by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents
Chapter 20, part 1
Chapter 20, part 2
appeared in issue 234.
Chapter 21: Dubina, Texas
It may have still been lunch time in California, but in Dubina it was nearly four o’clock on a sunny Texas afternoon, and Quo, with Carla’s stoic support, was intent on urgently touching base with their old friend Raymond Graves.
They had received excellent support from the NATO Deputy Political Advisor earlier in the month, in their quest for some home truths on the subject of European political thinking. And they knew, courtesy of that most helpful removals man, that Raymond and his wife Claire-Louise had very recently returned to his Texas family home — the farm of his birth, whose name had been carefully recorded during his original Doman transferral in that royal Brussels park.
Without an Illuminator to help them, here and now, the task of locating him was not going to be completely straightforward. But Carla the Handler had already proved her homing abilities several times, most notably in her earlier, immaculate pinpointing, using very limited information, of both the expansive seat of the Terleone family in Umbria and the more modest abode of Toni Murano’s grandparents in Barcelona.
So she had set her Earth co-ordinates for the centre of town, materialised in the main street in the form of a wealthy European visitor, and rapidly obtained precise directions to the locally well-known “Farm Novák Three”. Soon afterwards she had gained unseen access to the interior of the large house, and had found Raymond and his wife in the midst of unpacking the removal crates that were still dotted all over the living rooms. She would have to be patient.
Twenty minutes later she got her break. Graves gathered together several small items and a box of books, and called out to his wife that he would be in his study for a while. Carla pursued him up the stairs, hoping he would close the door behind him. He did not — but they would have to take a chance anyway, and get this job done just as quickly as they could.
As he stacked the books onto a shelf over his desk, Carla re-made behind him in her old enticing form, and gently began to whistle a memorable theme from his favourite Rhapsody in Blue. He turned in great surprise, but only managed a ‘What the heck ...?’ before she smiled broadly and embraced him as completely as she had in Belgium, several times before. Not that he, of course, could recall any of those events.
Quo initiated the partial transferral process at once, and was soon brought up to date with Raymond’s most recent activities and views on life. And once the man himself was adequately re-briefed on the Mater’s mission — but not on his prior, immense contribution to it — they were ready to call him back to service ...
Raymond, it is very good to be here with you. I have great hopes for the part you can play in our continued pursuit of truth and mutual benefit. And I think I can see why you have been recently recalled from your work in Europe. But perhaps you would tell me in your own words — and very briefly, please ...
‘Hmm. Quo, is it? And Carla? You both seem strangely familiar. Can’t say how, though ...
‘Anyway, you want to know what I’m doing back here? Well, I took it into my mind to embark on a grand tour of Europe at the start of this month. Never have quite fathomed out why. And then I wrote a long report on what I’d found, about some very powerful people’s attitudes towards European enlargement. Nothing too contentious — it just seemed like something that needed to be said ...’
Yes, thought Quo to herself alone. I explicitly instructed you to use only the information you had gathered naturally. Imagine the reaction if you had published the real opinions and truths which you helped us to discover ...
‘... and within days my superiors had put me on automatic “without prejudice” suspension, for a minimum of four weeks, while they assessed the political consequences of what I had written. Next thing I knew, they’d closed down my contract at SHAPE, several months ahead of time, and were packing me off home. Rather worrying, in many ways ...’
A most diplomatically phrased conclusion, Raymond! Well, let us hope that you will emerge from that investigation with your fine reputation still untarnished.
Now, while you are unexpectedly kicking your heels, as it were, we should like you to support us in what may become a matter of major consequence.
We see a need for you potentially to fulfil several tasks, as part of a personal mission for the broad good of your country. We have unearthed an affair which we suspect could have serious international repercussions, if not handled very delicately. And we should like to have you standing ready to respond at once, as an Empowered investigator, whenever the need arises.
We choose you for this mission, Raymond, because you are a natural challenger of authority in the face of deception and immorality — a characteristic which will be crucial to the achievement of our goals.
‘Looks like I’ll be joining you, Quo. But it doesn’t seem very fair on my wife, disappearing like this again, so soon ...’
I am certain the diplomat in you will find the perfect explanation. And I shall put my own mind to finding ways in which we can handsomely recompense the two of you, later, both for the personal expenses that you will need to incur, and for this new disruption to your personal lives.
Please make now arrangements to travel at once to San Francisco, and stay for the next two nights, at least, at the Beechland Hotel. And be ready to take a visit from us and another of our colleagues, Señor Antonio Murano, in your room there at, let us say, nine in the morning — I suspect you will need a little lie-in after a very late arrival there tonight!
I wish you a safe journey, Raymond ...
It took the experienced traveller less than an hour to book his flight and hotel, pack his bags, and offer his excuses to his long-suffering and protesting wife.
Courtesy of the now un-made but still present Carla, the Mater carefully monitored him as he completed each of these crucial steps. But once they were satisfied that all was properly arranged, and they had watched him depart for the long drive to Houston Airport, with plenty of time in hand to board the last Sunday flight direct to San Francisco by nine o’clock Texas time, they were happy to leave him to it.
* * *
Carla was back in Los Angeles, also with time to spare for her rendezvous with Toni. But he was already waiting for her.
‘So, what have you been doing all afternoon, mi amigo? A little walking tour of one of the film studios, perhaps? ‘
‘You must be joking! I’m aching too much for anything so strenuous. No, I took the advice of a really friendly film star. She’s apparently very famous in her field, but she’s earning some extra cash, just now, as a waitress in a diner ...’
‘And what did she suggest?’
‘She said I should jump on a sightseeing bus for a few hours, get the big picture, and then go somewhere real. She was right. I’ve seen enough!’
‘Good. Well, you’re all clear to leave for the airport. Take it as easy as you can. I’ll watch you into your new hotel room, then I’ll leave you to enjoy the rest of the evening on your own. In the morning, you’ll need to find out the number of Raymond’s room, and we’ll all meet there at nine o’clock ...’
Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd