Lords of Being
Chapter 11: Spirited Away
When last we left our heroes, they were debating how to pay for a plane.
Mabel offers, “I have some money.” She’d been selling dogs from her breeding program for years.
“Oh? Enough for a plane?” asks Claude.
“How much is a plane?”
Hellgrammite replies, “It’s just a little two engine jet.”
“How many seats?”
“Twenty. The plane is being offered for about eight million dollars.”
“That’s…” Mabel hesitates, searching for the right way to say it. “...more than I can afford.”
Zabeth suggests, “Maybe the exchequer would be willing to chip in. They have an emergency fund, and this is certainly an emergency.”
Claude asks, “How does one go about buying a plane?”
“You call the broker and make an offer,” replies Hellgrammite.
Neville offers his cellphone. Claude recoils as if it’s an adder, coiled up and hissing. “Let’s buy some new phones. With cash.”
Neville points at Hellgrammite. “He called me on this phone. Why is this a problem now?”
Claude points out, “In case you’ve forgotten, we have people who are opposing us. Some of them have network skillz.” With a Z. Very worrying.
“Well, if you insist, there’s a Best Buy not far from here.”
Mabel helpfully points out, “We also need local money. Preferably lots of it.”
The group goes down to Hellgrammite’s RV. On the way to the bank, they stop at payphone and Hellgrammite calls the plane broker. Unfortunately, the call goes to voicemail. He leaves a message expressing their interest in the craft and returns to the vehicle. They head to a bank and get cash. Lots of untraceable cash. From there they go to Best Buy and purchase a bunch of new phones.
After picking up a few more items, they return to Neville’s apartment, where Neville crashes. It may only be early in the evening in Ames, Iowa, but Neville’s biological clock is somewhere in the mid-Atlantic.
The Courtiers and Knights, on the other hand, do not need to sleep.
After a bit, Zabeth begins playing with her palmtop and starts programming. Occasionally she pauses to roll dice, as if she was playing Yahtzee. Eventually she looks up and remarks “You known, Hanuman is looking for us, and has been for 7 hours, 13 minutes and 11.97 seconds.”
All the others look at her. Hellgrammite has been chatting on the phone with Glass (who’s still on the road) and repeats what Zabeth has said, then puts his phone into speaker-phone mode.
Zabeth adds, “And he’s got humans helping him.”
After a moment of silence, Rosamund asks, “As I said when you decided to show up, what’s the new plan?”
Hellgrammite suggests, “We can use the RV as a temporary vehicle.”
Rosamund notes, “We’re still only five. Six when Glass gets here. We still need enough forces to outgun Hanuman.”
Hellgrammite suggests again, “We can all get into the RV and keep on the move.”
Rosamund turns to Claude, “Do you know if there are any Elemental Knights working with the Loyalists?”
Claude shakes his head, “We are of this universe, and the loyalists prefer their factions to the universe.”
“Which makes the universe less stable.”
“What happened to you when the universe stopped?”
“It was very inconvenient. All the Neon atoms stopped existing. And then Unturvo came by and briefed us, and then the universe resumed.”
Glass’ voice comes out of the phone. The speaker is surprisingly good for such a small device. “I think you should get into the RV and get mobile until we can get the plane. I have two servers looking into the plane. There are two agents who are trying to sell the same plane. I wouldn’t go with the cheaper one, he doesn’t appear to be particularly honest. Do we have a pilot?”
Claude looks at Hellgrammite, “Could you build us a pilot?”
Before Hellgrammite can reply, Glass interjects, “But you actually need somebody who does the official things. Files flight plans, etc. There’s a 727 that’s part of a bankruptcy sale. I believe that the pilot is unemployed. Do we want to try for them?”
Claude asks, “Bring in an outsider? Are you giving up on your strategy of playing your cards close to your vest?”
“The question is how hard up is this gentleman is, and whether he will be loyal to his employers during a recession. I’ve always been able to pay people to be discreet in the past.”
Claude snorts, “You must have been, I’ve never heard a word about it.”
Mabel observes, “If you’re loyal to your employees, they’ll be loyal to you. Just like dogs.” From her, that’s a high compliment.
Glass continues, “I can’t be sure it’s him, but my search is turning up a USAF pilot with a matching location and name. It’s probably him. I bet we can convince such a person to be discreet.”
Hellgrammite asks, “Should those of us who don’t need to sleep get out now and start moving around in the RV?”
Claude looks at the sleeping Neville and asks, “Should we abduct him now, or leave someone to guard him?”
Rosamund comes over to Neville and wakes him up. “We need to get going. There may be folk looking for us. You can go back to sleep in the vehicle.”
Neville looks up blearily, “Who’s looking for us?”
“You know the monkey guy? He’s on the other side. You need a few sundries?”
“Yeah, I’ll need toiletries and clothing and stuff….”
Rosamund turns on the light, and pulls out the luggage. Neville starts packing. His laptop. And the hardcopy notes.
Glass’ voice comes out of the phone, “And bring his camera.”
Rosamund asks where the camera is. Neville points to a cabinet. Rosamund offers, “He fixes lenses like I fix parks.”
In a few minutes, they’re packed and loading into the RV. Once they’re all in, Neville asks, “Where are we going?”
Hellgrammite and Mabel reply in stereo, “Around.”
Hellgrammite replies, “Here, mostly. We need to stay in the area at least until mid-day tomorrow.”
Neville looks puzzled. “Do we think they’ve tracked us to Ames?”
Zabeth says, “Well, they know who all of us are, and you have a known address.”
“They know who I am?”
“Yes. They know your name. You’re a public figure. You were giving lectures in York.”
Glass sends a small army of bots to do a thorough investigation on the prospective employee. They quickly return with the information that he’s 45, a bachelor, never married, was in the U.S. Air Force and retired with the rank of Captain. Both parents are still alive and living in Kansas. As long as he’s capable of dealing with ookiness, he should do fine.
It’s still early evening. Glass calls the pilot at home. “Hello?”
“Yes, can I help you?”
“I find myself in need of a pilot.”
Barron replies slowly, “Do you?”
“This would be a fulltime position. Travel, of course, would be necessary. Tell me, have you kept your clearance up to date?”
“No. It’s been a while, and Maxwell Agricultural Enterprises didn’t exactly require it. I don’t think it would be hard to get it renewed.”
“A certain amount of discretion will be necessary in this operation. I mean business,” says Glass, making a calculated slip.
There’s a pause, and then Barren asks, “Are you in the government?”
Glass responds curtly, “No.” He's much higher up than that. Of course, such a strenuous denial can sound like “yes.” Glass is slick.
“Oh. Well, sure. Who do I have the pleasure of speaking to?”
“You can call me Sylvester. Would you be available for immediate employment?”
“Do you have plans for lunch tomorrow?”
“Nothing I can’t change.”
“Could you recommend a quiet, discreet place we could meet?”
“Do you want plain or fancy?”
“Discretion is the most important thing.”
“Then we’ll go for plain. There’s a diner called ‘Oswalds’ at the municipal airport.”
“Any place with a private dining room?”
“That wouldn’t be ‘Oswalds.’” He pauses to think for a moment, then adds, “There’s ‘On Top of Ames,’ down town.”
“Hold on a moment.” Without waiting for an acknowledgment, Glass puts the call to Barron on hold, and calls the restaurant to make a reservation for 6 under the name of Glass. Reconnecting to Barron, he says, “Yes, noon at On Top of Ames would be fine. Ask for ‘Glass.’”
Glass calls Hellgrammite’s new phone. Since she’s in the driver’s seat again (though the RV is driving itself) Mabel answers. “We have an appointment with a pilot at noon for lunch in downtown Ames. How many would we like to interview the pilot? I implied that I was with one of the more secretive portions of the government. I didn’t actually say it, and it isn’t actually untrue. We should look somewhat organized. We can always say it’s a joint operation and we can’t fully brief him until his clearance is renewed.”
Hellgrammite comes forward to the cab, “I don’t really feel that I have any expertise to interview a pilot on his suitability.”
“How about his reliability?”
Mabel replies, “I should be able sense that.”
Rosamund offers, “I can vouch for his state of health.”
Glass says, “If if at all possible, don’t bring Neville.”
Hellgrammite says, “He can stay in the RV with Zabeth, Neon and me.”
“Good. The three of us should be sufficient. I’ll forward the dossier I’ve compiled on Captain Barren to you shortly.”
Shortly before noon, Hellgrammite pulls into a parking lot about a block from the restaurant to find Glass waiting. Rosamund and Mabel step down from the RV. They watch Hellgrammite’s army of bots hitch the sportscar to the RV. Then the big vehicle pulls back into traffic. After a quick walk to the restaurant, the maître d’ shows them to their private room, just at noon. Captain Barron is already there. Mabel approvingly notes that the glass in his hand contains seltzer. He rises as they enter the room.
Glass strides forward with a hand out, “Captain Barron. Good to meet you.” Glass hands Barron a business card.
Barren glances at the card, and then looks closer. The logo on the card reads, “Air America Associates,” similar but not identical to an old alias of the CIA's that is now well-known. He looks up at Glass. “Oh.”
Releasing Barron’s hand, Glass gestures at the two Courtiers. “These are two of my associates.”
Rosamund introduces herself with an island name with way too many vowels and too few consonants. She kisses him on the cheeks, getting in a good reading. He’s in pretty good shape for a man his age, though his arteries are starting to clog. No obvious drug addictions. He’s stressed due to job issues, but well grounded and sane.
Mabel introduces herself with a crisp English handshake and accent. She notices him glancing back at Glass. She can almost read the thought bubble: “CIA? MI5?”
Glass reclaims Barron’s attention, “I trust you’ll understand that we can’t discuss everything until your clearance comes through, but I want you to understand that this is joint venture.”
“I understand that. I put in to have my clearance renewed last night.”
“Yes, I know. Thank you. Shows good initiative.”
With a knock, the waiter comes in to take their order. After he leaves, Glass continues, “To be quite honest, we’re in need of someone who can be available immediately. It will be necessary that your passport is in order. We require extreme discretion. We may have to travel for an extended period of time when communications with the rest of the world will be restricted. Will this be a problem?”
“No. There will be curiosity but not worry.”
“Do you have any questions?”
“I’m not sure that you can answer them yet… Where would we be going first?”
“Much of the work we’ll be doing will be based on contingencies.”
“You don’t know where you’re going. What kind of plane will I be flying?”
“A BAC 1-11. Fitted with an executive package. It’s very similar to your previous employment.”
“And I would be working for your … company. And reporting immediately to whom?”
“It’s a joint venture…”
“Is it internationally joint?”
“Yes. Mabel is from England.”
“So I’ll be reporting to a committee.”
“Sadly, yes. On the other hand, we’ll be willing to recompense you to make up for dealing with a shared leadership.”
“That will be OK, as long as you understand that as long as we’re in the air, I’m in charge. You decide where we’re going to go. I’m in charge of getting you there. Do we have a deal?”
“I’d expected you to inquire as to the salary.”
“I’d expected you to pay well.”
“Yes, we’re offering $20K above your last job.”
“That will do. Who is in the command?”
“The core team is seven. It’s a joint venture and each of our enterprises may feel required to supply an additional person or two as circumstances require. At the moment, my organization provides two members to the team. Mable currently is the sole representative of her organization. There are three team members from Rosamund’s organization. And there’s a civilian… contractor. We’ll be using some classified technologies. We’ll need to fly out to another location fairly quickly to equip the plane. I can’t reveal the destination now. How long will it take to make the necessary arrangements to fly out of Ames in a newly acquired plane?”
“Tomorrow evening. Do you think you can expedite my clearance?”
Mabel has continued to monitor the Captain. While she can’t read his thoughts, she can certainly hear his pulse rate and smell his perspiration. He is both scared and excited. This is a new beginning for him. And besides, it’s spy stuff. Real spy stuff!
Glass looks at Rosamund, who responds, “No health problems, but you should watch the cholesterol.”
“That's what my mom is always saying,” Barron answers, a tad wryly.
Glass turns to Mabel, who adds, “He’s resolved to be a good employee.”
Glass grins. “That’s all we needed to know.” He rises and extends his hand again to Barren, “Welcome aboard, Captain.”
Barren automatically rises and takes the offered hand, “That’s my line. Where and when do we meet next?”
“We’ll want to introduce you to the plane. That should be sometime this afternoon.”
“Then I’ll see you this afternoon at the airport.” He leaves, with a bounce in his step. This was certainly the oddest interview he’s ever had, but it seems to have turned out well.
When Glass, Mabel and Rosamund rejoin the crew in the RV, Zabeth greets them with the news that Clisk is also tracking them, and that when she last checked, he was 7000 miles, 13 furlongs, 11 yards and 97 thous away. He has pages and ghosts helping him.
Last Updated: Apr 17, 2009
©2009 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved