by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 14: A Lowly Summit
part 2 of 2
Raymond rejoined the meeting. The un-made Carla had already found her way to DF, who suddenly stopped talking for a few seconds and then meekly announced that he too wanted to pop out for a moment, and have a quiet little think about it all for himself. Another uneasy silence then descended on the tiny, crowded room.
The Mater would have liked some appropriate music to oil the wheels, rather than the noisy bar’s background entertainment, but that was out of the question on all counts. This would have to be a rough, ready and very direct missioning. Period.
It’s Bob, is it not?
‘Yes. Who is this?’
You can call me Quo. I am one of those whom Raymond represents.
‘You mean you’re really real?’
Oh yes, Bob. And we really need to move this business along a great deal faster and more effectively. So you are going to help us rather than hinder us from now on.
Specifically, we expect you to arrange a still more senior and open-minded quorum for the proper consideration of our proposals. We are of course willing to travel anywhere for further meetings. And we remain convinced that our discussions should be internationalised to an appropriate degree ... both as a basic propriety, and as a stimulus to a breakthrough in the negotiations.
‘I can see I’m going to have to play along with this, Quo, even though it goes against the grain. But perhaps you can do something in return ...’
I’m listening, Bob.
‘Well, you clearly have some very special power over me at the moment. I don’t like it at all, but I have to say I’m very impressed. Now, that sort of power could be really helpful to us, in many of our own international dealings — with friends and foes alike. If you’d care to join forces ...’
‘Who is this now, for heaven’s sake?’
This is the Captain speaking. I had been fervently hoping, sir, that you would not even consider that idea, let alone bring yourself to actively suggest it. I am acutely disappointed.
As I say, enough is enough. You will honour the requests we have just made without argument or delay.
And there is more. Harvey Kuhler has been acting on our selective instructions for many days now. As he told you earlier today — but you chose to disregard it — his decisions to ignore certain of your own orders, including the very latest ones, have been taken fully at our behest and in line with the conditions stated in our original proposition. So despite appearances, no surveillance will be taking place on anybody following this meeting. Nor will you even consider it at any time in the future. And you will immediately reinstate Mr Kuhler in your mind as the loyal and trusted government servant he has always been.
Finally, you will honour, without reservation and in perpetuity, Harvey’s sworn and signed commitment to full diplomatic immunity for Kristy Toresito and Raymond Martin Graves.
Please proceed at once with your urgent tasks.
The Captain would now leave the man completely to his own devices, for she was still not willing to break her basic rules of engagement. Earth must make its own untainted decisions on their proposals, and occasional localised encouragements, such as the one which had just been needed, should always be strictly “corrective” and nothing more corrupting. And she would not even countenance the abuse of power that DF himself had immediately considered ...
But she could not know if or when they might need to commune with him again. So before completely letting go, Quo endowed him with another special sign-off code.
As Deep Fraught made a gentle return to Earth and the expectant meeting, Carla moved back to Raymond and hooked herself briefly into his consciousness again. Quo brought him rapidly up to speed with everything that had just been arranged, and then sent him once more into the arena.
‘So, have you come to any decisions, sir?’
‘Yes, I have, Mr Graves,’ said DF, hovering in the doorway, ‘and I now need a further few minutes, in a more private corner somewhere — if I can find one in this place! I have to consult with Hi Rack.’ He glanced again at his watch, and frowned even more deeply. ‘I shall be back as soon as I can.’
* * *
‘It’s DF, sir. I’m calling from the special summit meeting I mentioned yesterday ...’
‘Is that the one about the low-price oil?’
‘Can’t be that special, then.’
‘Sir, this is the one with the envoys from the ... Aliens.’
‘Ah, that one. Slipped my mind. So, did they surrender?’
‘No, sir, it’s not a combat situation. It’s a trade negotiation.’
‘Right, so it is about oil, then?’
‘Not exactly, sir. But the important thing is, they insist on talking not just with the USA, but with other nations too ...’
‘Yes, sir. You know — overseas powers, foreign countries ...’
‘I’m not too sure about that idea, DF.’
‘I do believe it’s in our interest to make a small concession here, sir.’
‘You think they have some quality crude to trade?’
‘I believe they are offering us many valuable resources at very attractive prices ...’
‘OK. But hey, we can’t tell the real power brokers anything about this.’
‘No. And I don’t want to involve more than one alien state in our own business, right?’
‘Right, sir ...’
‘So I think ... I think I need to know what you recommend, Rob.’
‘It’s Bob, sir.’
‘Good. Where do we find him?’
‘No, I’m Bob, sir. But we do have a special relationship with Junior over there in Great Britain ...’
‘Hey, that’s a part of England, right?’
‘And they still have some left? OK, let’s do it. You jump on an airplane to ... wait, don’t tell me ... yeah, to London, and fix up a deal.’
‘A deal with London, sir?’
‘But I can’t let you have the Grumman, Bob. Keeping that in reserve — there’s too much going down in that Asia City place. You’ll have to go scheduled and set up a dummy meeting as a cover.’
‘You mean I should create a legend, sir?’
‘I sure hope I will be, Rob.’
‘No problem, Ron. Now, go west, young man.’
‘That’s east, sir.’
* * *
Deep Fraught returned to the meeting and summarised his British Plan in terms that conveyed little about what he hoped to achieve in London, largely because he presently had no idea himself.
Carla was still listening in, unseen. Quo and the Captain decided the gesture of outreach was probably just good enough to merit acceptance, so Carla simply whispered ‘OK’ to Raymond. Their envoy’s poker face did not reveal his deep reservations, but he decided he must follow his mistresses’ instincts and strong guidance at this particular juncture. So he nodded politely to DF, held his own counsel, and took a quick peep at everybody else’s as they responded to the chairman’s content-free announcement.
Lawrence Veight, who had said nothing since his indignant outburst after the Doman delivery, was now suffering an acute crisis of confidence in almost everything he held dear, and just shrugged his shoulders at DF in an unaccustomed profession of nonchalance. E.V.R. Smith was smouldering deep within for having been almost completely sidelined, and he ignored DF’s statement completely. Harvey Kuhler was still praying that the magic fairy would soon appear with the firm promise of his next pay check, and Kristy Toresito just wanted the hell out of there, with or without the inscrutable Mr Raymond Graves by her side.
‘End of session?’ asked Raymond blithely.
‘Yes,’ said DF majestically, impressed that nobody was arguing with his latest plan.
‘Fine. Harvey, a brief word before you leave, please — I have some good news for you. And Ms Toresito — I’ll meet you at the bar outside.’
Smith was already on his way.
Lawrence gave DF only a cursory nod, then looked strangely at Raymond, murmured ‘I’ll wait there with her,’ and escorted Kristy through the door.
DF managed very little more. ‘Harvey will be in touch, Mr Graves.’
‘I’m sure he will. Safe journeys, sir.’
‘Thank you.’ He hurried away, very annoyed that the summit had dragged on for nearly two whole hours. He had been hoping to catch the five o’clock departure back to Dulles. The next one from Midway was not until eight-fifty! Should he take a cab up to O’Hare for an earlier flight, or sit it out here? Decisions, decisions ...
Raymond turned his attention to Kuhler.
‘You’re fully back in DF’s favour, Harvey. He won’t give you any more nonsense about surveillance orders, he’ll be confirming our guarantees of diplomatic immunity, and you can forget his threats about your job.’
‘Ah, thank you, Mr Graves! That is a huge relief.’
‘We shall ask a little favour in return, sir. I understand you have already briefly investigated the Brighter Vale company in connection with this affair. Be aware that we are actively dealing with its unsavoury operations, and please leave it in our hands until the business is fully resolved. In fact, we see no reason for you to pursue the matter further. But if any later investigations by you or your colleagues should reveal the names Antonio Murano or Maelene Bay as being in some way connected with that enterprise, anywhere in this country, let me give you my solemn word, here and now, that they are innocent of any connivance with it, and ask you to ensure that they and their good names are completely discounted from your findings.’
‘Certainly, Mr Graves. I accept your word on that without question, and I give you mine in return.’
‘Excellent. And thank you for all you have done for us, so far. Keep on doing it until it’s over. I’ll wait for your call ...’
‘Very well, sir.’
Then Harvey once again heard The Star Spangled Banner being hummed gently in his ear. Carla re-engaged him for just a few seconds, and Quo planted another copy of the departmental sign-off code.
Raymond found the politicians waiting at the bar. He took a deep breath, and presented his sincerest smile.
‘Thank you for your contribution, Congressman.’
Now you be very careful here, Mr Veight, Quo was thinking. Threat of check if you make an incautious move ...
‘You really pushed your luck in there again, pal ...’
Incautious move, Mr Veight.
‘Did I, indeed? Well perhaps you would like to explain to me exactly why Ms Toresito was excluded from all contact with the authorities until today, and was only present here because of my firm insistence. And why, in the few minutes before your private meetings began, she suddenly lost her willingness to talk ...’
‘Because she needed and continues to need the protection of a power greater than mine.’
‘And where is her apparently strong-willed and outspoken companion, Jennifer Pruston?’
‘She’s back where she belongs, Graves. We have no need of her in this glorious struggle!’
A desperate and unnecessary defence.
‘But you chose your State Department running mate with considerable care, I think ...’
‘This country needs firm hands on the tiller, Mr Graves ...’
Another very weak play, with far better ones available. Mate in two moves, Mr Veight, unless you make a major sacrifice.
‘This is quite intolerable, sir. You will proceed to ensure that both Congresswomen are brought fully into play for whatever rounds of negotiation are to follow. You will otherwise take a back seat in the process from now on, and you will specifically exclude your personal prejudices from any active contribution you may later be obliged to make. And I have to counsel you, sir, on behalf of several parties, that to disregard this advice would be a very serious mistake.’
Check. Sacrifice obligatory.
Veight stood fuming for many long seconds. Eventually he spoke.
‘Stop the clock, Graves. I will make no such commitments here and now ... but neither shall I refuse to. I shall give you a decision soon. Until then, I agree to stay out of the discussions.’
Raymond looked more closely and saw that the man largely meant what he had just said, but that he had by no means made up his mind on which line he was eventually going to take.
‘So be it. The visitors and I look forward to your call. Make it the right call, Mr Veight.’
Kristy took her cue.
‘Lawrence, I have decided I need to go into hiding with Raymond for a while, until we’re all sure these people are going to keep their promises on our immunity.’
Veight appeared to give this news some real consideration.
‘That’s probably a very sensible move, Kristy. No matter what I think of this whole crazy business, I don’t trust them any more than you do.’
Raymond shook his head at yet more brazen contradiction. Kristy simply nodded, gave her unhappy chaperone a grateful peck on the cheek, and simply said ‘I’ll be in touch.’
‘Make sure you look after her for us, Mr Graves.’
Raymond saw no need to respond to that. Veight got the message, gave Kristy a quick hug in return, and walked away.
‘Right, let’s get those tickets before they close the flight. Is your P.A. fully briefed?’
‘Yes. I have a bad dose of ’flu. Started yesterday morning. Confined to bed, phone off the hook. Covers a multitude of sins ...’
‘I suspect it may have to, Kristy.’
* * *
‘I still don’t think it’s fair. You’ve been on standby again all afternoon, and I’m just being ignored ...’
‘Toni, you’re beginning to sound like Sal. And that ain’t good ...’
‘Because it threatens to make me want to stop kissing you — like this ...’
Lucia waited patiently until the moment had passed. Then she carefully positioned her radimote for a balanced message into two separately-owned ears.
‘OK, lovers, it’s new news time. This whole political thing is now far bigger than either of you. And up here, we all think that’s very good news for you, in every way. So, you are free to go off and do whatever you like again, until further notice, and still with all expenses paid. We do not expect to have to use you in this area now for anything other than very simple, risk-free tasks. We must hold tightly on to you, of course, in case things should change, as they so often do here — and there is still the prospect of a lot more surveying work to come. But we are committed absolutely to your protection. So the bad news is that I shall still be with you every step of the way, and Quo will continue to appreciate the fine illumination that each of you always provides. But please don’t let that inhibit you at all ...’
Maelene could not resist it.
‘Lucia, you have become much wittier and extremely cheeky in your old age.’
‘I’m delighted you’ve spotted it, Grandma.’
The conscripts hurried away to the nearest airport hotel for a long, quiet evening together. They would not even think about their next destination until the morning. Maybe quite late in the morning ...
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd