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Observation Three

Changing Hearts

by Michael E. Lloyd


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Chapter 12: Thinking Big

part 1 of 2

Raymond and the un-made Carla had finally checked into his own out-of-the-way Downtown Las Vegas hotel, and he had then been fully briefed by Quo on the Mater’s tactics for the next summit. He was now waiting patiently for Harvey Kuhler’s promised call.

‘It’s me, Mr Graves.’

‘Good. Everything arranged?’

‘Just about. DF will be there, and a man from Commerce. Don’t expect many others from this corner. Pow-wow for them and me at two-thirty. And Lawrence Veight knows that he and Acorn should show up at three.’

‘Is Mrs Pruston coming?’

‘Veight says he’s still holding her in reserve. And you’re on at three-thirty.’

‘Very well. Location?’

‘Side room of the first restaurant to the left after leaving Arrivals on Concourse A. There’ll be a police officer at the door.’

‘Flight details for you and your friends?’

‘Not yet. I’ll let you know.’

‘OK. Anything else?’

‘Yeah. DF had ordered me to put the spooks on you as soon as you showed up this morning. But I didn’t do that, and I think I got away with it. Now he’s told me to set you up in Chicago — and he wants it done for Acorn as well. But I’m still not going to. He doesn’t know that either.’

Quo had implemented her own need-to-know policy on the subject of Harvey Kuhler, and Graves was still unaware that he had been a dedicated Mater man since the meeting in Sacramento.

‘That’s very noble of you, Harvey.’

‘Not sure why I’m doing it myself. Just somehow seems right.’

‘Well, I’m not going to argue! But what about our diplomatic immunity?’

‘Good question. I don’t think he’s fully committed to that either. For now, you’ll both have to trust in my promise to Veight and Pruston — but I reckon you should stay alert to the risk of a betrayal of that trust, by him or others ...’

‘Well, Harvey, I’m very grateful for your honesty and your sense of justice. I hope you will not suffer any reprisals.’

‘So do I, Mr Graves. I’ll call you back tomorrow.’

Raymond put his own brave face on all this news. He would press on, as always. And he would continue with his own developing plans to protect himself and Kristy as fully as possible. He knew the Mater would do its level best for them too.

* * *

‘Right, Toni, it’s all fixed!’

‘What is?’

‘Aha ... that’s my little surprise. We just have to make sure we’re all set to go, at the side door of the hotel, at ten-fifteen tomorrow morning. Light clothes, but we’ll need our jackets, in spite of the heat. And you’d better buy another fat camera card this afternoon ...’

‘OK. I like surprises!’

‘Good. So, it’s two o’clock. What are we going to do for the rest of the day?

‘Well, we’ve just got to spend a few hours on the Strip, haven’t we?’


‘Because it’s there.’

* * *

They took a cab to the far end of the Boulevard, a stone’s throw from the runways of McGarran International. Then they started walking north, with all the big themed hotel-casinos across the Strip to their left.

‘Hmm ... Mandalay Bay. Doesn’t look much like Burma from here.’

‘I like it. Its name is almost the same as mine!’

‘Hah! What’s that next to it? Ah, the Luxor. Now that does look quite Egyptian.’

‘Possibly because it’s in the shape of a pyramid?’


‘Much more real, then ...’

‘The Tropicana’s right here, on this side.’

‘Hey, I like the waitresses’ bikinis!’

‘Eyes left, Murano.’

‘OK, ma’am. Next one’s called Excalibur. Guess that’s meant to be Olde England.’

‘Yeah, everyone there used to live in huge castles like that.’

‘Ah, I recognise the one behind it. Now that is realistic. I was in New York only three weeks ago ...’

‘Which do you prefer?’

‘Hah! I think my blisters would get worse even walking round that mini version.’

‘Here comes Monte Carlo. I’ve often fancied seeing Monaco.’

‘Why go to a place with only one casino when you have a hundred here?’

‘Bellagio next. I like the lake.’

‘Go for a swim, then.’

‘You’re not really enjoying this, are you?’

‘I’m having fun in my own little way, sunshine. And you’ve missed something rather special on our right ...’

‘Wow, Paris! Look at the Eiffel Tower ... and that brilliant take on the Opera House! I just love Paris, Maelene.’

‘Gonna take me there one springtime, then?’

‘Hah! But that would be nice ...’

‘Gee, what’s that place, Toni? It has a whole huge block to itself!’

‘It’s Caesar’s Palace. He had one just like that, until things went sour on the way to the forum ...’

‘Glad to see you’re catching my mood at last.’

‘Can’t believe how long it took to reach the next one! Let’s see ... ah, it’s called The Mirage.’

‘That’s the most appropriate name of them all.’


‘And delighted to be. So you’re really impressed with it all, are you?’

‘I think they’ve done a very good job on the façades.’

‘Then we’re in almost complete agreement.’

‘Very funny. You should be on the stage ...’

‘Aw, thanks!’

‘... sweeping it.’

‘Not many other big places for you to gawp at now, Toni, But they’re busy building lots more on this side. You’ll have to come back in five years’ time.’

‘I’m glad we’ve finished, actually. My blisters are getting really painful now.’

‘OK. Let’s hop on a bus and go straight back downtown.’

‘Unless you’d like to take in one of those big shows tonight?’

‘No way. But if you really want to ...’

‘No, they’re not my style at all. I like more thoughtful entertainers. Singer-songwriters, just like you, honey.’

‘You can have a little kiss for that.’

‘That was very nice ...’

‘OK, let’s get dinner at Binion’s or the Four Queens, and then make our own entertainment back in the room ...’


Lucia had spotted her moment, and chipped in surreptitiously from behind them.

‘Toni, a quick word, please.

‘When you get to your hotel, please go straight to the Casino cage and tell them you want to cash a cheque for $10,000 from your bank account, all in $100 dollar bills. You can be confident there are more than enough funds to cover that, courtesy of our own generous source, and we’re certain the management will be very happy to take a few moments to verify it, once they get the firm idea that you’re about to play all that loose money at their own gaming tables after a few stiff drinks ...’

‘And am I?’

‘Afraid not. You’ll need to wrap it up carefully in two or three strong envelopes, and put it in your hand luggage, and pass it on to Raymond in Chicago. But if anyone should ever ask you what did happen to it — well, this is Las Vegas, isn’t it ...?’

* * *

‘Sure you don’t want a beer? There are plenty left in the fridge.’

‘No, I’ll stick to water, Toni. And please make that the last one ...’

‘You know, this is the first time I’ve tried watching TV since I was stuck in that hospital room.’

‘Shows you have fine judgement.’

‘I’m very glad you said that, honey, because I wouldn’t want to offend you and yours. I must have covered fifty channels already, and there’s absolutely nothing worth watching — except maybe the basketball, if that’s what turns you on. And most of the time there is actually spent on Time Out for petty team talks and commercials!’

‘It’s not the American people who make our TV programmes. A lot of us feel the same way about it as you do! Anyway, I’m gonna clean my teeth and get to bed ...’

Toni followed her into the bathroom.

‘I’m not just talking about America, Maelene ... though you do seem to have the disease worse than most, over here. Anyhow, I already told Carla what I think of it all, back in Columbia.’

‘But I’m not Carla, and I wasn’t there, remember? And you obviously wanna tell me too. I’ll probably agree with most of it, so don’t fret about annoying me ...’

‘OK. Well, as far as I can see — and I did give it a very fair shot in Columbia — around 95% of your TV News coverage is about what’s happening inside America. And most of that is either focused on local gun crime or some pathetic national tittle-tattle. Any time the subject gets close to politics, the presenters seem to purposely gloss over the real issues and just showcase the personalities or repeat simple, big-picture concepts ... and then they drop the subject fast and move on to the next, more comfortable topic. And the rest of the world doesn’t seem to exist for you — unless it happens to be one of your war zones. Then, of course, it’s really important, and those reports become a black soap opera of scurrilous infidels and tragic body bag counts.’

‘Hmm ...’ said Maelene through a mouthful of froth. ‘Keep talking ...’

‘Well, they “tell” you everything all the time, don’t they? They don’t present stuff in ways that suggest there might be more than one perspective on things. They just “tell” you what you should know, as if it was a mandatory school lesson. And I’ll say this again — I’m not just talking about America! We get all the European channels at home in Spain. It’s almost as bad everywhere, these days ... ’

‘OK .......’

‘And all the rest is triviature. How much time is given over to quality programming? Where’s the music, the art, the poetry, the theatre, the history? Where are the proper documentaries, rather than the condescending, muzak-enhanced, over-simplified, fast-forward-through-the-tedious-parts ones? Where are the real world issues? Where’s the intelligent debate on the things that keep you awake at night, honey? What’s the point of a global communication system if most of the time it just excretes pure, unadulterated shit?’

Maelene burst into laughter and sprayed a mouthful of rinse water all over the mirror.

‘Your English really is very fine, Toni Murano — even when you’ve had too much to drink!’

‘Please don’t patronise me, Maelene. Do you agree, or not?’

‘I sympathise with a lot of what you’ve said, but I do reckon your views are a bit imbalanced. You’ve chosen to ignore Discovery Channel, and the Public Broadcasting Service, and...’

‘OK, but they’re just drops in the ocean ...’

‘They’re in the listings like everything else. There’s plenty of educational stuff around if you take the trouble to find it.’

‘Hah! I bet you still think TV’s a liberalising force. Those days went out with the hippies! As far as I can see, it’s nicely set to keep most people voting on the Right for a very long time to come! And not just over here ...’

‘You don’t trust the media very much, do you, Toni?’

‘Well, do you? In all its forms, these days, it seems to present part-truths, and untruths, and invention pretending to be truth. It rarely questions that policy, or the subject matter itself, because doing that is simply not entertaining enough to hold the attention of most viewers, listeners and readers.

‘I reckon humans, as a species, are very easy game for exploitation. And most of them seem to have become “entranced” by politicians and the media. And those who haven’t are now labelled as old and grumpy, or politically incorrect, or provocative and therefore culpable or even dangerous to society.’

‘I really think that’s taking it to extremes,’ yawned Maelene, getting into bed.

‘No, it isn’t. People used to draw their own conclusions, based on information from sources they could trust. Now the media does it all for them. It saves everyone a lot of time and effort! They can now focus their attention on things that really matter, like watching Reality TV. And ...’

‘Look, Toni, this has gone a whole lot further than I expected, and I’m real tired again after all that walking. Let’s drop it now, eh?’

‘Why? Hey, Lucia, I’m sure you’re hanging around somewhere. What do you think?’

A gentle voice came out of the ether. ‘I think it’s definitely time for bed, my friend. Goodnight, both of you.’

‘And I think she’s right, Toni.’

‘OK, persuade me!’

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd

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