by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 2: Bay Area, California
Twelve hours earlier on that eventful Thursday, Steven Shenner, Brighter Vale’s waning VP of Sales, and the company’s three slowly-deflating bankers had walked out of the Starblaze Hotel in Oakland in a state of delayed shock. Raymond Graves had just treated them to the live showing of the visitors’ extraction exploits at their own precious lutetium mine, and then delivered their final wind-up ultimatum.
The businessmen still knew nothing — and never would — of the true nature of those who were putting them under such unprecedented pressure. Instead, they were naturally and fearfully considering themselves the unlucky targets of some incredibly sophisticated new offshoot of California’s criminal underworld. Exactly as the Domans had intended.
Carla the Handler, whose own radimote had enabled the projection of that stunning 3-D show, at once released Raymond for a well-deserved break, and asked him to meet her back at the hotel bar at twelve noon.
Then, as the crew of the Mater held its latest situation review, she tracked the gang of four, unseen, as they drove off in convoy to a quiet bar of their own and found an even quieter corner in which to discuss what to do next. By the time each of them had ordered a very stiff drink, the Captain’s meeting was over, and Carla and Quo could give the men their full observational attention ...
Of course, as their regularly “empowered” envoy Raymond had already been able to directly observe for himself, those businessmen now truly did believe. That modest demonstration of Doman capability had tipped the balance of their uncertain commitment, and there it would essentially stay. They were henceforth, despite themselves, irrevocably committed to the goal they had just been set: the complete dismantling of Brighter Vale’s customer base.
Which left the four of them with a very hard task on their hands for the next ten days.
‘OK, if we really gotta do this, let’s get on with it.’
‘Huh! Where do you suggest we start, Shenner? They all said “No” already, or a lot worse!’
‘No, Phil, they didn’t. Dan and Ronnie said they’d play along if the price was right. And Nick just told Raymond that.’
‘If the price was right? Give me a break, Steve! I told him they both insisted on a full refund and huge compensation for psychological damage ...’
‘Cut it out, guys!’ Walter Tessing sliced through the argument and silenced the others at a stroke. ‘I don’t like this any more than the rest of you, and probably a lot less, dammit! But one thing I do know is that Steve’s right. We just have to get on with it. Anyone care to disagree?’
‘OK. And we were told we can offer very good settlements, and we don’t have to carry any of those costs. We just have to be sensible about them.’
‘So we cut our losses and quit while we can?’
‘You’re getting there, Nick. It’s over, man. And you know it. We have to persuade all of them to abandon their use of Regnolt Saluoy and take a reasonable level of compensation. Ron and Dan will play along in the end, believe me — I have another little point of persuasion up my sleeve for both of them. So, two down, twenty-four to go. And mostly women. Now, let’s have some proper ideas ...’
And at last they got down to work.
They soon agreed they would not try to springboard off those two ageing actors who had already shown willing in principle. Their ridiculous financial demands should definitely be kept under wraps. No, they would quickly need to recruit at least two respected female clients to the cause, and maybe more ...
They began to build a shortlist. Only Steve Shenner knew every one of their customers personally, of course — and most very personally. But the other three had each made direct but failed attempts at persuading a few of them to play ball over the past three days. So between them, they now had a good understanding of both the strongest armour and the Achilles’ heels of their massed clientele.
Walter had quickly taken over as meeting leader.
‘OK. We run with Lia, Jaine and Anne for starters, and we work on the rest of them later. And this whole damn thing stays watertight, right? That’s what Raymond wants, that’s what we want. So, how are we going to persuade each of those ladies to change their pretty little minds? One at a time, now — and remember, it needs to be carrots, or sticks, or probably both ...’
Their plans had been laid.
‘OK, guys. That’ll keep us busy for the next few days. Now ... what about all the other complications? Why don’t I kick off? MOJAVE!’
‘Take it easy, Walter. You’re heading for a heart attack.’ Nick Sanoutrio was outclassed for now, but still alert. ‘There’s no problem. Sure, someone’s bound to check out what happened there, and maybe do a fuller investigation. But hey, that just means a little chat with Dave Evans, right? And that might lead them to Dirk, and all he knows is ...’
‘... and all he knows is me.’ Steve Shenner took back the reins. ‘I’ll handle that script when they throw it at me. Next?’
‘Well, there’s our illustrious sleeping Chief Exec ...’
‘Waste of space. Or rather, a spaced-out waster. Next?’
‘Well, I suspect I know how we wanted to handle that problem last Monday. But I have a strange feeling we’ve all been encouraged to take a different point of view, right?’
‘So we just ignore her and get on with the job. Next?’
There was no other business.
‘Right. I’m flying straight back to Hollywood. I suggest you guys forget San Francisco as of now, and book rooms in LA for the duration. I’ll co-ordinate. Nick, you’ll need to be at my place by noon tomorrow. And we’ll all meet up there again Monday evening at eight.’
The Mater could not deploy any more radimotes. Her designers had judged that two were quite enough to handle on a maiden voyage. So Steve Shenner and his cronies would not be monitored as they did their difficult deeds over the next few days. But Raymond would be in touch with them at the end of the week, as promised, and Carla would be there at his side.
So, still un-made, she was able to return at once to the Starblaze Hotel for her noon rendezvous with Raymond, and clear him to telephone Kristy and set up their urgent, momentous meeting in the Valley.
* * *
That close encounter of a most unfamiliar kind had of course now taken place, and Kristy was busy cooking up tactics and dinner for Jennifer Pruston.
And back at the Beechland Hotel, the Illuminators’ demobilisation meeting had just ended, and Toni Murano and Maelene Bay suddenly had sparkling new plans to make. They spent a relaxing evening surfing the Internet and arranging their week-long vacation in Santa Monica, with all expenses paid, courtesy of the Captain.
Raymond Graves quietly booked his own flights home to Texas for late the following morning, and reserved a hotel room in Los Angeles on Saturday May 10 for at least one night. He then passed the rest of the evening admiring the trusty old fishing boats now safely tucked up in the tranquil harbours of the Wharf, and strolling resigned and alone among the ghosts of the Embarcadero warehouses.
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd