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Observation Three

Changing Hearts

by Michael E. Lloyd


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Chapter 13: Meet You Midway

part 1 of 2

Raymond Graves himself had eschewed the option of another night in Las Vegas, for two quite separate reasons.

The last-minute charade with the Brighter Vale contracts had forced him to fly in to the city only hours before the start of that first awful meeting. That sort of unhealthy pressure went totally counter to his “Be Prepared” professionalism. No, he would be fresh and alert and completely on top of the pre-summit situation this time. Quo had given him a thoroughly satisfactory briefing, but his subsequent little chat with Harvey had been rather disconcerting. Tomorrow afternoon was going to be tough, but he would give it his best — as always.

And the Chief had assigned him a second task, to be executed very early in the morning. Only once that was out of the way would he be able to give his full but discreet attention to those arriving for the main event.

So while Toni and Maelene were busy discovering the Grand Canyon, he stayed safe in his hotel room, made his phone calls, and did his thoughtful preparations. Then, leaving the two of them to enjoy their final night in the Vegas casinos, and with Carla still in faithful, unseen tow, he departed for the airport and the five o’clock flight to Midway.

* * *

A one-hour delay. As he shrugged his unflappable shoulders and made his way into a busy coffee shop, Quo spotted a new opportunity and asked Carla to go into action again.

Raymond, since you are obliged to wait here unoccupied for a while, I should really appreciate it if you would carry out a little piece of insight gaining on my behalf. This seems like a good place for a range of opinions ...

‘What do I have to do, Quo?’

Not a lot. I have now re-enabled your empowerment. You simply need to smile at anyone you choose, as usual, and you can then enjoy a very good view of their true thoughts and feelings, on anything and everything. Perhaps you could focus on what is really annoying them at this time — beyond the issue of any short delays to their flights!

‘Fair enough. But that could quickly make me rather depressed ...’

No, it will not, Raymond. I have already protected you from that! And as soon as you have had enough of the task, just decide to switch off, and you will. I shall remove the empowerment before you depart, and I can collect your little harvest at that time ...

* * *

Early that morning, the Mater’s second SOG-E mission had been launched. And several hours later, as Raymond Graves was finally arriving in Chicago, the remarkable fireball generated by the otherwise invisible vehicle’s ram pressure, as it passed through Earth’s atmosphere, was seen high above the South Pacific Ocean, careering away to the west.

‘That should put them off the scent,’ the Chief had reasoned.

The huge meteor, appearing out of the blue and so similar to the one observed only twelve days earlier, certainly put a large number of people and defence systems onto its scent for the mere fifty seconds of its existence. But just as before, at the very moment it emerged from the atmosphere the visible effects of its passage died away, the magnelavity drive kicked in and initiated its slowdown, and it was then free to stealthily obey its instructions to approach Los Angeles, hover, and wait for its internal clock to reach the appointed hour.

* * *

As Raymond calmly ate his airport hotel breakfast and waited for his own call, the SOG-E went into action in the California dawn.

From its unobservable overnight position not far above its target, it descended slowly and smoothly until it was only a few feet from the flat roof of the building housing Brighter Vale’s small and now redundant office suite.

The bottom panels of its delivery section moved invisibly apart. Then a portion of the false floor above them also slid aside, and a soft and camouflaging substance flowed smoothly down, spreading out to cover a small area of the roof to a depth of several inches, and already beginning to congeal.

Another floor panel slid open. Still hidden from inquisitive eyes-in-the-sky by the SOG-E’s stealth protection, a princely hoard of diamonds and silver tumbled unceremoniously out and sank silently into the upper layer of the now-tacky goo.

One more burst of quick-drying camouflage gel completed the operation. The Mater’s extremely valuable shipment was now fully concealed inside a water-proof, wind-proof, stable but easily peeled-back sandwich, which had already been endowed with colour tones closely approximating those of the building’s roof. And ten seconds later, as the lower panels closed and the gravity-exchange mode of the SOG-E’s magnelavity drive moved it rapidly up and away towards its next scheduled drop-off point, the self-camouflaging properties of the packaging material kicked fully in. Nothing could now be seen of the special delivery — from any vantage point whatsoever.

Graves was expecting to hear Carla’s whispered voice, and it came right on time.

‘Job done, Raymond. Over to you, now. And good luck with the rest of the day too!’

Nodding his silent acknowledgement, he drained his coffee cup, returned to his room, pulled out his phone, and called the Brighter Vale VP of Sales (Retired).

Steve Shenner took a very long time to pick up.

‘It’s Raymond Graves.’

‘Huh! Rather early in the morning, isn’t it?’

‘For good reason. Please listen carefully. Your promised payment in kind has now been made. You should persuade the janitor of your downtown office building to allow you up onto the roof as soon as possible today. There, if you are extremely careful — and I mean all of this quite literally — you will bump into a very well disguised little treasure trove. You should gently gather it up, protective material and all, into manageable containers, and remove them initially to the safety of your own office. It might perhaps be best if the janitor was also generously encouraged to be absent from that floor for the duration of the exercise.

‘You have only twelve hours to complete this job, because at the end of that period the enveloping material will rapidly break down and simply evaporate ... and we do not want anybody else to spot this important element of your ex-clients’ compensation fund just lying around up there this evening, do we?

‘Is that all quite clear, Steven?’

‘Yes, Raymond.’

‘Good. Then please proceed. And I shall be in touch again, when the time is right.’

He sat back in his chair for ten minutes’ positive relaxation. The first task of the day was complete.

* * *

Graves had established the details of the participants’ incoming flights in a series of co-ordinating phone calls from his Las Vegas hotel room the previous afternoon. He had been delighted to discover that everybody, including those due to just wait on the bench, would be arriving via Concourse A. Which was making today’s background task very easy.

Kristy Toresito and Lawrence Veight had decided to travel quite separately to Chicago. The Congresswoman would be exposed as the Domans’ go-between later in the day, but there was little point in accidentally alerting anyone to such a possibility until then. And they had been pleased to find flights to Midway that were due to arrive within minutes of each other. So they had agreed to rendezvous for lunch at an airport restaurant from one-thirty onwards, and to trust that Kuhler was keeping his promises on Acorn’s protection and privacy.

Although the politicians from California were scheduled to be the first to show their faces, Raymond and the un-made Carla had been waiting patiently and inconspicuously near the Arrivals exit since mid-morning, carefully monitoring every incoming soul, just in case any of the summit attendees and hangers-on had decided to catch an earlier flight.

But they already knew, from Harvey’s inside information, that Assistant Secretary E.V.R. Smith had a very full schedule of Wednesday morning meetings in the Department of Commerce offices in the centre of Chicago, and had booked himself on a flight into Midway the previous evening. And since Raymond had not been planning to arrive himself until nearly midnight, he had not even bothered Harvey for a description of the man from Trade.

And the Arrivals Board was now telling Raymond that Kristy’s plane from Oakland had landed on time, just before one o’clock, and that the 0700 departure from Sacramento would be bringing Veight in close behind her. That suited him perfectly.

‘Over here, Ms Toresito.’

She had half-expected this. And the voice and manner were, as always, polite but very firm.

‘Are you sure this is wise, Raymond? Or perhaps I should call you Mr Graves now?’

‘So Lawrence has told you exactly who I am — and perhaps you recollect a little more about me again now! Well, that is fine, of course. There comes a time, Kristy, when trust is almost all that remains. We are in their hands now, so let us simply breathe deeply and soldier on.’

‘You are a very calming influence, Mr Graves.’

‘That’s good to hear. But please do go back to calling me Raymond! And you and I now have a little private business to conclude, before things start to hot up. So why don’t we stroll over to that coffee shop for a moment or two? And please try and raise a smile, Kristy. I shan’t delay your lunch, and Lawrence’s flight is a little late anyway ...’

With one eye firmly glued on the emerging arrivals still clearly visible over Kristy’s shoulder (and with Carla invisibly observing them too), Raymond continued to smile across the table at his uncomfortable joint envoy.

‘First, Kristy, despite what I just said about trust, I’m still not willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt in the matter of our own protection after you show your face today. So I think it wise to stick with what I suggested yesterday, and travel somewhere secluded together after the meeting. Have you managed to arrange anything yet?’

‘Yes, I have,’ said the Congresswoman glumly, holding up a bunch of keys. ‘My pal Jennifer — you know all about her now, right? — has offered us her friend’s spring cabin. It’s out in the north of Connecticut, and it’s very secluded. If you really think we need a safe house, that’s where we should go. And it’s only an hour’s flight from Hartford down to DC. Congress is sitting again all next week, and I have an awful lot of business to do there ...’

‘Let’s cross that particular bridge when we come to it, Kristy. First things first. Did you check if there are direct flights from here to Bradley?’

‘Yes, there are. But the only option for us departs at eight-thirty this evening. Still plenty of availability.’

‘Right — unless anything happens today to change our minds, we’ll buy tickets at the last minute and head for the hills.’

‘Very well.’

‘Now, to the other urgent item. I hope you’ve been putting some careful thought into this too ...’

Raymond reached into his jacket pocket and placed on the table the “confession” which he had prepared many days earlier. This was the moment Kristy Toresito had been dreading.

‘... because I’d like you to read and sign this document, here and now. Then we can all move forward in a common spirit of honesty — as the visitors, and your friends, and I do our utmost to secure a minimal penalty for you, in consideration of your invaluable support to the bigger agenda.’

She looked daggers at Graves, but in her heart she knew that he was not the one exerting the gentle blackmail. She had of course been thinking about this, non-stop, since he had stunned her with his “demand” five whole days ago. And she had already decided what she must do. She speed-read the single typewritten sheet, made three small changes to the wording, and passed it over to Raymond for his approval. He nodded. She took it back, initialled each change, and signed away her secret.

Graves added the date and his own witness signature, and stored the precious document back in his pocket.

‘Now, I’d like you to stay here with me for a little longer. Lawrence has not yet arrived, and I want a quick personal word with him in the restaurant before the two of you meet up for lunch.’

The Congresswoman was beyond arguing, and they waited — but only for another five minutes.

Veight appeared and hurried away to his right. Carla looked across at Raymond, saw that he too had spotted the latest arrival, left him to handle it, and went straight back on watch.

‘Don’t turn around, Kristy. He’s just arrived, and I’m going to follow him in a moment. Give us ten minutes together, then he’s all yours.’

As Graves was pushing back his chair, Harvey Kuhler came through from the Arrivals hall and headed off in the opposite direction from Lawrence Veight. Good, thought Raymond and Carla in unison. Another one on the ground and out of the way. He could look after himself. And Maelene and Toni were booked on the same flight in from Las Vegas. Good job the three of them had never met. The kids would be waiting for their luggage. Lucia could take care of them, as planned.

Raymond finally stood up.

‘I’ll see you at the meeting, Kristy. Stick tight to Lawrence, and be brave, and tell it like it is.’

His next job would be to try and smooth things over with Veight after that prickly confrontation at their first encounter. But he had gone only fifty yards in gentle pursuit of his target when he was interrupted by the un-made Carla’s urgent voice in his ear.

‘Raymond, we have a problem. Toni and Maelene have arrived, but she rushed straight off to the ladies’ room and he’s now been stopped by an airline official. They’re asking him some tricky questions, and there’s nobody to help him, and he’s looking really worried! Lucia doesn’t know how to handle it. Quo and I are working on it, but we think he needs direct assistance at once. Can you please do something?’

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd

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