Part 3 of the Tempest Illusion
Sometime the week before
Viktor Meester and Anton Lejuyt, both executives with the Dutch electronics company, N.V. Ampoor, met with Bruce Kelly and Kate Black of the U.S. defense research company, Clemens Micronics. The conference room, furnished in heavy mahogany and dark blue velour, exuded the aura of history and money. The antique conference table could easily have seated twenty, but only the four negotiators sat around it. Neither company wanted more people than necessary to know the financial details of the transaction. The thick, lined draperies remained tightly drawn, preventing the sunlight of the clear winter day from brightening the somber mood of the negotiators.
A plate of Belgian chocolates sat next to the pot of rich, dark coffee, in the center of the table. Lejuyt puffed on a pipe, while Meester chain-smoked, leaving his lit French cigarette in a glass ashtray. Foul-smelling smoke curled past Kate Black’s face, increasing her exhaustion after the all- night flight from Boston.
She wore the requisite power suit, black with a white lace blouse, her chestnut hair drawn back in a braid that hung midway down her back. The smoke and lack of sleep irritated her contact lenses, distracting her from listening carefully. She had researched this agreement extensively with the engineering team before catching the KLM flight last night. As a result of the time zone change, she’d rushed directly to the meeting. She hadn’t slept in more than twenty-four hours. She could feel the sleeplessness in her chest as she breathed. The men around the table seemed unaware of her distress. They masked their own situations and problems with the uniformity of their business suits and the perfection of their straight backs and unsmiling expressions. Kate stifled a yawn.
Bruce, Clemens Micronics Vice President for Corporate Development, had concluded the preliminaries of the negotiation, calling Kate in Boston last night, demanding that she rush from the headquarters office with a copy of the prepared Memorandum of Understanding. She had packed hurriedly, and the company paid a premium for her last minute plane ticket. When she arrived in Hilversum, after getting a train from the airport in Amsterdam, Bruce had just returned from what appeared to have been an alcoholic lunch with Meester and Lejuyt. Because Bruce was a big man — both tall and large — alcohol seldom affected him; yet, today he seemed lightheaded and tipsy. Even in her tired state, Kate assessed him to be unusually stressed.
Her tiredness lifted, however, and she snapped alert when she heard Bruce tell Viktor Meester that the sensor circuits would be in production by the end of the month. What sensor circuits? she thought. Engineering doesn’t have sensor circuits ready for this project. It was her job to know things like this. Kate was Bruce Kelly’s intern, fresh from her Harvard MBA. She was an engineer and an MBA, steeped in product knowledge in the months since she began working at Clemens Micronics. She knew all the researchers. If there were a sensor circuit, she would know about it, she believed.
Negotiation etiquette prevented her from contradicting Bruce in public. She leaned forward, listening carefully, to be sure she didn’t miss a cue. Whatever Bruce said, she would confirm. Those were the rules of this negotiation team, and she wanted to be sure she played her part on the team.
“We’ll begin implementation in Mexico within the month,” Bruce said.
In Mexico? What is he talking about? Kate thought.
“All purchases are to be made through Kelly Associates. The export licenses for the circuits will be provided by the Worldsat organization, under the Village Telephone Booth project.”
Kate leaned in. How could she be so far out of the loop on this? He never briefed her on any “Kelly Associates.” It almost sounded like he was doing an end run around Clemens Micronics. Why was he letting her hear this, if it was some shady deal? She felt a heavy clink in her stomach, the clink of a problem, settling in. Difficulties were ahead, and her fatigue kept her from thinking straight.
Why is this going to Mexico? Kate thought. I haven’t been briefed correctly. This isn’t what the engineers expect. And what’s this ‘Kelly Associates’ business? Has he lost his marbles? He can’t end run the Clemens Micronics company that way.
“The plant site,” Viktor interrupted Kate’s thoughts. “I have seen it. The village is very poor. Where will you get a trained work force?”
“The Mexican government will offer incentives to people to relocate there. By the time the plant is built, the workforce will be moved in. The village houses an international earth station. It has the infrastructure for us to move the equipment in,” Bruce explained.
“I want no delays,” Viktor insisted. “The entire project is single point sensitive on these circuits.”
“I, and I speak for Clemens Micronics, am committed to deliver on schedule,” Bruce answered.
But, he has nothing to deliver, Kate thought. Unless . . . A picture suddenly flashed in her mind. The sensor circuits from the Black project. He was talking about delivering the classified circuits. A Black project was a U.S. Defense classified information project. Surely, Bruce wasn’t thinking of . . . She urgently needed to talk to him. There must be some mistake.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” she interrupted. “Could we take a short break?”
Bruce gave her a sideways glance of annoyance at the interruption, but the other men had already begun the process of standing to leave the room.
When she’d gotten Bruce into the hallway alone, she said quietly, “What circuits are you giving them?”
“Dr. Liu prepared them,” Bruce answered, avoiding her eyes. “They’re ready.”
“No, he didn’t,” she said, through gritted teeth. “I’m out of the loop here. I need to be read in.”
He turned away, but Kate grabbed his big, meaty arm and held tight. Kate was young, but she understood the meaning of her security clearance. She understood that they were in Holland, talking about a Dutch project in Mexico, which sounded very much like it was preparing to use technology developed in a classified vault. Why did Bruce Kelly call her last night to show up at this meeting, if he had no intention of telling her what was going on?
Bruce brushed her hand away from his arm, glared at her with frosty eyes.
“Well, it isn’t something we need to discuss here,” he said in a dark and low whisper. “I’ll confirm with Dr. Liu tomorrow morning when he’s in the office.” Bruce turned to go back to the conference room.
“Bruce,” Kate called after him. He turned sharply, furrowing his eyebrows to show he was losing patience. She stepped close to him, lowered her voice to a whisper. “There are no separate sensor circuits. There are only the ones for the Black project. Liu didn’t run a separate team for this contract. I know this. I’m sure of it. I’m telling you this insistently because I don’t want our company to make a mistake.”
Bruce stroked his chin, reflectively, running his eyes up and down Kate’s five foot five frame, sizing her up. “You’ve been with the company how long? Six months?” he said. “Six months out of business school? Liu makes technical decisions. Others make the business ones. We’ll arrange a complete briefing on the technology when we return,” he said. Then briskly, retaining command, he added, “I want this document signed this afternoon. Let’s go.” He turned his back and walked away.
Bruce was her mentor in the company. If he became involved in illegal practices, what would happen to her? Would her years of sacrifice and preparation for her career end in a jail term? Selling circuits from a classified project? Diverting funds to his own company? Kate returned to the conference room feeling confused and anxious. Bruce ignored her for the rest of the meeting, turning his back so she could not catch his eyes; she felt too unsure of her facts to speak again.
As the meeting continued to a successful and signed contract, Kate was forced to consider if she was simply naïve. Was it standard practice, what Bruce was doing? Did Jim Clemens, President of Clemens Micronics, know all about it? If she brought it up, would she be fired? Bruce was her boss in this hierarchy. To go around her boss, even for the purpose of alerting Clemens to a potential danger, would be insubordination, in this military environment. Yes, it was a commercial company, but commercial companies working on defense contracts behaved in very military-culture ways. Losing her first job six months out of school, with a pile of student loans, was a very bad idea.
As was the usual practice for her contract negotiations with Bruce, she prepared a briefing of the meeting’s conclusions for Clemens Micronics President, Jim Clemens, faxing it to Boston under her own signature. Of course, this was not the forum for her to mention her concerns regarding the sensor circuit. She also mentioned in the memo, at Bruce’s insistence, that she’d been planning to stay on here after the meeting for a needed vacation. No one waited for her at home; she was single, and had no boyfriend. She could travel through Europe over Christmas.
After the meeting, Viktor Meester invited Bruce and Kate to attend a holiday party at the U.S. Embassy in Amsterdam. This invitation involved more business than pleasure; there was no doubt they had to attend as part of the negotiation dance. It was late in the afternoon. Kate needed some sleep before the party; her all-night flight meant she hadn’t slept in 30 hours. She had to talk to Bruce, but she couldn’t do it now. Reluctantly, she told her limousine driver to take her to her hotel for a fitful nap before the party. Sometime tonight, she would find a way to pressure Bruce until he told her the truth.
The black Mercedes waited outside the Cafe Chendeler, the modest hotel where Kate and Bruce stayed. For the Embassy party, Kate brought with her a modest green silk gown. It gave her a classic, almost Roman look, drawing attention to her long chestnut hair and delicate features. She had the full breasts and curves of a woman of Eastern European descent; her figure had none of the boyish athletic look she sometimes envied in fashion magazines. She stayed attractive only by vigilant exercise and diet, carrying jogging shoes with her on business trips and eating carefully in only the finest restaurants. As a result, her skin tone glowed, making up for a little asymmetry in her facial features. Usually, however, people ignored the slight mismatch on the two sides of her nose, and saw only her eyes. Her eyes, enhanced by dark mascara and deep gray eyeliner, pierced through whomever they met. She used her eyes to communicate, to flirt, even to admonish the person who gazed into them. The impression she left was one of intelligence. She cultivated this impression, and carefully groomed it. It was an asset, and she needed each asset she could get. Kate was not born with money, so she paid careful attention to every other feature that could add to her portfolio. When she and Bruce settled into the limousine for the hour and a half ride to Amsterdam, Kate discovered that Viktor Meester would be riding with them. Again, there would be no opportunity for her to discuss with Bruce the disturbing events of the day.
The Embassy ballroom, with its eighteen foot ceilings and matching-height windows, glittered with festivity as more than a hundred people filed through the receiving line. The silver-haired U.S. ambassador, Jack Cooper, along with his wife and staff, greeted everyone as they entered the hall. Uniformed waiters roamed the crowd, carrying trays of champagne and hors d’oeuvres. Sofas and chairs, placed in conversational groupings, allowed people to talk in smaller parties. A fifteen-foot pine tree, strewn with garlands, accented the room, while a chamber orchestra played Mozart and Liszt. Viktor Meester had not brought his wife. He stayed by Kate’s side all evening, providing no time for her to talk to Bruce alone.
Bruce planned to leave for London early the next morning; he would not talk to Kate at all if she did not push him to do it now. There may be no opportunity to reach him for weeks after tonight. She saw that he had been drinking heavily; his face looked flushed, his big belly bulged against his shirt buttons. The crowd thinned and the evening grew late before Kate decided to force the issue. She insisted that Bruce accompany her outside, through the French doors and onto the balcony, away from Viktor. They stood in the darkness, silhouetted by the party lights, on the cement patio. Bruce insisted this was not the place or the time to talk. “Cameras,” he mouthed, pointing to the bushes.
She was about to ask him to leave the party, go somewhere private with her. As she opened her mouth to speak, Bruce’s face contorted. His big body loomed, then toppled toward her, vomiting blood across her breasts, knocking her backward. It was the Ambassador, Jack Cooper, who rushed to Kate’s side as she screamed.
Back in the Chendeler Hotel in Hilversum, an hour’s drive away, that same night of Kelly’s murder, a woman about Kate’s age, with the same color hair, and the same height and build, let herself into Kelly’s room with a key. She pulled out Kelly’s suitcases, opened drawers, checked his jacket pockets. In the inner pouch of a briefcase, the woman found a folded yellow envelope, sealed, with no address. Opening it, she saw the Defense Department classification stamp. Silently, she slipped the envelope into her purse, leaving the room in shambles. She hand-wrote the words “For Kate” on the envelope, with a black marker. Then she pushed the envelope under the door to Kate’s hotel room, and let herself out down the back stairs. The man at the front desk saw the woman come in, but he did not see her leave. That night the real Kate Black slept fitfully in an Amsterdam hotel room, with her new friend, Ambassador Jack Cooper.
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The Tempest Illusion is coming to Amazon.com in January 2014.
While you’re waiting, read Copper Hollow