by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 24: Good Day Sunshine
part 1 of 2
Toni and Maelene landed at Fort Lauderdale just before six that Thursday afternoon. They had planned to take a cab to their Beach Boulevard hotel, but they found the car rental agencies and their parking garage were located right next to the Arrivals hall, so they decided to hire their wheels there and then, and save time the next day.
And after their very late final night on the town in New Orleans, they were happy to eat in at the hotel and do nothing special, in public at least, that evening.
* * *
The next morning they jumped in the car and cruised gently around, admiring the neat and tidy city centre, stopping off several times for a short stroll or a long coffee, and finally enjoying huge lunch portions at Ernie’s rooftop restaurant, right on U.S. Highway 1.
They were still in Big Easy mood, the sun was shining, and they were both now getting rather warm and sticky. So they spent the whole afternoon just lounging on the glorious beach, surrounded by palm trees and tranquillity.
They finished the laid-back day with Steamers at Southport Raw Bar, then drove contentedly away to their hotel.
For once it was Maelene who switched on the TV, and she eventually stumbled upon an interesting-looking documentary.
‘... and quite apart from the many hurricanes that have plagued the Florida coastline over the decades, and are undoubtedly on the increase in both frequency and magnitude, the low-lying Sunshine State would be at the mercy of a catastrophic tsunami if the feared immense volcanic landslide on La Palma, the most westerly of the Canary Islands thousands of miles away across the ocean, should ever come to pass ...’
Toni looked up. ‘That would do a lot of harm in North Africa, and Spain, and northern Europe, and the Caribbean, and South America too.’
‘But it might never happen ...’
‘I just knew you were going to say that!’
* * *
A few hours earlier, the House of Representatives had adjourned after its long week of business, and Raymond was waiting patiently at the agreed meeting point outside the chamber.
The Mater’s Members from California had flocked together, as requested, and as soon as their rendezvous was made, the uncomfortable quartet hurried off for the subway back to Rayburn House. The politicians had long-distance flights ahead of them, after finally clearing their private office desks, and Raymond did not intend to waste anybody’s precious time.
‘Mrs Pruston, I’m sure we agree there’s no further role for you in the trade discussions, however they may eventually proceed! So on behalf of the visitors, may I thank you for your unswerving support for Kristy, and your absolute belief in what you were told by somebody you trust.’
‘I neither expect nor need thanks for giving that support, Mr Graves. For me, it could not have gone any other way. But the sentiments are well appreciated, I can assure you. And I wish you, and them, all the luck in our worlds.’
‘Such wishes are always welcome. Good day, and a safe journey home.’
‘Thank you, sir.’
‘And Mr Veight, I also feel it unlikely that Winton Zilfleger will be including you in the team for any ongoing negotiations ...’
‘Well, I’ll be keeping a line open to DF. But I expect you’re right. And I’m quite happy with that. I have real work to do, and I suppose you could hardly call me unbiased ...’
‘That’s very honest of you, sir. So, the Domans thank you for your faithful protection of Kristy, and for your willingness to suspend your disbelief, if only just enough for the job in hand ...’
‘Let’s leave it there, shall we, Graves?’
‘Yes, I think we should. Good day, sir. And Kristy ... could we have a few moments together back in your office?’
‘I guess so. Hey guys, are we going to try and share a cab later? OK, I’ll call you ...’
The un-made Carla engaged the partially exposed Congresswoman’s attention as soon as her door was closed.
It seems a long time since we last spoke with you in Oakland, Ms Toresito.
‘This is Quo, isn’t it?’
Correct. And though you have been always unaware of it, we have observed much of what you have subsequently said and done.
And we are largely impressed, Madam. It took you some time to figure out the proper courses of action, after Raymond passed on our instructions and the trade proposals, but we feel you then did all the right things, and we thank you for that ...
‘Frankly, Quo, that particular subject has not been at the front of my mind for some time ...’
Ah, yes. Well, I think if you are honest with yourself, you will conclude that you have come off quite lightly from the Brighter Vale debacle — largely thanks to our own “contribution” — and that most importantly it is now, so to speak, done and dusted.
‘It did not have to be revealed in the first place.’
Oh yes it did, Kristy. Oh yes it did. I am quite aware of your opinion that we Domans have been acting rather selfishly and hypocritically. So ...
‘Fair enough, Quo. Water under the bridge.’
Indeed. Well, as with your colleagues, there is little need for a further contribution from you in the ongoing trade situation. We shall leave you in peace, for now at least ... but if we need you again, we know where to find you.’
‘I’m willing to forgive and forget.’
I shall ensure here and now, Kristy, that you forget what you should, and that you remember all that is needed to keep your story straight for ever.
‘Very well. Goodbye then, Quo.’
Raymond detected the Congresswoman was back to something approaching normality.
‘I’ll let you get on now. But I do suggest you’ll need to square things away with Steven Shenner as soon as you can. Apart from that, I don’t think we’re likely to be working together any further on this — so there should be no more gentle pressure on you from me. I hope you’ve never taken it personally!’
‘Oh, no. Our visitors made it clear that I should never do that.’
‘Excellent! And I hope things work out well on the other ...’
‘Right. Well, it has been very good to know you, Kristy. Until we meet again.’
He held out both hands, and she took them.
‘You’re a fine man, Raymond. A credit to our nation.’ She gave him a very respectful kiss. ‘Au revoir.’
* * *
Early the next morning, Maelene and Toni abandoned their plan to drive south. The weather outside looked grim, and the TV forecaster confirmed it. ‘Major thunderstorms are called for in Fort Lauderdale and probably across the entire Miami area later today, with winds gusting to over 35 mph. By contrast, the southern Gulf Coast will see negligible rain, a light breeze, 100% humidity and a high of 86 degrees ...’
‘Hmph! Knew we should have come to Florida a week ago. OK, here’s what I think we should do now ...’
They headed out west, to spend the morning at Markham Park.
‘More wide open spaces, eh?’
‘Oh, come on, sunshine — you need another proper walk!’
Maelene dragged Toni round one of the shorter hiking trails, stopping often to gaze across the lake, occasionally distracted by the exploits of the model airplanes up above, saying very little, obviously deep in thought. Toni left it that way until they had completed the circuit and the rain clouds were building fast.
‘Lunch-time now, please.’
‘OK, you’ve earned it.’
Half an hour later they picked up the “Alligator Alley” freeway and sped across the peninsula to Naples.
It certainly was very high humidity when they emerged from the closet of the car’s air-con to check into their Gulf Shore Boulevard hotel. But Maelene could handle that fine, thank you, and Toni grinned and bore and later bared it as they again relaxed on a beautiful beach nearby for the rest of the day.
* * *
‘It’s DF, Mr Graves. Promised I’d call you ...’
‘I’ve been waiting with bated breath.’
‘Hah! Well, looks like you’ll have to keep it bated for some time yet. Z put his proposed circulation list out for review yesterday, and he’s already had lots of objections. He’s planning to start dealing with those on Monday, when he gets back from his weekend in Virginia. And the Brits are threatening not to send anyone to the next party, whenever that is, ’cos there were no pictures from the DC show. But we’ll soon sort them out ...’
‘So, we wait ...’
‘Well, you wait, and I keep helping to run the country.’
‘Very funny, DF. We also serve ... but I’d better remind you again that the visitors are not likely to wait much longer.’
‘Doing my best, Mr Graves.’
‘Keep at it, sir.’
* * *
In the Naples hotel room later that evening, the TV weather forecast for the next two days down in Miami offered Toni and Maelene great new promise: highs of nearly ninety, calm with no rain, and very bearable humidity.
‘Right, let’s stay in with the air conditioning tonight, Toni, and make an early start in the morning. And I’d like to take Route 41, rather than the freeway. Then we can see a bit of the Everglades on the way ...’
‘Yes. I’m happy if you’re happy. Isn’t that enough?’
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd