Aloha – This is chapter 12 of the new science fiction novel I’m working on with the working title, Arlo. I’m actually likely to change to title :o) Again, this is a first draft so beware of grammar and spelling errors. Chapters 1-11 are available in the blog archives.
Chapter 12 Fish or Cut Bait
“Costs in Phase One are in line. The Proto-type life support unit is the only item that ran over budget, and that was … 4.3 percent with the modifications that Doctor Hilst made to the design,” Roberto Trujillo reported.
Only four people were present in the Board Room this afternoon: Arthur Salt; his Executive Secretary, Janice White; CFO, Roberto Trujillo; and legal counsel, Calvin Graham. Arthur Salt was sitting, but rose and started to pace. Cost overrun in only one area, but it is the area where we’ll absorb the most construction cost. If this is commonplace, that ten percent margin you built in will be awfully thin Roberto.” Turning to Calvin he asked, “Well, Graham. What kind of deal have we got on the table with Harkin?”
“It has all been pretty hush-hush,” Calvin started. “Harkin is obviously a flunky. He hasn’t even been included in the last three meetings. The initial meeting was held in his office across the street from the Capitol Building; but after that the meetings were moved to the Washington Hilton. The lead counsel on this is Joseph Krueger. The only other person I’ve been able to identify is Walter Somervell; not that he wanted to be identified. He introduced himself as Douglas Somervell. He was dressed as a civilian. He is better known in Washington circles as Admiral Walter Somervell. When I checked, his middle name is Douglas, so technically he wasn’t lying.”
“So what are they offering?” Arthur stopped pacing.
“They’re willing to offer loan guarantees for the whole project. $66 billion.”
Arthur frowned, “And what do they want?”
“Well, quite a bit. They want all revenues from the project declared in the United States. They want the obvious, Salt Industries and your personal guarantees ahead of the government guarantee. They want a small scientific cadre included in the crew, and allow them to conduct their studies as long as it does not interfere with your mission…”
“How many?” Arthur snorted.
“Five,” Graham responded immediately.
“How much equipment?” Arthur tested.
“I have the list of equipment,” Calvin reached for his tablet.
“I don’t care about the list of equipment, I want to know the weight of the equipment,” Arthur snipped. “Remember, we are hoping to launch personnel and equipment at $500 per pound. We have to launch enough supplies for each member of the crew.” Turning back to Roberto, “How much?”
“Without equipment, about $600 million. Frankly, the equipment will probably be incidental to the additional supplies,” Roberto advised.
Arthur paced for nearly a minute, the stopped and turned to Graham. “Okay, they can have the scientists, but with some conditions. One. They have to foot the bill for getting that group to the ship. Two. They have to pay for the launch of all supplies, including life support for their team. Three. They have to be cross trained to assist Marshall’s main mission, and commit to quarter time for that project. That would reduce Marshall’s crew requirements by one, and two if I can argue it with him. Afterall, these scientists should be useful for some function or other aboard the craft.”
Arthur smiled, “And Roberto, that should cut our payroll costs by about $150 million. It’s sad when that sounds like peanuts.”
Roberto quickly replied, “Based on the margin of error we are working on, $150 million is better than peanuts.”
Arthur started pacing again, then stared out the window on the light reflecting off Lake Michigan. He stared so long that Janice finally spoke up to get his attention, “Mr. Salt…”
Arthur turned facing Calvin Graham, “Something still doesn’t smell right about this: Secret meetings; unidentified players; and the payback. Frankly, this isn’t like even backroom deals I’ve cut in the past. They want something else. What is it?”
Calvin Graham looked steadily into Arthur Salt’s focused gaze, “Nothing I can find in the deal on the table. I’m thinking they just want the country to remain number one in space. China, Russia, the European Space Agency, even the UAE, Japan and other countries are launching missions. This is a U.S. bannered operation if the government is guaranteeing your loans.”
“That could make a little more sense,” Arthur hesitated. “It makes more good press for the politicians in office now. Bigger deal than tax revenues later.” Arthur sat back down in his chair. “Let me think on it.”
With that Janice and Calvin left the Board Room.
Arthur glanced over at Roberto, and pointed to a small metallic device about the size of a metal cufflink. “Well, Roberto, the well this deal is set up I don’t think I’m going to take it,” he spoke slowly.
“I don’t blame you,” Roberto drew a couple of feet closer to the bug.
“Probably the best thing to do is shut the whole thing down,” Arthur continued.
“Any way to salvage the deal?” Roberto asked.
“Two things I think,” Arthur paused dramatically, “remove the personal guarantees for starters. I’m sinking the entire company into this deal. No need to leave me homeless if it fails, and have this Admiral Somervell tell me what the government really wants out of this deal.”
Arthur moved back to the area a few feet from where Graham had been sitting, and reattached the bug under the table.
Two days later, Admiral Somervell in dress uniform arrived at the offices of Salt Industries. He was accompanied by lead counsel Joseph government attorney, Joseph Krueger and two secret service agents.
Escorted to the Board Room, they were met my Roberto Trujillo and Calvin Graham.
“Where is Mr. Salt?” Admiral Somervell asked impatiently.
Roberto Trujillo smiled, “He will be joining as shortly. He had an emergency call from our Operations Director in Honduras. We really appreciate your coming to visit us.”
“We were actually on a DOD contract negotiation in Chicago, and thought we’d just stop by,” Joseph Krueger replied smoothly.
Admiral Somervell nodded curtly, “Yes, just happened to be in town. I don’t have much time. How long will Salt be?”
“It should just take a couple of minutes,” Roberto assured the guests.
Somervell glanced at Graham, who nodded affirmatively.
“Would you care for a beverage? Water? Soda? While we wait?” Roberto offered.
The Admiral stared out the windows.
Joseph Krueger replied, “A water would be nice thank you. It’s been a busy day.”
The seconds turned into minutes. The water arrived, and Roberto invited the Admiral to be seated. “I’m sure Mr. Salt will be joining us any moment,” he glanced at his watch.
Somervell took a seat, glaring at Calvin Graham, “We don’t have all day. I have a flight to catch at three.”
Arthur Salt entered the room abruptly. “Sorry for the delay,” he took in his guests.
Admiral Walter Somervell with tall and of a sleek build. Kind of like a fast cruiser, Arthur observed. Kruger was fat. But he was also tailor dressed, hiding much of the surplus weight in the cut of his suit. Give him a cigar and he’d be perfect for a political cartoon, Arthur thought.
He reached out his hand to Somervell first. “Admiral Somervell, pleased to meet you. My people say that you have the inside track to become the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Somervell shook Arthur’s hand tightly.
Turning to Joseph Krueger he reached out, “And I’m pleased to meet you as well, Mr. Krueger. I understand you have an excellent reputation in government negotiations. At least that’s what my friends at McDonell-Douglas say.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you as well Mr. Salt. I read the article about how you managed to acquire mining rights in Southern China… quite a coup.”
“That’s a long time ago,” Arthur smiled as he sat down. “So what can we do for you folks today?”
Somervell responded testily. “We wanted to get this project of yours off the sandbar. Frankly, I can’t see what’s holding it up.”
Arthur smiled, leaning back in his chair. “I just don’t understand why you’re so anxious to do it. I mean, it is really hard to stop and look a gift horse in the mouth, but $66 billion in loan guarantees for future tax revenue just doesn’t ring right. Oh, it sounds right for a long-term planner, but for Washington thinking it just doesn’t make sense.”
It was Krueger who responded, leaning forward. “You’re so right Mr. Salt. Tax revenues has little to do with the motivation for the Department of Defense. We actually are very interested in the immediate impact of the metals themselves. You actually have the potential of providing relief from our acquiring some materials we need desperately from countries who aren’t really our friends at the present. Take platinum for example, Even South Africa where the bulk of the Earth’s reserves are located is beginning to use its reserves as leverage for favorable votes and to interrupt our international policies. We’d like to minimize being held hostage by foreign governments. More than the tax revenue we’re interested in the minerals you’re bringing back. We want to make sure they are brought back here. The U.S.A.”
“Interesting idea, Mr. Krueger. It is smart business I agree. But I still find it hard to believe that the politicians in Washington are that forward thinking.”
“Is this room bugged?” Somervell asked abruptly.
“Sweep it every day,” Arthur smiled.
“Humph! Okay, Salt. We want the technology. Simple as that. As you may have guessed, part of the purpose of the scientific mission we’re tacking onto your ship is to reverse engineer as much of the technology as possible. You’re doing our work for us, for the government’s future in space. We anticipate being decades ahead of other countries with the technology and experiences that your team will test on this excursion,” and standing he stated flatly, “and what will you care? You’ll have made your billions… excuse be trillions. It will be a wide open race if you’re successful. And the United States of America wants to be at the head of the race. And in my opinion its your patriotic duty to help us although I doubt for a capitalist like you that means much.”
Arthur did not respond immediately. Turning back to the heavy set attorney he responded, with his voice rising ever so slightly, “All right Krueger, we’ll fish with you. But these are my terms. Number 1, no personal guarantees. Salt Industry will take the loan with government guarantees. My personal guarantees are not needed.”
“Done,” Krueger stated simply.
“I’m not done. You’ve already heard our terms for including your scientific team.”
“Agreed,” Krueger added.
“Third, since the tax revenue is not really an issue, I want it removed from the table. We’ll agree to sell all ores and minerals that the United States government wants at ten percent below market, but we’ll run the transactions through our accounts in the Caymens. You wind up with right of first refusal, along with all U.S. government contractors. We will sell whatever you don’t want at fair market value wherever we currently do business.”
Krueger looked perplexed, turning first to Somervell then to Calvin Graham.
“Done,” growled Krueger. “I hope you choke on your filthy lucre.”
“Calvin, work with our legal department to check and double check all the caveats of the agreement,” Arthur smiled as he rose. “Gentlemen, thank you for your visit.” Without saying another word or shaking hands with anyone he left the room.
Fifteen minutes later Arthur Salt returned to the Board Room, where Roberto Trujillo waited for him. “Well, how did it go?” Arthur asked as he slide into his chair.
“Admiral Somervell was fuming as he left, muttering something about … rude SOB…. Out to take him and all his kind out and shoot them.” Roberto smiled.
“Sounds like he’s a communist,” Arthur laughed.
“Did you find out what you wanted to know?” Roberto queried.
“Yes, I watched from my office. Graham is definitely in bed with them. I just don’t know if this is a recent betrayal or if he’s been a government plant all along,” Arthur leaned forward. “The question is what to do about it.”
Roberto leaned in, “I suggest we keelhaul him.”
Arthur chuckled, “If only we could. We could fire him, but then we’d just have to wait and figure out who the next mole would be. I think we just keep him where he is, feed him what we want to feed him, and make sure we have an outside firm double check his future agreements… especially this one… for accidental loopholes.”
“You’re adding unnecessary costs,” Roberto replied.
“I don’t think so,” Arthur stood up. “I think it actually will save us money. How did you like the deal I cut.”
“Masterful,” Trujillo laughed.
“I’m still troubled. As big an ass as Admiral Somervell is, I’m uncomfortable with how easily he gave in on my last demand.”
“Well, for now at least you’ve got the deal you wanted… and then some.”