by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents
Chapter 24, part 1; part 2
Chapter 25, part 1
appeared in issue 236.
Chapter 25: Plane Sailing
part 2 of 2
Less than an hour later the police were banging on Salvatore’s door. Despite his protestations of sickness and ignorance, he was encouraged to spend some time helping them understand the full details of his little escapade. Then they ordered him to stay put, and he sarcastically assured them he had no plans to move from his bed again in the foreseeable future.
Carla watched all of this unobserved, and then followed them back downstairs.
As the officers were leaving the hotel, Homeland Security’s curiosity got the better of her. She identified herself to them, and asked what was going on. They gave her the basic facts of the incident, and she suddenly felt very delinquent herself.
At four o’clock there was another knock at Salvatore’s door. This time it was a representative of the FAA, accompanied by a different police officer. Carla followed them in, still un-made, and listened as the official issued a formal caution that the young pilot faced prosecution for flying unlawfully and in an unfit condition. And Salvatore continued to insist on his total ignorance of the USA’s licence validation rules.
‘Ignorance is no defence, son. And leaving aside the licence issue, you endangered yourself and your innocent passenger, and potentially many other people, by flying while affected by food poisoning.’
‘There’s no place for “buts” here, Mr Pirone. You have no defence. But I’ve decided I’m going to be lenient on this occasion, and I shall not pursue the matter further. I suggest you keep your head well and truly down for the rest of your stay in the USA.
‘And I have spoken to the owner of the aircraft, who also pleads ignorance of your licensing status, and he will probably get away with that defence. But you will at once sign this declaration of liability for all the costs of recovering the airplane to his own field, authorising their collection from your credit card account. And then I shall leave you to think about how reckless you have been today ...’
Carla reached the lobby again only just in time to see Toni being escorted out of the building and into a waiting squad car. She took up her normal unseen close pursuit, now very worried indeed.
They did not take him to Bryant Street central police station. They took him to a small room in a very anonymous office building only three blocks from the hotel. And the Homeland Security agent then wasted no time in beginning the interview.
‘OK, Murano, I’ve run out of patience with you!’
‘You lead me all over San Francisco and Oakland pretending you’re on a sightseeing trip. You evade me for an hour at the Starblaze Hotel. You meet up with several people as if you know them very well, yet you have never been here before. Then you evade our surveillance again, and collude in the execution of an unlawful airplane flight, and you operate that airplane without any license or training ...’
‘What a load of nonsense!’ shouted Toni. ‘You’ve got it all wrong. Just like that guy at Kennedy!’
‘That “guy” is my superior officer, Murano. And you deny it all, do you? I believe we have many other items of evidence to support our case, from your previous activity and associated events in New York and Columbia and Los Angeles. You are in big trouble.’
‘I’m going to call Maelene ...’
‘I’m afraid I can’t allow that.’
And the police officer in attendance rapidly persuaded Toni to hand over his mobile phone.
‘Now, Murano, I need to consult with my colleagues. You will remain here with this officer, until we decide where to continue our discussions.’
The agent left the room, walked into an adjacent office, closed the door behind her and pulled out her phone. Carla followed her via the walls, and held her virtual breath.
‘Ted? It’s Ellen. We’re holding Murano. Illegal airplane flight, and more ...’
That was enough to fully confirm Quo’s original suspicions of the source of Toni’s continued pursuit. It was now five o’clock in California, and it would be eight in the evening in New York. The Mater would have to act very fast, and hope for great good fortune.
Lucia immediately abandoned her uneventful observation of Raymond Graves’ afternoon in an art gallery, and took over their watch on Toni. Carla was now free to make a rapid transition to Kennedy Airport, and she and Quo crossed their Doman fingers.
Luck was with them. Ted Ranovitz was on the same evening duty shift as when Toni had arrived just nine days before. But they had no knowledge of his musical preferences. They would have to rely solely on feminine charm and another subject presently very close to his heart.
They found him pacing down a corridor beside the interview rooms.
‘Ted Ranovitz, isn’t it?’
He turned to see Carla in all her glory.
‘Who the hell are you? How did you get in here?’
She smiled deliciously. ‘I am a very special agent too, Ted. And I have very special information about Antonio Murano.’
‘You’re kidding! I just took a call about him. They’ve taken him in ...’
‘I know that. But I have a lot more to tell you about him. Come here, now ...’
The hunter-turned-prey shook his head with incomprehension, and then moved slowly towards Carla until he was caught in the radimote’s spherical web, and she could disappear from any future prying eyes ...
Good evening, sir. My name is Quo, and that is all you need to know.
I am most dismayed at your unwarranted persecution of our comrade, Antonio Murano.
Now, I should most definitely prefer not to emerge from the wings and wave my magic wand in this way. I should much prefer sanity to prevail, and to see you recognise your mistakes and restore Antonio’s freedom yourself. But I now observe that this is clearly not your intention.
So, since you are unsure of Antonio’s innocence, but I am absolutely and unarguably certain of it, and since his presence in the USA is exclusively due to his loyal service to ourselves, I have no alternative but to oblige you to take the necessary corrective action, despite your unwillingness to do so.
You will, at once and without reservation, issue orders to your agent in San Francisco for his immediate release without charge. You will ensure that the local police and your agent at once make official reports that he has been found completely blameless and is now beyond all suspicion. And you will then gain access to all — and I do mean all — official papers and electronic records relating to his case, and you will personally update and correct them to remove every trace of his groundless pursuit and your associated suspicions. Including, in particular, his visit to the Oakland Starblaze Hotel.
And when that is all done — and very soon, I insist — you will forget everything about our little encounter today.
I trust that is crystal clear, Mr Ranovitz?
‘Crystal clear, Quo.’
Then please begin at once, with the phone call to your agent in San Francisco ...
* * *
At six o’clock, Antonio Murano was released with a full apology and a working mobile phone, and taken straight back to the hotel. He called Maelene as soon the police car had driven off.
‘You’re not going to believe this ...’
But she was extremely annoyed with him for staying incommunicado all day, and it took him some time to persuade her to ‘just shut up and listen for a minute!’ Then at last she understood. And then she told him she was back in her room, and the champagne bottle had been replaced. He cut the call and made his way upstairs, suddenly looking forward to a lot of tender loving care, and then an early dinner to fill his very empty stomach before their next team briefing at eight o’clock.
* * *
‘Oh, hi, Lucia.’
‘Feeling any better?’
‘A lot, thanks. But I don’t want anything to eat yet! And I’m not sure about the team meeting ...’
‘Don’t worry about that. They’ll manage without you.’
‘OK. Like to stay and talk?’
‘No, Salvi. They need me there ...’
Carla and Lucia, both re-made, were waiting with Raymond in his room when Toni and Maelene sheepishly knocked and entered, five minutes late and both looking rather dishevelled.
Quo privately granted them an indulgence, resolving not to mention their tardiness, and kicked off the public proceedings with Carla once more her trusty mouthpiece. Lucia would not in fact be needed at all, but she had decided this was the simplest way of handling Salvi’s latest unwelcome invitation.
There were no significant changes to the plan, Quo was pleased to confirm. Raymond would chair the following morning’s meeting with the team from Brighter Vale, with Quo in reserve, and their objective remained to reach an amicable settlement on the re-directing of the Earth’s exploitation of its new lutetium resources, before things should get badly out of hand.
Maelene raised her arm.
‘If I’ve got this straight, Quo, it’s all men there tomorrow, right? Those three bankers, or whatever they are — and someone mentioned their salesman. And then there’s Raymond, and maybe even Toni. No women.’
‘That is the present quorum, yes. You have a suggestion?’
‘Let me come along. I’ll bet at least half of their clients are women. Let me speak up if there’s an impasse. Tell them what I think of these crazy salts. Maybe I can help them try and change some minds, at the last minute.’
‘Maelene, I believe you have earned the trust you are requesting of us. Your proposition seems to be a risk-free tactic. Your view, Raymond?’
‘I think I’d want to call that one at the time, Quo ...’
‘Very well — you may attend, but please do not offer any contribution unless Raymond, with his fine experience and judgement, indicates that you should.’
Toni spoke up.
‘Well, will you be needing me there, since Maelene has mentioned it?’
‘I do not think so, Toni. Too many cooks, and so on. You have played your parts very well to date. I do not believe you will be required tomorrow morning. Do you agree, Raymond?’
‘Well, he could go refill the coffee pot if things are dragging on ...’
Everyone looked at Graves in shock and surprise. And then he burst out laughing and quickly added ‘No, Toni — Quo’s quite right. You’ve done great work this week. We’re all proud of you! Take advantage of the easy rides when they come up!’
Toni closed Raymond’s door behind them as he and Maelene left, and they picked up their last kiss precisely where they had left it just before joining the meeting.
Then she broke off and looked at her watch.
‘Wow, is that the time? Bet you’re really hungry now!’
‘Certainly am, honey. But I could do with some dinner first ...’
Carla emerged un-made, and watched them as they strolled giggling down to the restaurant. She had come to the undeniable conclusion that, for the first time in his life, Toni Murano was very, very happy, and she had reluctantly decided it was now time for her to completely let go.
Salvatore, meanwhile, was still dozing on his bed, so Lucia did not bother to re-make, but simply engaged his attention without delay.
Salvatore, this is the Chief. No, don’t try to talk right now. I can tell how very tired you are, but I am also glad to see you are largely recovered from the acute symptoms of your food poisoning. So, just relax ...
Things have not gone well, have they, Salvatore? Your efforts as an Illuminator for us, and a useful assistant to the rest of the team, have so often proved the opposite of helpful. And, with Maelene now giving such excellent professional support, you are no longer needed for your geological expertise.
So it is clear to us that the law of diminishing returns has now taken over. And it is equally clear that, for your part, you too have had enough and would quite simply like to go home, very soon.
So be it.
When you awake, please make immediate arrangements to modify your existing return ticket, to depart tomorrow morning from San Francisco, via New York. I can see you know that is the only city with an onward service direct to Venice. You should book that second flight for the following day.
‘OK, Chief. I think I’d like that, now.’
Good. And by the time your plane touches down on Italian soil, you will have forgotten everything of our involvement in your little adventure. But will remember all the other realities, good and bad. And you will never lose your wonderful, new-found ability to sing, Salvatore. That is our gift of thanks to you.
And I have one more firm instruction.
During your short break in New York City, you will seek out a specialist store, and use many hundreds of your remaining travel dollars to purchase a very high-quality, second-hand fountain pen. You will take this back to Venice as a gift for your manager, Pasquale Celso Costa.
But you must tell him that you spotted it in a pawnbroker’s shop, at a very low price indeed, and you imagined it must be worth a great deal more, and you ended up bartering and paying even less than the asking price.
And Pasquale will be delighted with his valued research assistant’s kindness, judgement and skill, and his early return to the rescue of his beloved city!
‘I’ll do that, Chief. He will be very happy to have a fine new pen to replace the one he lost.’
For us, Salvatore, a promise is a promise.
And finally — I trust you will find a worthy cause for whatever outstanding cash you still have when you arrive home?
‘I’d like to give it my parents. They deserve it.’
That seems eminently just, my friend.
So, now I must say arrivederci, and thank you for your efforts. I know that, more often than not, they were well-intentioned.
He slept for another hour, then woke and got straight on with his latest mission. And by ten-thirty his flights were rearranged and a hotel room was booked, his packing was done, and only one other task remained ...
He made his way up to Maelene’s room and tapped lightly on the door. He heard a whispered curse, then silence, and he waited for a while. Then, undeterred as usual, he tapped again, and called out ‘It’s me — Sal!’
She opened it, looking and feeling very annoyed at yet another ill-timed disturbance from this all-time nuisance. And Toni was standing just behind her, equally fed up. Salvatore had a sudden flashback to the evening he’d dropped in on Marie-Anne in Copenhagen.
‘I’m leaving, Maelene. Going home. Tomorrow morning, early — via New York. Just wanted to say goodbye ...’
Maelene softened at once.
‘OK. I understand.’ And she gave him a brief, project manager’s kiss on the cheek. ‘You did your best.’
‘Yes, but sometimes your best ...’
‘Don’t say it, Sal. Just don’t say it.’
And she turned, pushed past Toni, and made straight for the bathroom.
‘I’m sorry, Toni.’
‘Hmm. At last ...’
‘Nothing, Sal. Take care. Don’t eat the shrimps.’
* * *
Very early the next morning, Lucia tracked Salvatore Pirone to the airport for his seven-thirty departure. And un-made, in the back seat of his cab, she had a few gentle words in his ear, to wish him farewell and to reassure him that later the following afternoon she would pop over to New York herself, to watch him safely through all the international departure controls at Kennedy Airport, and onto his final flight home.
Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd