A Major Economic Development Announcement. And Clones. Maybe.
He heard a rustling in the brush about ten meters away. He placed his hand on the pistol at his hip and watched cautiously. “Who’s there?” He demanded to know.
“Just me,” came a voice. Gerald Crawford waded through the thick brush. He threw a hand in the air and waved, “Hey, Dude. You really need to talk to your Mower Man about this growth back here.”
“Yep. I was just thinking that.” Ballencek relaxed when he saw the American Ex-Patriot, who was wearing his usual floral shirt, swim trunks, and sandals with black socks. “How’s it going?”
“Good, good. If I were doing any better I’d be vibrating.”
“I suppose that’s pretty good, then.” Ballencek noted. “What brings you around, Gerald?”
Crawford pulled a wadded piece of paper from the pocket of his swimsuit. “I got the word from my accountant and I need to talk to Mrs. Harman.”
“That is good news,” Ballencek agreed. “I’ll bring you into the Embassy in a minute. How about helping me with these posts.”
The two men struggled with the posts to stand them upright. The Security Officer stepped back and squinted as he tried to align the post with the side of his forefinger. “Little more to the right.” Crawford shoved the post to the right. “Perfect,” Ballencek declared.
He rummaged through a plastic sack on the ground to find the lock he bought at OMart. It was still in the blister pack so he pulled out a multi-tool and extended a knife blade. “Careful,” the Ex-Pat warned.
Ballencek slipped the blade along one of the edges to remove the flash and then tore the rest of the package open. The keys dropped onto the ground and hid among the grass. He felt on the ground for the keys.
“What’s with the lock, anyway?” Crawford asked.
“The Ambassador wants to secure the back gate because he thinks having it unlocked is posing a security risk.” He pulled a few blades of grass from the ground but didn’t find the keys.
“What? How am I suppose to get in?”
“Through the front, I suppose. Just like everyone else.”
“Does anyone really go through the front door?” Crawford seemed incredulous. “I thought everyone came through the back?”
Ballencek bent up and displayed the keys. “Not anymore.” He attached the lock to the gate and snapped it shut. “There. Finished.” He stepped back to admire the handiwork. “I declare this ‘Good Enough.’”
Crawford was still standing in the easement behind the gate. “You could have at least waited until I came in.”
Ballencek shrugged. “No better way to test the lock.”
Crawford pushed at the gate with a sour look on his face. “Works fine.” He said with irritation.
The Security Officer grinned. “Meet you out front.”
Crawford tried the handle on the front door of the Embassy. It didn’t move. He knocked on the door. “Larry!” He said loudly. No answer. “Larry!” He shouted louder. He banged on the door again.
The door opened a crack and he could see Ballencek’s eyeball. “Not open yet.” He shut the door again.
“Hey!” The Ex-Pat tried to put his foot in the door, but stubbed his big toe because Ballencek was faster on the close. He stood at the door and fumed. “What time do you open?”
“Eight AM.” Ballencek replied through the closed entry.
Crawford looked at the time on his cell phone. It was 7:58. He leaned against the wall and waited for the two minutes to pass. Finally the door swung open with Ballencek blocking his passage. “Do you have your passport or other acceptable ID?”
“Geez, Larry. It’s me.”
“How do I know for sure?” Ballencek eyed him cautiously.
Crawford rolled his eyes. “You just saw me in the rear courtyard.”
“Uh huh.” The Security Officer said skeptically. “Maybe someone slipped a clone in while I wasn’t watching.”
“If you want a blood sample we can do it later. For now, just take my word for it.” Crawford pushed his way past Ballencek.
“Ok. Just this once.” Ballencek followed, invading Crawford’s personal space. “Next time bring your passport.”
“If I’m a clone that might not be enough proof.” Crawford realized he shouldn’t have said that as soon as it passed through his lips.
Ballencek put one hand on the visitor’s shoulder and another on his holstered gun. “You’re right. That blood test may be a good idea after all.”
Crawford rolled his eyes again and shrugged Ballencek’s hand off his shoulder. He kept walking. He found the Administrative Assistant sitting behind her desk. “It’s good to see you again, Denise.”
“A pleasure, Mr. Crawford.” She said pleasantly. “How can we help you today?”
I’m here to see Ambassador and Mrs. Harman.” He said. “Are they available?”
She glanced at the status board on her desk. “Ambassador Harman is in the office on a phone call and Mrs. Harman is in the residence quarters.” She looked up. “I think he’s almost done with the call and I can page Jennifer, if you’d like.”
“That would be helpful. Thank you.” He took a seat on the wall across the desk.
Ballencek surveyed the room and put his fists on his hips. “Looks like things are well in hand. I have some other things to do.” He leaned toward Denise and whispered in her ear. “Keep an eye on him. He might be a clone.” He walked backward through the door while watching for sudden moves by Gerald Crawford. Satisfied there didn’t seem to be a threat, he stepped into the hallway.
Denise shook her head and returned to her work. “Mrs. Harman should be here in a moment.” She advised.
William Harman opened the door to his office and poked his head out. “Denise, I have a memo that needs to be sent to President Taft, Prime Minister Pierce, and Mayor Jackson.”
“Sounds important.” She said. “Can I finish my day when I finish delivering them personally?”
“I guess so.” Harman said. “What time is it?”
“8:05. I’ll get right on it.” She turned to the computer on her desk to find the memo Harman had emailed.
“Sure.” Harman said resigned.
Denise waved at him but kept looking at the screen and banging on the keyboard. “Sorry. Busy.” She was focused. She didn’t look up but noted “Mr. Crawford is here to see you.”
“Oh. Ok.” He spotted Crawford. “Come on in, Gerald.”
Crawford pulled himself from the seat to approach Harman’s office. As he entered Denise called out “He might be a clone.”
The Ex-Pat walked past Harman and shrugged. “Ballencek, again.”
“I see.” Harman nodded and closed the door behind them. The Ambassador settled behind his desk as Crawford fell into an overstuffed chair. “How can I help you today, Gerald?”
Crawford’s face lit up with happiness. “I got word from my accountant that I can loosen up a couple million dollars for education here in Oslea.”
“That is quite awesome.”
“I do have a couple caveats, though.” He admitted.
Harman nodded his head. “Of course.”
Denise buzzed in on the intercom. “Mrs. Harman is here, Ambassador.” She announced.
“Thank you.” A second later Jennifer Harman swept through the door into the room. She stepped behind the desk and gave William a brief kiss. “Good morning, sweetheart,” he smiled.
“Buongiorno, mio amore.” She touched his hand with hers. “A good day, so far?”
“Yes.” He answered. “I have a couple pieces of excellent news.”
She turned the vacant chair next to Harman’s desk to face the visitor. “I guess some of it involves Mr. Crawford?”
Crawford addressed his comments to Jennifer, “As I was telling your husband, I have the opportunity to provide the Oslea School System with two million dollars for some new educational opportunities.”
“That’s wonderful!” She said, quite pleased. “I’ve been in touch with the district to see how we can better assist them. This would be something close to our hearts, since Bill and I both have backgrounds as educators.”
“Very good,” Crawford said. “I’m sure that we can put that money to good use.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the scrap of paper. “This is a memo of understanding my accountant drew up. We can finish the details later, but the only thing I request is that the money be used mostly for STEM programs.”
Ambassador Harman agreed, “I think focusing that money on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math is an excellent idea. In fact, it will probably work in parallel with the other news today.”
“The phone call today?” Crawford asked.
Harman put his glasses on and picked up his Moleskin pocket notebook from the desktop and leafed to the page he was working on. “Here we are…”
Jennifer leaned over to read what he had written. But Harman’s scribblings were nearly illegible. “An internet company wants to locate its first major facility in the South Pacific here in Dennado.”
“What sort of company is this?” Jennifer asked.
“It’s a shopping company.” Harman answered.
“Super cool,” Crawford said. “Amazon?”
Mrs. Harman shook her head, “Don’t keep us in suspense, dear.”
Harman twirled his hand in a flourish, “Ashtabula.biz”
Jennifer and Crawford looked at each other, puzzled. Then they looked at Harman. “Who?” Jennifer asked.
“It’s from the Native American Algonquin word which means ‘River of Many Fish.’” He explained. “The idea, they told me, is to spawn a mighty shopping experience beginning at a small source.”
Crawford raised an eyebrow, “I suppose that makes sense.”
With his elbows on the desk, he moved his hands together and interlocked the fingers. “So, ashtabula.biz and the new STEM programs will be able to work together and grow together.” He placed his hands back on the desk, moving the notebook to the side. “It’s a prefect blend of education and commerce.”
“Uh… Ok,” the Ex-Pat said skeptically. “Well, I’ll see about moving things forward with my accountant.”
Jennifer stood from her chair, “And I’ll start coordinating a few things with the school system.”
“Good!” Harman said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how this all comes together.”
Both men stood and walked toward the door. Harman opened it for his wife and allowed Crawford to pass before stepping through himself.
Denise was not at her desk. She had apparently finished editing and printing the memo about the online shopping initiative for the island officials and already left to deliver them.
Ballencek was waiting on the edge of the desk, holding a syringe in one hand and an alcohol swab in the other. “Alright, Gerald, if that’s who you are.” He motioned for Crawford to move toward him.
“Time for that blood test…”