by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 18: Behind Closed Doors
part 1 of 2
Early that same Saturday morning, Deep Fraught had done what was, for him, some very hard thinking, and had eventually drawn two firm conclusions: he was out of his depth, and he had nothing to gain but everything to lose.
He finally picked up the phone, and Carla listened in with unseen fascination.
‘It’s DF, again, sir.’
‘Ah, Rob. So, did you bring back the gold?’
‘Black Gold, Ron. Texas Tea ...’
‘Ah, no sir. Different agenda. Alien Trade Mission and allies’ ongoing support, sir.’
‘Got it. All prisoners secured, then?’
‘No prisoners, sir. But we do need another summit, here in DC. And my assessment, sir, is that I am grossly under-qualified to chair a meeting of such global significance, and I have already written a memo to file to that effect. I feel I must pass this responsibility on to someone with all the necessary credentials and experience.’
‘That was a very long sentence, Rob. Like to walk me through it again from the top ...?’
‘Sir, I think I need Z to take this over now. Do I have your agreement?’
‘That was an easier one, Ron. So, what’s the answer?’
‘Good. So, let’s get to it.’
Winton B. Zilfleger Jr absorbed DF’s telephoned cri de coeur with an interest as strong as any golfer’s when listening to a fishing story. ‘Another pesky Roswell,’ he was thinking. The sooner this call was over, the sooner he’d be able to get back to deciding whether to have tea or coffee with his breakfast.
He was not expecting the closing flourish.
‘But I don’t have the skills needed for the next stage, and Hi Rack wants someone else to take command.’
‘You brought him into it already?’
‘Of course. My ballpark, standing arrangement. You know that.’
‘Yeah.’ Zilfleger had a nasty feeling he would not have time to make his outstanding breakfast decision. ‘So ... who does he have in mind?’
‘Why you, of course, sir!’
Winton congratulated himself on his fine predictive abilities, and for the thousandth time in his career regretted his unquenchable vanity.
‘Very well, Bob. My house in thirty minutes.’
Carla determined she would stick with her man for now, and pick up on all their stately plans.
* * *
‘Kuhler? It’s DF.’
‘Ah ... good afternoon, sir ...’
‘Harvey ... listen ... er, I guess you can forget all that stuff about being fired. My little joke, OK?’
‘Fine. Excellent, in fact. And I’ll sign those diplomatic immunity certificates for Graves and Toresito when I see you later today. No further surveillance necessary.’
Harvey smiled wryly. ‘Understood, sir.’
‘Good. Now, Z has taken charge of things, and we’ve just had a quick planning session. You and I are tasked with arranging the next summit meeting, here in DC. Here’s what we need to do, straight away ...’
* * *
‘Congressman Veight? This is Harvey Kuhler.’ ... ‘Yes, thank you, sir. Now, may I assume you and Mrs Pruston will be travelling to DC tomorrow for the week’s business in the House?’ ... ‘Of course. So, would you both kindly arrange to participate in the next Doman summit meeting, alongside Ms Toresito? I have all the details for you here.’ ... ‘Good.’ ... ‘No, sir, I won’t be attending myself ...’
* * *
Carla was already back in Connecticut and ready to listen in when Raymond took the anticipated call.
He was smiling as he put down the phone.
‘Kristy, that was Harvey Kuhler. We’re all clear on the immunity — it’s official.’
‘Oh, that’s such a relief.’
‘You’re not kidding! And they have a more senior man running the show now. We should fly down to Washington sometime tomorrow. You’ll be able to attend the full week of Congress sessions, and the next summit meeting will be held at eight o’clock on Tuesday morning, in your own office in the Rayburn House Building.’
‘But that will give us less than two hours before the start of that day’s business!’
‘Well, perhaps they’re planning to get on with it properly this time. Oh, and they’ve at last decided that Jennifer should be there too, as well as Lawrence — though I was hoping to hear that news directly from the man himself ...’
His phone rang again.
‘Veight here, Mr Graves. I’ve considered your suggestions. Kristy and Jennifer will both be attending the next summit. I’m sure you’ll be advised of all the arrangements soon. And I shall try to make my own contributions as constructive as possible.’
‘I’m very pleased to hear that, Congressman. I look forward to seeing you there. Good day.’
Raymond’s private thoughts, as he cut the call, were as focused as ever. ‘How very carefully phrased, sir. You’d like me to believe you made all that happen, wouldn’t you? Must think I was born yesterday. Pity I can’t check you out directly on it, right now. Don’t think I really need to, though ...’
* * *
‘Auberon Blasdale? Good afternoon, sir. Zilfleger, Department of State. I’m very sorry to call you on a Saturday, but the Embassy said you would not mind ...’
‘Of course not, Mr Zilfleger. We are always ready to oblige. And I have been expecting this call ...’
‘Excellent. So would you perhaps be so good as to join us for a little get-together on Tuesday morning? No need to prepare anything. Rather early for sherry, I fear, but I’m sure we can rustle up some Earl Grey ...’
* * *
On Sunday afternoon, Kristy Toresito was chaperoned by Raymond Graves and the unseen Carla from up-state Connecticut to an out-of-the-way Bethesda hotel. And the following morning they all took a cab to the Members’ Entrance of the Capitol Building, for the start of the full week’s agenda of the United States House of Representatives.
‘Well, Raymond, here’s where we really do take them on trust.’
‘No choice, now, Kristy. But I think we’ll be OK. Just make sure you get your act together with your colleagues. I’m looking forward to meeting Jennifer at last. As for Lawrence ...’
She nodded understandingly. ‘Thanks for all you’ve done so far.’
‘No problem. See you tomorrow.’
He strode off for a long, liberating walk and some careful preparation.
* * *
As Winton Zilfleger arranged his props for the Tuesday morning Washington Summit, Raymond and Jennifer made their respectful self-introductions.
Then, fully empowered again, Graves looked deep inside the heart and mind of Lawrence Veight, and learnt four crucial things.
The man had clearly promised himself he would stay true to Kristy. And surprisingly, he was not plotting any reprisals against Raymond himself, despite their previous acerbic confrontations. He still harboured all his familiar prejudices and doubts. But it seemed he would, for the time being at least, be going along with the increasingly compelling evidence of the Domans’ presence and benevolence.
‘Keeping your head down when it suits, eh?’ thought Raymond to himself. ‘And you’ve done it without Quo’s direct intervention. Well, that’s good enough for me, for today. One less thing to worry about.’
He gave the unseen Carla a tiny pre-arranged signal, and the Mater deduced the good news too.
Zilfleger was ready.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, many of you are already well acquainted, but I am very pleased to have the honour of meeting most of you for the first time myself. And allow me to formally introduce our respected guest, Mr Auberon Blasdale from across the pond ...’
‘Well, from just up the avenue today, actually,’ smiled Auberon in a flash. ‘But delighted, I’m sure.’
‘Very good. So, to the agenda ...’
Zilfleger unveiled a sheet of flip chart paper which read:
1 Opening Remarks
3 Any Other Business
‘So, to Item 1 ...’
‘Mr Zilfleger,’ interrupted Raymond, ‘I wish to point out, before you dive into your rich but unilateral agenda, that the Domans, whom of course I represent, would very much like us to proceed, at long last, from the broad canvas of their initial Proposals to some decisions on the finer detail of their Offer, as presented in the second document which I distributed at the meeting in Las Vegas, eight days ago ...’
‘Very well, Mr Graves. I’m sure we can accommodate that under Item 2. And if not, there is always Item 3! Ah, the value of thorough preparation!
‘So, as I was saying, to Item 1 ...
‘Firstly, I am intrigued to know, Ms Toresito, how you came to be the government’s envoy in this affair ...’
‘I’m sure you are, Mr Zilfleger. But that question is immaterial to our agenda.’
‘I see. Very well. So ... I must advise you that I only began to look at this whole business a couple of days ago, and I naturally find it very hard to believe ...’
He smiled his insightful reservations at his audience, expecting their broad, nodding empathy. He received none whatsoever.
‘Ah. Right. Well, some around me have been trying to convince me otherwise, and I have also seen a confidential report from a USAF Colonel about the unexplained appearance of some very precious metals on his airfield ...’
Raymond chanced his arm. ‘So you are now persuaded, sir ...’
‘Oh, by no means, Mr Graves. But just one moment, please.’
He picked up a green marker pen, checked off Item 1 on his agenda with a grand flourish, and smiled again as he led the meeting smoothly into Item 2.
‘No, the magnitude of the offer of payments in kind, relative to the value of the materials apparently required by these so-called visitors, seems simply far too good to be true.’
‘So you have at least carried out some solid cost-benefit analyses on the detailed offer document?’
‘No. I simply asked DF here to look up the market prices of some of the commodities in yesterday’s paper. After that it was easy. But the other problem is that the tone of these proposals feels much too friendly ...’
‘Yes. So my natural instinct is to mistrust the whole approach and arrange to investigate it exhaustively ...’
‘Now just one minute!’
Jennifer Pruston had played no part in this process since helping Kristy to kick-start it back in the Napa Valley nearly three weeks before. Her patience had finally blown away, and she was not under the same promise of deference to Graves in this meeting as Maelene had been with the financiers in Oakland.
‘I did not give my absolute personal support to Ms Toresito, nor then put my reputation on the line, nor then wait obediently on the side while you and your useless friends took this thing next to nowhere, just so I could come here and listen to a man like you whimpering to us that, for once in his life, he’s stumbled across something that’s truly good and he just can’t handle it! Shape up, mister, or bring in someone who can!’
‘Jennifer, I don’t think ...’
‘Cut it out, Lawrence. You’ve been with this since Day One as well. You’ve hardly made it happen either, have you?’
‘Be careful, Jennifer ...’ warned Kristy.
‘No!’ Raymond Graves’ voice commanded everyone’s attention. ‘Mrs Pruston is right. This has now become a mockery. It is time for action, not indecision.’
He turned to Zilfleger.
‘Sir, will you please state fully and clearly the initial Anglo-American response to the detailed Doman proposals?’
‘Sir, I will not. And it seems to me that you are revealing your own political allegiances, and that this is rapidly turning into a partisan slanging match.’
‘This is quite intolerable!’ insisted Jennifer.
Deep Fraught suddenly found his voice.
‘May I make a suggestion, Mr Chairman?’
‘Yes,’ said Zilfleger, happy to lose the spotlight for a moment.
Nicely timed, thought Raymond even more gratefully.
‘May we ask Mr Graves if there is anything more he can reveal that might perhaps persuade you?’
Winton knew he could not refuse.
‘Yes, I think there is. In the course of the visitors’ investigations into the possible location of lutetium deposits, they stumbled across an illegal and highly immoral business operation.’
Kristy Toresito’s face at once assumed a mask of studied fascination.
‘And thanks to the Domans’ subsequent, positive encouragements, the victims of that cruel scam are now attempting to restart their lives, and those who operated it are making full reparation for their misdeeds. In fact, I personally hold copies of all the legal contracts confirming that excellent result. So, Mr Zilfleger, our noble visitors do not just make firm promises, and keep them, as far as I have observed ... they also act, in very carefully considered ways, in the cause of justice and right.’
As he finished speaking, Raymond threw DF a look that said ‘And you and I will need to talk about all of that later ...’
DF took the baton straight back. He too was of course a largely paid-up Mater man now.
‘I think this says a great deal, don’t you, Mr Zilfleger?’
‘Not enough, Bob. We really must not be hasty here. We shall need to ...’
Carla, still hovering un-made at Raymond’s side, was suddenly whispering in his ear. ‘The Captain says you should play the gold card right now. That might just do it.’
Graves frowned and shook his head in dismay, but naturally said nothing.
‘Are you listening to me, Mr Graves?’
‘My apologies, sir. I have just received further instructions from the Domans.’
‘What, while I was talking?’
‘How do they do that?’
‘It’s a mystery. Anyway ... I am now authorised to inform you that they wish to add gold to the list of commodities which they should like to procure, and that they are as usual willing to pay extremely good exchange prices for it ...’
‘Gold? You must be joking! We don’t give away our gold to anybody. As it happens, I was about to suggest that you should add it to the list of metals they are willing to deliver to us ...’
Which is exactly what we’d planned to do, till those Ovanavons got greedy, thought Quo. Darn!
‘I’m afraid that is out of the question.’
‘Very well, Mr Graves. I understand that in both previous meetings, it was you and your “friends” who effectively drew a halt to the proceedings?’
‘Yes, sir, because ...’
‘So, it’s our turn now.’
‘May I ask why?’
‘Because, Mr Graves ... we need a lot more time. We cannot possibly take such a momentous decision in a matter of hours or days, when we could spend weeks, months or years discussing it. And we need to consult far more broadly with our many international allies. And although the prices you are willing to pay do seem very generous, to me at least, they may well not be acceptable to our masters. And I expect them to react badly to our quite different motivations on the subject of gold. And last but not least, it may prove appropriate to carry out further discreet and confidential attempts to verify the existence of the visitors’ “spacecraft” — because until that is done, we would not appear to be on a level playing field.’
‘I am certain, sir, that you will never be able to locate them. Their technology is far superior to ours. And they will never reveal themselves, because they still do not trust us, even though they have repeatedly signalled their good intentions and proved their own trustworthiness by deploying no force whatsoever, throughout the time they have been here ...’
‘That will be for others to judge. There will be no further debate today. Except ... Mr Blasdale, I have just realised that you have not yet contributed. Do you have anything to say?’
‘Yes. I do need to know exactly where and when the group photo call will be taking place ...’
‘Mr Graves, please exchange phone numbers with DF at once. He will contact you at some time in the future, when we feel ready to continue. This meeting is closed.’
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd