre-stage, but back largely as himself again. He had ruled out any possible deployment of Maelene here today, and had finished penning a few well-chosen words.
‘Gentlemen, I must conclude with regret that rien ne va plus in Las Vegas. And as I suspected, none of you is keen to take the baton forward. So let me help you out ...
‘The Domans now insist on an early further summit at a much higher level of government. And they still have a strong sense of the need for international representation. I leave that particular aspect to your own good judgement, for now.
‘So, Mr Kuhler, I should like you to make immediate contact with DF. Here is a brief list of our visitors’ suggestions for the next meeting. For my added protection, please return to the lobby of the High Stakes Hotel to place the call, and then hurry back. You never know, do you ...?
‘And I suggest a short coffee break for the rest of us — but please all remain in this room.’
Harvey was back from his mission and still out of breath. Carla had gone secretly with him and satisfied herself that their security remained intact.
‘OK. I’ve talked to DF. He now understands this is bigger than he realised. He regrets his absence and our lack of progress ...’
How gracious, thought Quo.
‘... and he has agreed to a second summit as soon as possible. For logistical reasons, it will need to be held in Chicago, at Midway Airport, in two days’ time, probably mid-afternoon. He promises to attend that meeting, as part of a more senior delegation.’
Raymond gave Harvey a warm smile.
‘Thank you, Mr Kuhler. I am sure that was not an easy call to make. I believe you have resolved the situation well, and we will accept that plan. Please phone me later today once all arrangements have been made.
‘Gentlemen, I believe our business here is finished. I wish you safe journeys.’
Veight was already walking. He tried hard to disguise his parting scowl as a non-committal smile. ‘Until the next time, sir.’
‘Indeed, Congressman. And we do expect to see our mutual friend with you on that occasion.’
As Nat the SitMan glumly followed Lawrence out of the room, Graves turned to Harvey and quietly mouthed ‘But I never want to see that joker again, Mr Kuhler.’
‘Nor do I, Mr Graves. Nor do I.’
* * *
Raymond rapidly made his own cautious exit via the rear service door, and in the nearby bar Lucia received her instructions and whispered the latest marching orders in Toni’s ear, as he and Maelene shared a huge lunchtime sandwich.
‘Hah! Guess what, honey! That little show’s over, but we’re now on call at a Chicago airport on Wednesday afternoon. Sounds like a whole lot of laughs.’
‘Aw, come on, Toni. We’re seeing the world! Together!’
‘Well, last night was fun, but I don’t think I want to spend another whole day here tomorrow.’
‘Me neither. So, you want something different? Something really real?’
‘Well, it ain’t far away, and we’re still on full expenses! Where’s my phone?’
* * *
Deep Fraught had been obliged to think very fast as he received Harvey Kuhler’s call from the failing meeting in Las Vegas.
His immediate insistence on knowing the identity of Hermes was met with Kuhler’s profuse apologies: he had been instructed ‘to withhold that information absolutely until the conclusion of the summit.’ Forced, after a further unsuccessful demand, to accept this demeaning situation, DF was then informed of the Domans’ strong encouragement to arrange an early follow-on session — and to be there in person this time. And he was clearly also under pressure to bring in other government heavyweights, including non-Americans.
He could be certain of very little on that score as he gave Harvey his latest hurriedly devised commitments, and sent him back to the meeting with a hopefully acceptable proposal. Firm arrangements could only be made once that melodramatic phone call was over. But this was all about trade, so DF had carefully arranged to lunch alone, earlier that day, at the Commerce Department’s favourite Washington restaurant — just in case. And he had studiously bumped into one of their more senior guys at the reception bar, and asked casually about his plans for the week, and “Trade” had mentioned he was visiting one of his department’s offices in Chicago on the coming Wednesday morning.
That would do nicely, and that was what DF had now promised Harvey. In a few moments, he would pick up the phone again and call Mr E.V.R. Smith – darn, he could never remember the man’s first name — and persuade him, in strictest secrecy and with the dubious play of other-Department rank, to hurry back to Midway Airport on Wednesday after finishing his downtown meetings.
Their joint presence at this next so-called “summit” would hopefully satisfy the visitors’ latest demands. For there was no way he was going to open this one up beyond the confines of the Administration. That would require very much higher executive involvement and action. And right now, simple and precisely targeted, information-only communications were probably all that he or the system could fit in or tolerate.
* * *
‘It’s DF, Kuhler. I’ve sorted Chicago. And we’ll use the VIP Lounge.’
‘There’s no VIP Lounge at Midway, sir.’
‘OK. Find somewhere private, and get it sealed off for the duration. Tell your precious Hermes to show up at three-thirty. Will Acorn kindly be joining us this time?’
‘I believe so.’
‘Right. Get her and Veight to arrive at three. Pre-planning session before that at two-thirty — you, me and a guy from Trade, name of ... Smith.’
‘Just the three of us?’
‘What about international representation?’
‘Nah, we can handle this ourselves. Don’t want it getting out of control. I’ll give Hi Rack a quick call tomorrow and let him know it’s happening ...’
‘Is that all?’
‘I warned you about this the other day, Mr Kuhler. I’m informing you, not seeking your opinion. Now, tell me about Hermes ...’
And Harvey finally gave DF the stunning news that the Domans’ ambassador was none other than the redoubtable Raymond Martin Graves. DF was in fact so stunned that he did not even think to ask whether the famed diplomat and negotiator had been successfully picked up by the spooks in advance of the meeting. Kuhler allowed himself a little smile. It looked as if he was already off that particular hook without even having to wriggle ...
‘OK, Harvey. I won’t ask if you’re absolutely sure. So, where exactly is he right now?’
‘Laying low here in Vegas,’ was the truthful answer.
‘Right. No need to waste more resources on him out there. We know he’s coming to the Chicago meeting. Put an intercept on the passenger lists of all flights into Midway and O’Hare, as of now — and not just those from Las Vegas. I want him under full ongoing covert surveillance from the minute he steps off his plane until further notice.’
‘I hear you, sir,’ said Harvey, choosing his words carefully.
‘And you’ll need a second crew to pick up on the Acorn woman when she shows up, and run full covert with her too, following the meeting.’
Kuhler made no comment this time, but merely asked ‘Is there anything else, sir?’
‘No. Wait — are you planning to come back here tonight?’
‘I think it would more effective to go direct to Chicago, sir,’ said Harvey, convinced he should stay as far away from DF as possible while he continued to ignore the man’s direct orders on the mounting of surveillances. ‘Better use of Service time and money, and I can be on the ground well ahead of the game.’
‘Good thinking. OK, get word to me as soon as you’ve fixed up the meeting room. And we’ll see you there at two-thirty.’
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd