by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 17: Some Like It Hot
Quo had finished her London observations at six o’clock local time. Half an hour later, DF was snugly on board Concorde and just departing for JFK, and the Mater would soon begin the process of re-positioning over the Galapagos Islands, to give itself maximum coverage of North America once more.
In Ontario, however, it was only just after lunch time, and Lucia’s radimote was still solidly tracking Maelene and Toni on their journey up from Niagara.
The next day would be a Saturday. Hopefully DF and his friends would at last start to privately build their plans for a proper summit meeting in Washington. And Carla would be keeping an interested watch on as much of that as she could.
So Quo would now be able to split her keen attention between events both there and up in Canada ...
* * *
The off-duty Illuminators reached the centre of Toronto soon after three. It was colder than at Niagara, with strong gusting winds, and Maelene was feeling ever more uncomfortable. After checking in to their hotel, not far from the university, they ventured out for a little brave sightseeing, but the weather worsened, and at five o’clock they decided to give in until the next day, and warm up in the shops instead. Maelene wisely avoided the fashion outlets, this time, and they quickly took refuge in a small but impressive bookstore on Bloor Street.
Toni aimed straight at the music section, and was soon immersed in a new history of the singer-songwriters of Rock. Maelene wandered around less positively, looking for inspiration, and then spotted a special display of the works of Jane Jacobs, some of which she had already read, along with copies of recent newspaper articles referring to the author’s active support to the politician David Miller in the ongoing 2003 Toronto mayoral campaign. She looked at these more closely, and spotted some extra inside information ...
‘Hey, Toni, come over here. We’re gonna continue the process of your world education!’
‘Oh, what next? I was enjoying myself ...’
‘Well now it’s time to learn something instead! Look, this display’s all about Jane Jacobs. She’s a really insightful writer on the problems of modern Western life. I’ve read two of her books, Cities and the Wealth of Nations and Systems of Survival. Very good stuff. Maybe I should buy one of them now, specially for you.’
‘Toni, grow up! And it says here she’s almost completed her latest work, Dark Age Ahead. With a title like that, I reckon it’ll be dynamite ...’
‘So do I,’ a quiet voice chipped in from behind them. ‘I happen to know someone who’s read the first draft.’
They turned and saw a friendly, smiling face, obviously impressed by Maelene’s good judgement.
‘Oh, that’s wonderful! What’s it about, sir?’
‘Well, it studies the dead-end of cultures. What happens when a people not only loses something vital, but forgets it’s been lost. Jacobs gives many examples of that from the past, especially of when civilisations turned inward and then hit the skids for good.
‘And it’s happening now. Families are isolated, education is becoming mere credentialing, scientific rigour is being lost, society’s guardians are becoming corrupt. A lot of little things — or so they may seem — are beginning to add up.’
Toni was looking more interested.
‘She says we can avoid a new dark age, but we’ll have to make hard decisions, and soon. I'm going to write a review of the book as soon as it appears.’
‘Oh, thank you so much,’ said Maelene. ‘I’ll definitely be buying it, then!’
‘A very good idea!’
‘So, do you work for her publisher?’
The gentleman laughed. ‘I wish! I’m a professor. Semi-retired. But your guess is a good one. I help publish a literary webzine.’
‘Yes. We started about a year ago. We have big plans for the future. And we even have a forum, too.’
‘I must check it out.’
‘Please do. Here’s the web site address. I hope to see you both there some day. Meanwhile, enjoy your stay!’
Maelene smiled gratefully, and they all said their goodbyes. Then she turned her attention back to Jane Jacobs, and found another book she had not yet read.
‘Right, Toni. I’m buying The Nature of Economies instead, today. You can read it yourself as soon as I’m done ...’
* * *
A little later, they dived into a nice warm bar.
‘So what shall we do tonight?’
‘Well, we have had two rather uneventful evenings since we left Las Vegas. The weather’s still not very inviting, though ...’
‘But your smile is!’
‘That’s the fourth nice thing you’ve said to me today, Murano!’
‘Are you counting?’
‘OK, will that be enough to last all night?’
‘Dunno. May need topping up later. Let’s get a quick dinner, then I’ll let you know ...’
* * *
The next morning, they gamely tried to do a little more city centre sightseeing, but it was cool and windy once again. So at eleven o’clock they decided to pick up some sandwiches, check out of the hotel, and hit the road back to Buffalo.
‘Bye-bye, chilly maple trees,” sang Maelene two hours later, as the border guards waved them back onto the Rainbow Bridge. ‘Hope to meet again, on a warmer breeze!’
‘You’re amazing, honey!’
‘No, I’m just looking forward to whatever we have coming up next!’
They waited in line for less than ten minutes, and then the examiner at the U.S. immigration booth took hold of their passports. He glanced only briefly at Maelene’s, then gave the Spaniard’s slightly more attention. Something registered, and he turned to his computer screen.
Twenty seconds later they were diverted into a small set of parking spaces immediately beyond the control booths, and were both cordially invited to come inside.
There were four of them in the small, unwelcoming room: Toni, Maelene, another examiner seated at an uncluttered desk, and the man who had directed them out of the through-lane.
‘Antonio Murano, I have an alert on our system. I need to contact the relevant authorities at once. I am authorised to detain you until I receive further instructions. Do you understand?’
Toni had learnt his lessons in co-operation by now.
But Maelene began to protest.
‘Ms Bay,’ the examiner politely interrupted, ‘I should counsel you that, if you say just one more word, things will become a lot more difficult for both of you.’
She bit her tongue and started to think hard instead.
As the examiner picked up the phone, a red light flashed above the front door and an alarm began to gently buzz.
‘Damn!’ said the traffic supervisor, jumping to his feet and peering through the window. ‘Would ya believe it? Freakin’ Chevvy broken down in Lane 3! You handle this on your own, Dick?’
‘Yeah ... but put the guy on ice for me, first.’
‘No!’ cried Maelene.
‘I tell you, I ain’t warning you again, lady,’ said Dick Brouner, as he slammed the handset down in frustration at the message telling him how important his call was to Homeland Security. He dialled the alternate number shown on his computer screen.
Toni was escorted unprotesting into an even smaller, empty room at the back, and the door was closed and locked. Then Traffic hurried out to handle the rapidly building congestion.
Lucia and Quo were thinking hard as well.
‘Maelene,’ whispered the invisible Lucia, with obvious urgency. ‘Do something, and fast, to set him up for us! Then we can take over ...’
Brouner was obviously still waiting for a reply on the second number. And Maelene had thought of something. She stood up.
‘I have to go to the ladies’ room.’
Dick frowned, handset still stuck to his ear.
‘OK, but leave your purse on my desk, and take off your shoes.’
This time she did not argue. Then she hurried across the room, dived inside, slammed and locked the door, and listened intently. Still no phone conversation. Good.
She gave it just twenty seconds, pressed the flush button, and then began to tug at the still-bolted door.
‘Hey, it’s stuck! I can’t get it open! Help! I can’t get out! Oh, help me please, sir!’
Dick banged the receiver down again, strode across the room, and turned the emergency release screw.
‘Try it now, lady.’
Maelene pulled open the door to reveal herself splayed out on the seat in a very inviting pose, and began to sing the most seductive chorus she had ever written.
Brouner’s jaw dropped in a long moment of utter disbelief, and Maelene plunged deeper.
‘So, why don’t you come in and close the door for a few minutes, Dick? Oh, I do like that name! And you’ll make a nice change from that jerk in the cells. It’s not as if I’m gonna overpower you and steal your keys, is it? You can even keep your pistol in its holster — well, that one, anyhow ...’
The enchantment worked for just long enough. Before Brouner could snap out of it and make his second arrest of the day, Lucia took him from behind and Quo assumed full command.
Good afternoon, sir. Nice and easy, please. There, that’s fine.
Now, you will return at once to your desk, and call the private mobile number I am about to give you, and say the following words ... and then wait for further instructions.
And please revert, of course, to affording Ms Bay all the respect she properly deserves.
As Maelene regained her dignity, her shoes and her purse, Dick scribbled down the number and the codephrase and did as he was told. The call was answered on the second ring.
‘Ah ... Guiltless Guiltless ...’
‘What, again? No, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. Who’s calling this time, please?’
‘This is Dick Brouner at the Niagara Rainbow Bridge crossing.’
‘You holding Antonio Murano there?’
‘How the heck ...?’
‘Don’t ask. Now listen and listen good, Brouner. Murano is innocent of any crime, and is beyond suspicion. The database entries on his records were made incorrectly. They should all have been removed by now, but we’re still suffering some hangovers with old versions being picked up in error. Faulty DNS servers, apparently — whatever they are. Got all that?’
‘Yes, sir ...’
‘Good. So, you do three things, here and now. One, you apologise to Murano, personally and on my behalf. Two, you make sure all your co-workers know this was a simple computer error and the guy is free to re-renter the States. And three, you check the system again in two hours’ time, and if you still find that faulty record, you call me to report it, right?’
‘Right, sir ...’
‘OK, Brouner. Do it. Now.’
Replacing the handset was the examiner’s happy cue from Quo to forget everything of their own brief encounter, as well as the improbable fantasy of Maelene and the Ladies’ Room.
Ted Ranovitz, however, already hard at work again in a further attempt to purge his own fledgling operation’s computers of the outstanding erroneous data, would remain on Doman call indefinitely.
* * *
Maelene Bay drove a stupefied Toni Murano away from Niagara Falls and back on the road to Buffalo as fast as she legally and safely could.
‘We’re getting out of this state fast, Toni. Start thinking!’
Those on the Mater had already completed their own thinking on the subject. The Captain herself had ordered a categorical halt to any further active use of Toni in the Doman cause, predominantly for his own protection. He would be left merely to continue his parallel, passive, insight-enabling role with Maelene ...
Lucia was sticking with them like glue, of course. And now she helpfully informed them, from her un-made position in the back seat, that they would both be completely free for at least several more days, while Raymond and the politicians held a Washington tea party or three.
‘Ah, thank you, Lucia! That’s exactly what we need, isn’t it, Toni? Oh, you’re still looking real pale, your poor thing. Listen, I’ve been thinking, even if you haven’t started yet! I wanna go somewhere warmer! And I’d like to see Florida. Whadd’ya say?’
‘I have been thinking, actually,’ said Toni, and he sounded very weary indeed. ‘I’d much rather have a weekend filled with music. That would cheer me up far more than lying on a beach alone with my thoughts again ...’
‘Well ... yeah, actually, that’s not a bad idea at all. Anything more specific on your mind?’
‘Yes. I’d like to go to New Orleans.’
Maelene was on autopilot back to the only place they’d been in the entire city. And as soon as they reached their Thursday night hotel, she parked right out front, sweetly said hello again to the nice day receptionist, and asked if they might quickly use the Internet facility before deciding whether to check in for another lovely night there.
‘No problem,’ she was told, ‘and have a nice day!’
They started with the weather forecasts. Average temperatures of eighty-three degrees in both Miami and New Orleans the next day, and highs of nearly ninety!
Maelene could clearly see how spooked Toni still was, and she knew he deserved to have his choice — for now.
‘OK, New Orleans it is, honey — this weekend.’
And she was secretly very excited at the prospect of a few nights enjoying the music closest to her own roots.
But she soon discovered there were absolutely no direct flights to the Big Easy. Most of them seemed to be routing across to Newark or even back via Chicago.
‘Oh, it’s gonna take us hours and hours!’
Toni, who had remained very quiet as she did all the hard work, suddenly lost his cool and stomped unhappily off to the men’s room. But ten minutes later he was welcomed back by Maelene’s soothing voice.
‘Listen, honey, I’ve found a real good-looking Delta flight leaving at five o’clock, with only a fifty minute transfer in Atlanta. That’s a straight line route. We’ll be there at eight-thirty local. Still plenty of time to hit the town for a late Saturday night after a nice little sleep on the first plane! But we’ll have to move fast ...’
‘OK, do it! Oh, I am sorry ... what I mean is, yes please! I just want to get out of here, right now, and that sounds fine. The transfer will give us a chance to stretch our legs, anyway.’
‘Good thinking, Batman. I’m on it. And would you like me to find us a really charming little place to stay in the heart of the French Quarter?’
‘What can I say?’
‘Well, you can say “Thank you, Maelene” if you like. I’ve booked that already! Now you can call us a cab, pronto. I’ll be ready in five ...’
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd