One thing that Martin Caldwell really disliked about working away from home was the early morning status calls that the Prince was so fond of. He liked to get his remote updates first, before his breakfast meetings with his local lieutenants, which meant that Caldwell was being grilled even before the sun was up. Oh well. At least they were in the same time zone.
Martin got up, put on a suit and went in to the office. As usual he was disappointed that his secretary wasn’t already there with the lights on and fixing the coffee, but he knew better than to expect that on this assignment. As he started the coffee pot he longed for the good old days, before women’s lib, when a manager could expect his secretary to turn on the lights, start the coffee, prepare his list of appointments, and even moisten his cigar before the start of the workday. Today’s women insisted on things like equal pay and a harassment-free workplace, and generally took all the little pleasures out of working with the fairer sex. He was saddened by the loss. He knew he could use his persuasive powers on the temp to convince her to be an old-fashioned working girl, but that kind of magic always left its mark, and the Prince had told him to keep this operation low profile, at least for the time being. Deniability. How he hated having to keep his magic under wraps.
He took his coffee into his office, lighted a cigar, and composed himself as he watched the clock. The sun was just beginning to illuminate the city as he placed his call.
“So how are things going there in Rochester?” From the background sounds Caldwell knew the Prince was getting dressed.
“Not bad, sir. There really isn’t much organized opposition here, and we’ve been gathering in what little we’ve found. I think we’ll be ready to start moving goods by Memorial Day.”
“And what about your little surprise? Have you been able to find who sold that idiot the device he used to blow himself up?” He had wondered when the Prince would start asking about that. It looked like his hiatus was over.
“Not yet, sir. He’s only been out of the hospital for a couple of days, and hasn’t settled down into any sort of pattern.”
“I don’t think you can wait for that. I think you need to be more proactive.”
“Certainly, sir. I’ll get on that right away.”
“See that you do. Now, about those TPS reports you submitted …”
Shortly after nine Caldwell gave Patton a call.
“Mr. Patton? This is Martin Caldwell of MC Enterprises. Are you still seeking employment?”
“Yes, sir.” Patton sounded hopeful yet cautious, the sound of a man who’s been looking for a long time and had several interviews, but nothing has come of them. Optimistic yet anticipating disappointment.
“Good! Your resume has come to my attention, and you look like you might be a good fit for a position with our company. Would you be willing to come to my office and discuss things?”
“Certainly, although I must confess I’ve never heard of your company. What sort of business are you in?”
“We’re a specialty manufacturing firm dealing in small volume, high value items. I’m afraid security considerations prevent me from going into any more detail over the phone, but we can discuss such things when we meet face to face. Would you be able to come to my office this afternoon, say around one o’clock?”
“Sure! Where are you located?”
“We’ve just opened a local office here in Rochester in the High Falls district.” He gave Patton the address and instructions to get to the office, and hung up. Then he called the temp. “Nina, contact Randy and Jimmy and tell them we have a one o’clock that they’re going to have to get ready for. They’ll know what that means.”
“Yes, sir. Are you going out?”
“No, I have some more calls to make, so please see that I’m not disturbed.”
“Thank you for coming in on such short notice,” said Caldwell as he came around his desk to shake Patton’s hand. “Please have a seat while I introduce my associates, Jimmy Fuentes and Randy Nieves. Together we are MC Enterprises. Oh, and our boss, Robert Meadows. You may have heard of him. He’s better known as the Prince of Detroit.” He didn’t have Patton’s talent for reading auras at a touch — he watched eyes instead. Patton’s eyes said he recognized the Prince and had some idea of what that meant. Too bad for him.
“Yes, I have heard of him. Tell him I appreciated the card he sent. I’m rather surprised that you guys her here in Rochester. Why are you here, and more importantly, why do you want me to work for you?”
Caldwell kept his focus on Patton’s eyes and turned his persuasion on low. It would be best if Patton spilled the beans without being aware of any compulsion. “We’re kinda sorry you got all dressed up to come here, but we don’t really want you to work for us. Not that kind of job, anyway. What we really want is to know where you got whatever it was that blew up your house.”
“I doubt you’ll like the answer, but I found in my back yard, disguised as a rock. I was trying to figure out what it was when it blew up. But why should you care?” He sounded open and honest, but the answer was clearly a lie. Caldwell strove to sound open in return while simultaneously turning the compulsion up a notch.
“I care because my boss cares. You’re right, I don’t like that answer. That answer is full of dissatisfaction. That answer demands proof, because that answer is one that cannot be. There’s no way someone couldda made a rock blow up like that. There must be more to it.”
“I didn’t say it was a rock, I said it was disguised as a rock. It had some sort of shell around it, but the shell had a knick in it. I was cleaning it up to get a better look when it fell on the floor and blew up.”
Caldwell was getting frustrated by this conversation. Patton was clearly lying! “Oh? And how is it that you survived the explosion? I understand they found you outside, like you’d been blown through the wall and smashed against a tree. Yet here you are with hardly a scratch on you.” Nieves and Fuentes shifted slightly behind Patton, getting into position.
“I don’t know. All I know is what happened. I dropped the thing, whatever it was, it blew up, and next I knew I was in a hospital.”
“I need to verify your story. Is there any sort of evidence?”
“I’ve been cleaning up the debris since I got home, and so far I’ve found nothing.”
“Hmm. We’ll see. Jimmy, would you mind restraining Mr. Patton here?”
Jimmy Fuentes moved to grab hold of Patton, but the chair spat him out like a watermelon seed. Nieves also closed in but somehow Patton was able to eel his way out of his grip and to the door. Before anyone could come after him he was out the door and could be heard charging down the stairs.
“You want me to go after him, Boss?” Fuentes looked like a spaniel seeking permission to retrieve a downed duck. Nieves just stood back and waited for the explosion.
“What I want to know is why you two couldn’t hold on to him?” Caldwell could barely contain his rage and frustration.
“Gee, Boss, it was like tryin’ to hold a fish! Squeeze and suddenly he squirts outta your grip! He’s got some strange sortta power there.”
Caldwell took a deep breath and worked the kinks out of his neck in an effort to calm himself. His rage dropped to a simmer, but his eyes still glowed. “I see. I guess we’re just going to have to come up with a different way to apply pressure.”