by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 34: Heading for Spain
Thirty minutes from touchdown on the flight to Madrid, Toni received a brief visitation from Quo, courtesy of the still-vigilant, un-made Lucia.
I have some good news for you, Toni.
‘Yes, Quo ...?’
Your great-uncle Giuseppe intends to send you a very large sum of money for your twenty-first birthday next month!
‘Oh, that’s fantastic!’
I agree. And you may tell Maelene about this, but otherwise please keep it to yourselves, for now. And it is, I must admit, essentially a thank-you present from us. I apologise that it has to be so “material” — but you both have a very big challenge ahead of you, and there is little doubt that money makes the world go around ...
‘Thank you, Quo!’
De nada, mi amigo!
Now, the explanation you should provide for your latest long absence from home is that on the day you spent down at Sitges, you met a rather rich old lady. And she befriended you, and spotted you had a troubled heart and itchy feet, and invited you to keep her company on her journey home to Dublin — and in exchange, she would give you a lump sum to go off and discover America. And later, in New York City, you tagged along with somebody who happened to be going down to South Carolina ... and then you met Maelene, and fell in love, and the two of you later joined up again during her business trip ...
In the context of that story, Toni, we can allow you to remember almost everything that has happened since you left Barcelona. But I am about to ensure that you will never reveal any aspect of your dealings with us.
Before I do that, however, I have a small piece of advice concerning your various real lady friends ...
‘Landing soon, honey.’
‘Yeah! Can’t wait! And was that Quo you were talking to?’
‘Yes. She just told me I’m going to get a huge cash present from my great-uncle next month! So I shan’t need you to support me when I go back to the Conservatorio!’
‘Oh, that’s wonderful news!’
‘And ... listen, Maelene, there’s something we really need to talk about. Remember back in Santa Monica, when nobody was listening in, I finally told you what happened to me in Spain and Italy last March ...?’
‘Of course. That’s why you kept getting pestered by Homeland Security ...’
‘And I mentioned Paula ...’
‘Yeah ... you said she was a recent girlfriend, and the two of you still had a few loose ends to tidy up when Quo suddenly whisked you away and brought you over to Columbia! I understand that. In fact, last Monday I reminded you to sort it out once you got home, right? And I don’t plan to interfere, as long as ...’
‘It’s not that simple, Maelene. She was a really good friend to me for months and months, last year — but actually, nothing more than that. And then I discovered ... well ... she’s far less interested in men than I thought she was, if you see what I mean ...’
‘And when I finally met her new friend — her name is Lisa — well, she looked like the woman I’d followed from the café, before I got dragged into that whole police thing, and then the kidnapping. But she and Paula swore it could not have been her. And I got very angry.
‘And then a few days later I met Carla in Barcelona ... and she looked exactly the same as Lisa! Then Quo brought me into all of this, and I never got to the bottom of the Lisa-Carla puzzle! All I know — and I don’t know how I know! — is that I was wrong to accuse Lisa of being the woman at that café. It must have been something to do with the Domans. But ...’
‘So you just need to tell her you got it wrong, and apologise. With flowers.’
‘Well, yes, somehow I realise that now.’
‘And surely you need to say sorry to poor Paula as well? I’d guess this whole thing has torn her to shreds ...’
‘Easy, isn’t it?’
‘I suppose so. I’m not to blame for what happened, but I have to apologise for how I handled it. That’s hard to understand.’
‘You’ll get it one day, Toni. It’s a girl thing.’
‘OK. And can I tell you something else?’
‘Remember when I called you from LA, to apologise for being unkind when I heard you’d been out for a meal with Sal up at Red Lodge?’
‘Well, it was Paula who suggested I should do that, after I phoned her for some advice.’
‘Hah! Men! Useless! But I think Paula’s growing on me ...’
‘So — will you come with me, when I go and see her and Lisa tomorrow?’
‘Just try and stop me, baby ...’
As the plane began its final approach, Lucia now quietly embraced Maelene, and Quo made the very minor “adjustments” necessary to remove her outstanding confusions and discomforts, and to ensure that she, like Toni, would never reveal anything of her fast-fading relationship with those from Dome.
* * *
The eagle-eyed immigration officer at Madrid Barajas Airport took one look at Toni, then another at his passport, and made a rapid special check on his computer. Toni’s heart leapt into his throat once again. Then the official raised a gentle eyebrow all to himself, looked back at the homecoming citizen, and smiled politely.
‘Yes, I thought I recognised your face, señor. I’m pleased to see it is all resolved now. Welcome home.’
Maelene the American tourist chose not to worry the Spanish authorities just yet with her new-born plan to start investigating legitimate ways of staying in that country, or coming back again soon, for the long haul ...
And as soon as they were both safely through immigration, and had fifteen minutes to spare before boarding their connecting flight, Toni called Ted Ranovitz’ mobile phone and at once dictated the Domans’ simple sign-off code, “Finally Guiltless Guiltless” — which gave him quiet but very great satisfaction.
* * *
They landed in Bilbao just before ten o’clock, and a cab delivered them to Toni’s home soon after eleven.
The reactions of Federico and Anna Murano were those of parents everywhere, and in Spades. Not only was their so-confusing son back with them again, but — they quickly and wordlessly agreed — he had brought home an unbelievable treasure from the New World. And Señorita Maelene Bay was of course invited to stay with them — in the spare bedroom — for as long as she wished.
* * *
‘Paula? It’s Toni.’ ... ‘Yes, I got home yesterday!’ ... ‘Well, it’s a long story. Look, I’d like to see you and Lisa again ...’
‘I’m not sure that’s a good idea, Toni. Not after the last time ...’
‘Maelene will be with me ...’
‘Is that the girl you were fretting about when you phoned from Los Angeles?’
‘And she’s come all the way over here with you?’
‘Yes. And I think she might be ... staying.’
‘OK, Toni. Looks like we’d better sort this whole thing out, once and for all ...’
* * *
Four hours later, Carla followed Toni and Maelene unseen as they slowly and happily took the long walk back from Paula’s house. But as they approached the slopes of Doña Casilda park, she whispered gently in their ears.
‘Hey, you two — like to sit down on a bench for a few moments, just for old times’ sake?’
Five minutes later, they heard a different voice from the un-made radimote hovering just behind them.
‘Well, Toni, that all went rather well, did it not?’
‘Yes it did, Quo. I never believed it would be so easy.’
‘Perhaps you largely have Maelene to thank for that.’
‘Of course I do.’ He leant over and gave his girl the latest in a series of tender afternoon kisses.
‘And I gained the strong impression, Maelene, that you and Paula and Lisa could become good friends, over time ...’
‘Yeah, they were both very nice to me. And they took Toni’s apologies in the right spirit. I don’t see any problems.’
‘So the four of you will all take it from here ...’
‘Yes, Quo,’ said Maelene, suddenly rather impatient. ‘I really do think we can work it out for ourselves now.’
‘Excellent. And we shall be leaving you very soon. My colleagues will each speak to you in a moment. But I have just a few words of my own. First, I want to thank you for everything you have done for us ...’
‘Well,’ smiled Toni, ‘I want to thank you too! You helped me find Maelene!’
‘Bravo! And my other simple message to both of you is: I wish you joy. And now, farewell.’
‘Goodbye, Quo,’ the lovers whispered, in unison.
‘Maelene and Toni, please accept my own deep gratitude for all your fine support. We simply could not have done our work here without you. Goodbye, and good fortune to you both.’
‘Thank you, Chief,’ nodded Maelene. ‘And good luck yourself with all your problems back at Dome.’
‘Lucia here now, guys. It’s been very good to know you. Take care. Be happy!’
‘Thank you,’ mumbled Toni, who was losing his composure fast.
‘This is the Captain speaking. My own fine crew has said it all. We shall forever remember your efforts and your sacrifices, and shall take comfort in the knowledge that we unwittingly but fortunately brought the two of you together. Long life!’
‘And you ... ma’am!’ laughed Maelene.
The senior Handler had hesitated a moment too long.
‘Are you there, Carla?’ whispered Toni, enveloped now in unfamiliar sorrow.
‘I am, mi amigo. And this will be the last time I hear the name you gave to me.’
‘I gave you that name?’
‘Yes, Toni. But that is now a thing of the past. Let us look to our futures, and vow to make them better than our present days. Goodbye to you both, with all my everlasting love.’
‘Goodbye, dear Carla.’
The Captain issued her commands, and the Handlers, trying but failing to hold back their tears, cut the laser power supplies to first one radimote sphere and then the other. Number Two, keen as ever to play a part in the proceedings, crossed her fingers to guard against any last-minute after-effects that might betray the Mater’s long-camouflaged presence. The Chief Surveyor gazed wistfully out of her window at the beautiful blue orb floating far below, the Engineer enabled the transportation drive, and the Navigator set course for Dome.
* * *
‘Remember you said I could maybe have a music career and do some teaching and other things ...?’
‘How about growing vegetables?’
‘Yes, me. I quite fancy gardening. Never tried it.’
‘Nor have I. Sounds OK, actually. Sounds fun.’
‘Find a nice quiet place away from it all ...’
‘Well, I’m not sure ...’
‘... with no more arguing about all that heavy stuff ...’
‘Now hold it right there, Toni Murano! I’m willing to share my life with you, but no way are you stealing my soul!’
‘Fair enough! But can I steal a quick kiss for now?’
‘I’ll think about it. OK, I’ve decided ...’
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd