What Lies Ahead
As I sat at the conference table the next morning, looking at an empty room, I couldn’t help but think the pep-talk I gave myself the night before might have been a bit overboard.
I had psyched myself up and with a fresh bounce in my step, I had charged into the office early. I was ready to take on the World, only to realize I was thirty minutes early for the meeting. Pretty much no one was in the office yet. I could only smile at myself when I considered how ridiculous I must have seemed bursting into the office. Thankfully, the building being mostly empty saved me from anyone seeing my misplaced enthusiasm.
After I’d been sitting for a while, Ted walked in with Mr. Tagobe, a few of Mr. Tagobe’s aides: Jonathan, Ronald and Charles Green.
“There you are,” Ted said, setting the folio he was carrying down. “I didn’t realize you were already here.”
“I got here a little early,” I replied.
“Excellent, then we can get started. Mr. Tagobe,” Ted said as they all sat down, “we’ve finished initial surveys and Ronald assures me we are good on building our first plant. As we discussed, we will be cutting you folks a hell of a deal, since you are also going to be our guinea pigs.”
There was a pause as everyone looked over each other.
“Uhh, by guinea, I of course meant...” Ted started, stammering.
“No offense is taken, Mr. Baker, I am familiar with that saying. We looked over the numbers Mr. Green sent over last month, and I am assured we are indeed getting ‘a hell of a deal,’ as you say. The payments are agreeable to us.”
“Excellent,” I said. “Once we sign the papers today, we will be dispatching Ronald and a team of engineers and organizational types to get the ball rolling. They will set up the accounts we need locally and begin hiring a small amount of office staff along with construction staff. Looking at the numbers, our initial outlay is pretty significant and, for a while anyway, every dollar you pay to us will be going back into your local economy as we get this thing built. So that’s a win-win on your part.”
“Yes, we saw that. We appreciate your goal of hiring as much local labor as possible and we saw, again from Mr. Green’s numbers, that you were paying a more than competitive rate. Although I did note labor costs in my country are much cheaper than if you brought in your own people.”
“That’s true,” Charles interjected, “but there are a lot of reasons for not paying the same rate as we would pay American workers. A business paying more than any other to its employees would have a negative effect on your economy. If the difference was high enough, it could cause inflation. We are trying to be as generous as we can to your people. That is of course not taking into account that for at least the first few years, we will be underwater on this project.”
“Mr. Tagobe, I want to be clear that our goal is to be fair to everyone we employ. Once we have our facilities up and running, it will include a modern infirmary and we will fly out medical staff if we have to. We are also working on other benefits we can offer to anyone who works for us, regardless of what country they were born in or live in, that could help your people. While we are a business, I’ve made it clear to my partners that first and foremost we are going to be true to our moral beliefs.”
“I thank you for that Mr. Grey. I do understand the points Mr. Green was making and I know he is not wrong. While we are not in the same situation as some of our neighbors, countries like mine have always had a long history of foreigners coming and taking advantage of the local people. It is a hard mindset to get past.”
“I can see that,” I said. “Please, if you ever feel like there is something we should be doing, talk to us! We will do our best to make sure we are being as fair as possible. My partners share my mindset for our mission on this.”
“Thank you, again. Besides the jobs and money for my country, this water is still badly needed. We look forward to your plant becoming operational as soon as possible.”
“Speaking of that,” I said turning to Ronald, “What’s our estimate on that.”
“Construction is going to take the better part of six months. We might be able to shave that down a little bit, but this isn’t a small project. Honestly, my goal is to be ready before next summer.”
“Do what you have to. I would love to see our plant producing drinkable water early next year.”
“I’ll do my best, Cas.”
“Of that, I have no doubt,” I said, giving the man a smile. “So, do we have anything else to discuss?”
“No,” Ted said. “We are here mostly just to sign the final paperwork so we can shove Ronald on a plane.”
“Then let’s do this,” I said.
With that we, in turn, signed what seemed to be a never ending stack of documents. They included authorization for purchase of the land the plant would be located on, which it turns out used to be some sort of government facility, various business permits, and approvals for initial payments to Evolve.
I had expected something like this after having dealt with the US military, but I had thought a smaller developing nation would have less red tape to sign off on. How wrong I was!
After another hour we had everything done, Mr. Tagobe was headed back to his hotel and Ronald was sent home to pack. By the following evening they would all be in Papua New Guinea, and the real work would begin.
As the meeting was breaking up, I pulled Jonathan aside.
“Any luck looking into what the people after us are buying up all that land for?”
“Cas, I know this has you twisted up, but you have to be patient. I’ve put feelers out this morning, but there hasn’t been enough time to hear anything back yet.”
“Yeah. Sorry, I know you’re right. I just hate how in the dark we are.”
“Speaking of being in the dark, could you call that guy who owns that last building and have him come up to meet with me? I wanted to talk to him, make sure he knows what’s happening down there, and what he’s up against.”
“Are you sure that’s wise?”
“Yes. He seemed like a good guy and deserves the heads up. Plus, we need all the allies we can get right now.”
“Ok, I’ll call him.”
“Thanks, Jonathan,” I said, as I headed out of the conference room door.
I headed straight for the exit and out of the office as soon as our guests pulled out of sight. Having been cooped up all morning, I was dying to know the status of the Judge. While Emily, Zoe and Tina hadn’t been gone more than a few weeks, I was missing them terribly and I wanted this whole ordeal to be over.
Arriving home I rushed in the front door and asked “Have we heard anything?”
“Not yet,” Mom said, coming out of the living room into the hall. “Carter’s men are watching him and they know what to look for and will let us know. It takes time, Caspian.”
“I know, it’s just...”
“I know, sweety,” she said pulling me into a spine crushing embrace. “We all miss them. You’ve done everything you can do. Now you just have to wait.”
Sighing I pulled out of her hug, readjusted my spine, and gave her a smile.
“Thanks for the pep-talk.”
“What are mothers for?” She said and headed back into the kitchen.
“CAAaass?” I heard bellowed from upstairs. “Is that you?”
“Yeah,” I hollered back.
“Come up here!”
I obeyed and headed upstairs to find Tami and Vicki in the master bedroom.
“Ten bucks says he totally forgot,” Tami said as I walked in.
“Forgot what?” I asked, honestly having no idea what she was talking about.
“Homecoming is at the end of this week.”
“Ok?” I said. I hadn’t forgotten, so much as I hadn’t thought about homecoming at all.
“And we’re going,” Vicki said.
“We are? I would have thought, with everything that’s happening...”
“ ... that we need this,” Tami said, interrupting me. “Look, Cas, we are barely into this year. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and look at everything that’s happening. Zoe and Emily taken away, after all the drama to get Emily back here in the first place, what happened to Vicki’s dad. It’s just too much. We need something to blow off some steam. The homecoming game and dance is just the answer.”
“Ok, so what do I need to do? Get tickets, buy flowers? What?”
“Ha, like we’d let you actually do any of the planning. We’ll take care of the details, you just need to remember to keep the time blocked for us. Also, you’re taking Vicki as your date.”
“Wait, I thought...” Vicki said, looking at Tami surprised.
“I know, but this has been a tough few months for you. You need to be reminded of how special you are, and this seems like a good opportunity. I’ll be going stag, so I’ll still be there. I’ll still take a few dances for myself, but you’re his date.”
“I agree,” I said. I hadn’t thought it through, but Tami was absolutely right. It had been a tough year so far for Vicki. I would need to make sure the night was extra special for her. I took the girls for granted much too often, and that needed to stop.
“Great. We’ll let you know what you’re wearing and when you need to be somewhere,” Tami said while Vicki continued to look stunned.
“What would I do without you?”
“Lay in your bed, cry a lot, and eat nothing but cold cereal...”
“Yeah, Yeah,” I said, giving both girls a kiss and heading out of the room. “I’ll remember that next time someone’s feeling frisky.”
I barely dodged the pillow launched in my direction as I headed out the door.
It wasn’t until hours later that we finally got the call from Carter. Mom had answered the phone and put it on speaker phone so we could all hear what he had to say.
“Ok, we’re all here,” Mom said; we, in this case, being Tami, Mom, Vicki and her mother, and myself.
“It seems like your trick worked,” Carter said through the phone. “He left the office early and headed home. We made some discreet inquiries and apparently the Judge wasn’t feeling well. This seems to be within the time frame Dr. Chang gave us. Seems unlikely it’s a coincidence.”
“What’s he doing now?” I asked.
“Lights are off, he seems to be holed up in his room. He sent his house staff home early.”
“Ok, things seem on track, then. Keep someone on him, for now. If nothing changes, I’ll arrange a face to face with him tomorrow.”
“Is that smart?” Mom asked.
“No, but it’s how we have to do it. If the infection has started, and it seems like it has, one of the first changes is the personal loyalty to me. I stand the best chance of doing something.”
“Why not wait?”
“Because he might decide to go see a doctor.”
“Good point,” Vicki said.
“Thanks, Carter,” I said to the phone.
“Sure thing, kid,” he said, followed by a click as the phone hung up.
“I guess I’ll go down there tomorrow morning and talk to him.”
“Actually,” Mom said, “Jonathan called just before Carter. Apparently some guy you wanted to meet is going to be at your office in the morning.”
“Ohh, great! Ok, I’ll meet with him and then go see the judge after.”
“Why put it off?” Vicki’s mom asked. “I’d think helping your friends would come first.”
“It does, and this meeting is part of it. It’s the guy at the new property we just bought. It has to do with the people behind this whole CPS thing, your abduction, everything. I’m trying to find out what their game is, and find a way to stop it. Or at least get them to leave us alone.”
“Ohh,” she said.
I know the wounds from her husband’s death were still fresh in her mind. I cursed myself silently for being so thoughtless and bringing it up.
“Mrs. Hollabrand, I’m so sorry...”
“No, it’s ok. I’m glad you are trying to protect everyone. I’m going to go lay down.”
She patted my cheek and walked out of the room.
“Vicki ... Could you...”
“Yeah. Don’t worry, Cas, she’ll be ok. You didn’t do anything wrong,” Vicki said, reading my mind.
With a pat on my arm, she hurried after her mother.
“Why don’t we eat a quick dinner and call it a night? It sounds like tomorrow’s going to be a busy day.”
I nodded, thankful for the millionth time that this woman was in my life and taking care of all of us.
That night I slept restlessly, my mind on the meeting with the Judge. As hopeful as I sounded, there were still risks of me walking in. If the man just had a badly timed case of food poisoning, I would be pretty far out on a limb.
For the second day in a row, I got an early start out the door. This time it wasn’t a renewed sense of purpose that got me going, but rather Mom pushing me out the door. I’d been hovering all morning, and it was clear I was getting on her nerves.
A few minutes after I got there, Jonathan walked in. Since we were at least an hour ahead of our scheduled meeting, I smelled Mom’s hand in the timing.
“She called you, I bet.”
“She did indeed,” he said, setting down his things and laughing. “She said you were worked up and pacing the house like a tiger in a cage.”
“I’m just nervous about the meeting that comes after this.”
“Angela mentioned that. I want to go with you.”
“But you’ll need...”
“Nothing. If he’s been changed, then I’m free and clear. If he hasn’t, your being there is improper and not only do I get in trouble, but so do you. We can’t afford you losing your license.”
“I don’t like you going alone.”
“That’s what Mom said.”
“She’s a smart woman.”
Coming of Age /