by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 13: Meet You Midway
part 2 of 2
Abandoning his designs on Lawrence Veight, and muttering ‘OK, Carla ... but you must still keep up the watch for DF,’ Raymond strode back to the Arrivals outlet and straight up to an unmarked door lurking anonymously in the long wall of opaque glass and plastics that separated airside from real world. He had been in these situations before, in his long career between the lines of international heroes and villains. This would need to be a classic power play in a rapid game of poker.
He rapped unceremoniously on the door, and before anyone could respond, he called out, very firmly, ‘Graves, U.S. Consul and NATO Advisor. Immediate access. AbbCode MC.’
The muted response through a concealed speaker was instant.
‘Speak the full codephrase quietly into the centre door panel.’
The door opened, just enough. Raymond showed his very special ID, and passed through into no man’s land.
Toni was still being questioned when he reached him. The airline employee had been joined by a police officer, and Toni looked close to losing his temper. But Raymond had been given the benefit of the doubt by the senior official now pacing alongside him. And Carla had already whispered his latest script.
‘Good afternoon, gentlemen. I suspect there has been a small misunderstanding. This young man, and the lady who arrived with him, have travelled here to work with me on a highly confidential government operation. Would I be right in thinking that you have found some small item of concern in a computer record?’
‘Yes,’ said the airline rep, suddenly more nervous than the still-speechless Toni. ‘It shows a “caution” status on Señor Murano here. I was simply following procedure ...’
‘Of course,’ smiled Raymond reassuringly. ‘Most conscientious. Please do not worry — there will be no recriminations.’ Ignoring the police officer, he turned back to the security official. ‘I shall be taking steps to ensure that this obviously incorrect information is removed from the airline databases with urgency. Meantime, please allow Mr Murano to proceed onwards with me. I accept full responsibility.’
‘But what about Maelene ...?’ managed Toni.
‘I am sure she will find us at the baggage carousel. Thank you, gentlemen, and good day.’
And he all but frogmarched Toni away.
‘But how ...?’
‘Sshhhh. Not another word, son.’
The suitcases were already circulating, and two minutes later Maelene turned up looking drained and confused. Before she could properly register that Graves was not only meeting them in person, but on the wrong side of the wall, he smiled sympathetically, gave her a similarly terse order to say nothing, and escorted them both straight out.
‘But how did you know?’ asked Toni, when Graves returned to their coffee shop table with a small beer and a bottle of water.
‘Lucia told Carla, and Carla told me.’
‘How did you explain that to the security guys?’ wondered Maelene, still far from comfortable on all counts.
‘I didn’t. I told them you saw it happening and called me from the john.’
‘OK, people, fun and games over! Toni, please pull out the fat envelope that’s been burning a hole in your carry-on bag, and place it nice and easy in the middle of the table.’ ... ‘That’s just fine. Now, when you’ve finished your drinks, go straight down to the restaurant at the end of that walkway, and stay there till further notice. Lucia will be sticking with you, of course, and you’re still on call, Maelene — but I know you’re not in good shape, and after what’s just happened, I’m not planning to pull you in to the meeting unless it’s absolutely critical. And I do hope you’ll feel much better soon.’
‘Thanks for your help today, Raymond.’
‘Least I could do. And thanks for all yours — both of you. See you again, somewhere, somehow, I expect ...’
He retrieved the package, dropped it casually into his own bag, and strolled off to take up his earlier position near the Arrivals exit. Carla would spot him and continue to linger unseen by his side, ready to point out Deep Fraught when he finally emerged. Too late for his little chat with Lawrence now. Never mind. Plan and re-plan. Story of his life.
The Handler gave him a full five minutes to recover his normal composure. She knew that was actually a lot more than he would need.
‘While you’re waiting, Raymond, can we please try and sort out Homeland Security for Toni?’
‘Sure. Tell me what I need to do ...’
Carla and Quo had held an emergency engagement with Ted Ranovitz at Kennedy Airport on the last day of April, to arrange Toni’s immediate release from the unjustified clutches of Homeland Security in San Francisco. Quo had also then secured that senior officer’s promise of a full exercise to remove or correct all outstanding paper and computer records relating to Antonio Murano’s previous erroneous detentions and his subsequent pursuit across the USA.
But Quo had already seen enough inaccuracy and incompleteness in the Earth’s information systems to be confident that if it could happen in San Francisco, it could happen some other place, some other time — and probably would. And Mr Ranovitz would then need to sort things out for them again.
So at the end of that short engagement at JFK, the Mater had not only planted in Ted’s mind a regular, eventual close-off code — as it had with several of its other little helpers — but had also formally installed him as a sleeping agent, and supplied him with an unmistakable wake-up call.
Raymond was briefed and ready. He pulled out his phone and dialled the number that Carla was dictating.
Ted’s head recoiled gently at the sound of the unforgettable code-phrase, and he was at once at the caller’s full disposal.
‘Who is this please?’
Declining to answer that question, Raymond simply summarised Toni’s latest unhappy experience.
‘Right. Well, it must have been a standard security alert on that particular airline’s computer. Probably a hangover from Murano’s original problems in Europe. All those flags should have been cleared down at the time I ran the purge on our own systems. Has he had trouble with any other flights in the USA?’
‘Good. OK, I’ll organise another immediate trawl and tidy-up of all the airline databases. Shouldn’t happen again after that.’
‘Thank you, Mr Ranovitz, and good day.’
Raymond’s call had been cut, but the Mater’s links with Ted had certainly not yet been severed.
* * *
At two o’clock, Harvey Kuhler finished his lunch and wandered over to the agreed rendezvous to take care of business and check out the venue and the security.
Much earlier, E.V.R. Smith had picked up a downtown cab after his own more hurried lunch, and had been waiting in that RV area for a long and lonely time. Harvey, of course, did not know him from Adam, and simply passed him by.
Deep Fraught’s plane landed nearly half an hour behind schedule. But he had allowed for a full forty minutes’ delay, and was congratulating himself on his fine time management as he approached the designated meeting place with just five minutes to spare.
‘Ah, hello again, er ... Mr Smith. Glad to see you made it!’
‘I’ve actually been here for nearly an hour.’
‘Good. Well done. And there’s Harvey, over at the bar. Harvey!’ ... ‘Right, this is, er ... Mr Smith from ITA. Mr Smith, this is Mr Kuhler from INR. Now, where’s the Conference Suite?’
‘In there, sir.’
In the absence of a VIP Lounge for this meeting, Harvey had worked hard on the phone the previous day, attempting to reserve a business facility within the terminal complex, or maybe just a private dining area. But he had failed completely. Even the small rooms used by various airport officials would apparently be fully occupied that afternoon, or just too public, or simply out-of-bounds.
So the second Earth-Dome summit would be taking place in the cramped back office of a busy restaurant, using half a dozen plastic chairs borrowed from a nearby cafeteria. The manager was now relaxing at his bar, planning how to spend the large wad of government cash he had recently stuffed into his pants pocket, and a lone police officer was standing outside the office door, listlessly studying an unused parking ticket with six names newly scribbled on the back.
Deep Fraught was not amused.
‘Is this the best you could manage, Kuhler?’
‘I’m sorry about this, Mr Smith.’
‘No problem. I’m used to it.’
‘I just don’t know why we keep dogs, if we always have to ...’
‘Shall we move in, gentlemen? The officer will need to see your IDs.’
‘My ID, Kuhler?’
‘Well, I’m not at all impressed, Harvey, but I suppose it will have to do. So, do we now have Graves under close control?’
‘I’m afraid not, sir.’
‘Because I was instructed not to deploy surveillance on him.’
‘What? I don’t believe this! I’m the one who issues your instructions! What about Acorn? Have they picked up on her yet?’
‘No surveillance is to be conducted on Acorn either, sir.’
DF was momentarily as speechless as a near-term volcano. But he recovered his anger quite quickly.
‘Your job is on the line here, Kuhler. You will at once command immediate CovOps on both of them, effective the minute they approach this room. Do you hear me? Do it! Now!!’
As Trade stared into the middle distance, bemused and now embarrassed by the continuing demonstration of State team spirit, Harvey set his jaw, pulled out his phone, pressed several keys, waited five seconds, and then issued a rapid-fire, jargon-filled set of surveillance instructions that left his boss high, dry and seemingly satisfied. He pressed two more keys, re-pocketed the phone, and looked at his superior with puppy-dog eyes.
‘Don’t expect such new-found obedience to save your skin, Kuhler. I’ll deal with you later.’
Harvey nodded resignedly, making a silent, fervent wish that the visitors would sustain their own very firm line, intercede again very soon, and deliver him from the lion’s den before DF discovered that he had repeatedly pressed only the Menu button on his phone.
Trade recovered his voice. ‘So, what’s our game plan?’
‘We play it by ear.’
At three o’clock precisely, the police officer tapped on the door and admitted Lawrence Veight and his temporary protégée. Three faces dropped in stunned surprise.
Harvey Kuhler found his manners first.
‘Congresswoman Toresito! Are you truly the government envoy for the Domans?’
‘I am. Mr Kuhler, I presume?’
‘At your service, ma’am.’
Trade had recovered his wits, but only a little.
‘Miss Clear ... my name is Smith. I always remember you only as Miss Kristy Clear, you know. I’ve been a huge fan ever since I saw your very first movie. I was just thirteen ...’
‘Well, that puts me several years older than you, Mr Smith. Thanks a bunch! But seriously, I’m grateful for your kind words.’ She turned towards Deep Fraught. ‘And how are you today, young Bob ...?’
‘I’m staggered, Ms Toresito. I had no idea that a person of your ... your repute had been dragged into this charade ...’
‘Well, here I am.’
‘... and I hope you will keep your liberal policies very much to yourself as we proceed.’
Kristy dropped all semblance of politesse, and was about to turn it at once into a solid party fight, but Lawrence gently gripped her arm in a strong hint at discretion.
E.V.R. Smith was still in a different sort of party mood.
‘So, Miss Clear, however did you come to be involved in all of this?’
‘I’m not willing to discuss that, sir ... at this time, at least. Now, can we please proceed?’
‘Very well,’ said DF, feeling he had won the first round quite easily. ‘The three of us all believe we should play this by ear ...’
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd