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Observation Three

Changing Hearts

by Michael E. Lloyd


Table of Contents

Chapter 9: Los Angeles, California

part 3 of 3

Shenner had phoned each of his colleagues to pass on Raymond’s calling notice and to pull them all back to his house for a final Saturday evening progress review.

‘So this is as good as it gets, for now. Four more women netted from the final batch — and three of them by Walt and Phil. Well done, guys. That left just eight targets still holding out at lunchtime today. I tried calling them all again this afternoon — reached most of them, but no dice. We definitely need something more to put on the table, and Nick was dead right the other day — if Raymond’s people want this badly enough, they’ll give us something. So we’d better be ready for some follow-on work straight after tomorrow’s meeting ...’

* * *

Carla, naturally un-made, watched Shenner’s partners nervously failing to enjoy their heavy, enforced Sunday breakfast, then tracked them as they retired to what was clearly Walter’s room. She reported discreetly back to Raymond, who was by contrast relaxing comfortably in the bar with a light Danish and a black coffee, and he made straight for the rendezvous with her still in virtual tow.

And Quo, through Carla’s kind offices a little earlier, had instructed him to act once again as the Mater’s fully Empowered negotiator. So just as in the last Brighter Vale meeting back in Oakland, he should deploy his very special smile of insight whenever he felt it appropriate.

‘In summary, Raymond we’ve managed to win over the majority of them — eighteen, to be precise. It’s been tough. We had to go a little further than Nick felt we should, in a couple of cases, but I’m certain it was the correct decision each time. We really have tried to get the balance right for you, but we’ve reached an impasse now with the final eight. They’re all still talking to us, and that’s critical of course, but most of them are holding out for more money. Here’s a printout of offers and acceptances to date ...’

Graves consulted the spreadsheet, and especially the current bottom line, and nodded his understanding. And then he smiled again his special smile, looked into the hearts of all four men, and established the whole truth of their claims. Carla, hovering unseen behind, at once embraced him in her turn, and Quo quickly enjoyed a full share in his findings.

She was most impressed with what she then learnt. It would have been very hard to judge the level of the team’s self-discipline merely on the absolute values of any of the financial settlements themselves, even if Raymond had insisted on discussing them openly. But now, in addition to the occasionally necessary and rather generous extra encouragements, she clearly saw the obvious restraint which they all knew they had deployed in every offer they had made.

She immediately instructed her negotiator to congratulate the team on an impressive and well-handled result to date, and to tell them they could now double the individual amounts presently agreed or on offer with every one of the twenty-six clients — but with a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum. And the absolute deadline for their decisions would be midnight. Any Cinderella left outside the deal at that time would suffer the already clearly-stated personal consequences, and the financial offers would revert to the current ones — for everybody concerned.

He did as he was told.

‘... and so, gentlemen, you should now proceed with those actions without delay.’

The Brighter Vale team exchanged glances and nodded their mutual agreement. Graves made his own further private enquiries into the level of their commitment, and nodded his own silent satisfaction. And if he was content, Quo decided, well so was the Mater.

Then time all but stood still for several seconds, as she and the invisible Carla proceeded to engage directly with Shenner once again, to plug a gentle, future sign-off phrase — “Sayonara, buddy.” — into his mind, just as they had with dear Eva back in Prague. Steven would have to be kept in the Mater’s thrall until they were sure he had done all they might expect or need of him.

But the three financiers were now close to playing out their usefulness. So for the first and only time, Quo had a quick one-way session with each of the subservient men in turn. They would need to vaguely remember Raymond himself in the future, of course, to keep everyone’s story straight, but she was intent on removing any thoughts they might be harbouring of future malice against him. And they would at once forget forever about young Maelene, and the dramatic show of Doman capability in that live video feed from the Mojave Desert.

And finally a few “new” truths about their original involvement in Brighter Vale, and their own bold decision to later shut it down, were then generously implanted in their memories.

The transferrals were complete.

‘OK, Raymond,’ said Shenner, suddenly very relieved. ‘We’ll get back on it straight away. But something’s been bugging me all week. How do we lay our hands on all this money when it comes to payout time?’

Raymond had been briefed to respond to this inevitable question with just sufficient accuracy and confidence.

‘My employers will source the funds via a combination of cash, bank transfers, and precious metals and stones, which will all be made available to you in a reasonable timescale.’

Quo had not shared any fuller details of this payment plan with Raymond, on the principle of need-not-know.

But in practice, the early cash advances would be small, and restricted to whatever Toni could withdraw in the short term from the very substantial balance which the generous capo in famiglia Giuseppe Marco Terleone was committed, by a greater high command, to maintaining in his great-nephew’s bank account for the duration of his expensive active Doman service.

The main bank transfers would follow at a later stage, once Quo had been able to arrange another little visit to their Roman benefactor for the purposes of further plundering his dubious financial hoards and perhaps somehow redressing a long-term balance or two.

But the bulk of the Mater’s settlement would hopefully be furnished in the near future, via a small and private shipment of diamonds and silver by very special delivery.

It did not take Steve and his partners long to make the next full pass through their client list.

The agreement of Lia and Anne could be taken as read, of course, and they would both use their extra compensation very positively. So that left twenty-four phone calls to be shared out between the team. Fifteen minutes apiece, on average, and the whole job was done by eleven o’clock. None of the clients had been at church.

The sixteen who, in addition to Lia and Anne, had already been “sold” on the deal were naturally even happier with the situation than before. And in the course of that further wave of calls, five more so-vain clients, including the last man still standing, were quickly sucked in by the scent of the extra money.

Even the recalcitrant lady of steel herself was finally persuaded.

‘I have no written agreement with you, Jaine, just a very private one. So I have no provable obligations, and I can drop you like a hot potato if I choose, and then you’ll have nothing ...’

‘You heartless bastard, Steven Shenner!’

‘ ... but I am willing to make a formal contract with you for an immediate and complete settlement, and at twice the level of compensation I offered you last Sunday.’

It took all of three seconds for yesterday’s woman to respond.

‘It’s a deal. And I’ll take it over time, from you in person, seven days a week.’

And then there were three.

Each one of the converted majority had now been explicitly reminded of the need for complete unanimity and the associated extra benefits, and they were all somewhat motivated to spend a little effort in encouraging the others, if requested. So two previously well-secreted names had been casually mentioned to several of the more influential of them, for the good of a higher cause.

* * *

Raymond had returned to the bar and impassively enjoyed another pot of coffee while all those calls were being made. Now Shenner brought him the latest news.

‘ ... and so we plan to visit the remaining three over the next few hours. It won’t be easy! The money means nothing to two of them. But we’ve arranged for a little gentle pressure from a few of the others who definitely don’t want to see their special bonuses go up in smoke. That was a neat move of yours. I think they’ll both crack in the end.’

‘OK. So what about the final one?’

‘That’s Rosie. She’s the oldest and the sweetest and the richest of them all. Survived four husbands, all multi-millionaires. Doesn’t need the money, of course, and doesn’t even worry what people think or say about her any more. Just cares about what she sees in the mirror first thing in the morning. She was our very first customer, and she’s spent more on the Salts than most of the others put together. It’s made her look fifty again, but she’s really weak now. Just like your friend Maelene said at our last meeting ...’

‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking, Steven?’

‘Yes, Raymond ...’

* * *

Leaving Toni mildly sulking and rather peckish in the nearby coffee shop, with only the insubstantial Lucia for company, Shenner whisked Maelene Bay and Raymond Graves off in his car to one of the innermost sanctums of Beverly Hills.

“Dear Stevie” had of course called ahead and told Rosie of the need for another little visit, with a very special guest and message this time, and she had agreed — mainly for the simple pleasure of having someone in the house with her again, even if only for a few minutes.

As soon as she recognised her Stevie’s crimson Jaguar on camera, she remotely opened first one and then a second set of huge outer gates. Finally, as Graves temporarily relinquished his own chaperone duty and remained in the car with the unseen Carla, who had decided that she and Quo had absolutely no need to intrude on Rosie’s privacy either, the front door too was magically opened and closed, and the VP-turned-chauffeur escorted Maelene to the tired lady’s chamber.

They were there for nearly an hour. Shenner barely said a word the whole time, and simply became increasingly humbled.

Maelene talked and listened to Rosie in a way that nobody had for decades. And after a while she picked up two or three gold-framed portraits of the elderly lady, taken well before her use of the Eau had begun. And she gently hinted that Rosie looked quite beautiful in those photographs, even more beautiful than she did now.

‘And I also think you’re simply lovely inside, Rosie — and you’ll be just as lovely when you’ve kicked this thing. And you’ll feel so much stronger too ...’

And little by little the kind words and the firm honesty peeled away Rosie’s defences, and at last she turned to her Stevie and sadly assured him that she would do whatever he thought best.

And then she gave Maelene a big and very tearful hug.

‘I know you said you’ll be leaving Hollywood soon, my dear. But will you promise to come and see me again, next time you’re here?’

‘I promise, Rosie. I promise.’

* * *

Shenner drove his passengers back downtown, and hurried off to complete the remaining challenges. Raymond shook his young partner’s hand vigorously in his latest Texan approval of her unconventional approach, then took a cab back to his own hotel, with Carla still hovering by his side. And Toni and Maelene finally got to have some lunch, with a proper drink this time.

At two o’clock Lucia whispered the Mater’s own message of gratitude in their close-together ears.

‘You should now go straight back to Santa Monica, get packed up, take a flight to Las Vegas, and book yourselves into a fine room on the Strip. You can enjoy yourselves undisturbed there until late tomorrow morning. But by twelve noon you should be sitting in a bar close to the High Stakes Hotel. I’ll soon let you know if it turns out you’re needed while the summit meeting’s in progress ...’

Toni was still feeling vaguely put out that he had not been asked to help today, but was also very laid back after his week’s vacation, and delighted to get a chance to see Las Vegas. So he didn’t grumble.

And Maelene was feeling very warm inside, but also unsure why. So she just got on with it, as usual. By four o’clock they were checked-out and en route to the airport rental car drop-off point.

* * *

The various private pressures finally told on the two remaining clients, and by five o’clock they had both caved in and accepted.

And so began another rapid round of phone calls to the entire group, advising them of the immediate plan for formalisation of the agreements. And it was now made crystal clear that if any one of them reneged, or went public, the entire deal would be null and void, and they would suffer the combined wrath of their fellow compensatees.

By eight o’clock, they had all received two copies of a binding contract, prepared late in the afternoon by a most accommodating legal printing firm and hard-carried to their homes by a small team of high-class delivery agents. Each brace of agreements was to be signed on the spot by the withdrawing party, as agreed, and witnessed by its courier. Well before ten, all twenty-six Brighter Vale copies were back with the printing agency, which went into immediate and expensive further Sunday evening action while Steve Shenner stood by and watched his brave new world formally crumbling at his feet.

At eleven-fifteen, after insisting on careful double and treble checks of everything that had now been produced, the VP of No Further Sales left his master documents with the printers for very secure keeping, and took a taxi to another downtown hotel. Thirty minutes later he wearily handed over a further full set of legally certified copies to Raymond Graves, who was relieved to be able to retire to bed himself, at last, and aim for just a few hours’ sleep before hitting the Las Vegas trail first thing in the morning.

* * *

‘Martha? It’s Harold. Look, I know I got a little heavy with you on the phone this afternoon, but I really think signing up to the deal was the right thing to do — today. So no hard feelings, I hope ...’

‘What are you after now, you worn-out shyster?’

‘Nothing, old girl. I just reckon we ought to quietly check out if any of the stuff is still stashed away somewhere. Lay our hands on that, and you and I could be back in business — in more ways than one. Like the good old Prohibition days again ...’

‘Hah! But you may be right — as usual. Worth a try, I suppose. Probably won’t find any, though.’

‘In that case we’ll just have to look a little further afield. There’s a lot of lutetium over in China, you know. Can’t let the American Dream be ruined this easily ...’

Proceed to chapter 10...

Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd

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