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 The Profit Prophet

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: The Profit Prophet   Wed Aug 09, 2017 12:40 pm

Chapter 3

 

On Thursday morning Naomi pulled up outside Daniel’s home. She emerged from her light blue Toyota prepared for adventure, all fresh faced and neatly dressed in pale blue jeans, white tee shirt and a short vest to counter the slight chill.

“Good morning Mr Treloar,” was her cheery greeting, “May I provide you with some transport to the airport?”

Returning her mood he replied, “You certainly may, Miss Stockton.” He stepped out the door carrying an overnight bag and his briefcase all readied the previous day. 

Just scanning the road as they walked toward the car, Daniel caught a glimpse of a dark object protruding from the passenger window of a rapidly approaching white car. As if in slow motion, he became aware of the rising scream of the accelerating engine. Naomi had just turned her excited face toward him, her silky, light hair swishing across her cheeks in the breeze. She became concerned when the threat registered in his expression. Daniel’s face contorted in a frantic grimace as he dropped his bags, lurched toward her, grasped the bewildered girl in his arms and lunged down behind the brick mailbox. He rolled them both across the lawn, tumbling over the short length to the base of the brickwork. Thudding consecutive concussions on the pavement and bricks were accompanied by the cracking reports of a large calibre automatic pistol. The last shot shattering her windscreen and driver’s window. A spray of small glass blocks rained down on them from the disintegrating pane.

Skidding, squealing, tearing rubber brought the car to a halt. Footsteps were followed by threatening shouts, “Don’t move unless you want a bullet through you.”

Another gravelly voice growled, “Grab the briefcase.” Slapping steps and slamming doors related their hasty retreat.  A diminutive yelp emanated from beneath Daniel as the descending pitch of the racing car indicated its speedy departure from the scene.

           

More insistent this time, a gasp and anguished cry, “Will you get off me?” wheezed Naomi. Daniel looked down to locate the girl crushed beneath him.

“Sorry,” he stood offering his hand and assisting her up to stagger to her feet. “They were shooting at us,” he appended lamely.

“Why would they shoot at us?” She was aghast. There was a nervous quiver in her voice. Her expression turned to anguish as the shattered glass from her car came into view. Then miserably,

“We’ll miss our plane,” her disappointment almost tangible. Amazed at first that that was her first thought, Daniel remembered what he had been told about Naomi’s travels. This would have been her first plane trip since childhood. He looked about. Sure enough the briefcase was gone; and so was his overnight bag!

A wailing police siren sounded in the distance, drawing ever nearer. Someone must have already called. Daniel was quickly on the phone getting the office to transfer their flight and inform their connections that there was a setback. Naomi was brushing herself down as she pondered the near miss. She was still shaking noticeably so Daniel wrapped an arm around her to provide support as he finished his call. Snatches of thoughts raced through his mind. How did they know when to strike? The timing was so perfect. They could have been killed. Though he suspected the aim had been to make them cower. It was a violent and abrupt raid by practised thugs. The two attackers had got away and he without any idea what they looked like.

A whining sound emanated from the lifting garage door.

“What are you doing?” Naomi’s voice, even now, was quavering from the shock.

“Putting your bags in my car before the police get here; they won’t let us touch the car once they’re here.” He got Naomi to open her car and retrieved her luggage before steering her inside so he could pack another bag.

One squad car pulled up outside. Naomi waited, sitting in a velour couch, arms clutched about her, while Daniel was upstairs throwing a few days’ worth of clothing into another overnight bag. She was questioned and offered the concise details of the event. When more police arrived Daniel was just on his way down the stairs.

While one officer was still inspecting the damaged car, Daniel also explained briefly to the others, what had happened. The policeman in charge introduced himself as Sergeant Kendle and then followed Daniel as he dumped his bag in the yellow Porsche. A third squad car arrived and a female trooper emerged and went in. She spoke with Naomi and gave her some comfort.

A good hour was lost answering questions about possible enemies, motives, descriptions of the vehicle and the offenders. All their answers were vague apart from Daniel’s description of the white Ford Capri. He informed them that they had already missed a flight and needed to move to catch the next one, though that was a slight exaggeration since they had plenty of time. Calls by the senior officer to his superior eventually gave the go ahead for them to travel. Contact details were obtained though, before they were allowed to leave.

           

Naomi sat trancelike in the first class lounge opposite Daniel, peering out at the docking aircraft through the giant tinted windows. Her first comments confirmed what he already supposed, that she had been mulling over the shooting.

“Why would they try and kill me? No one knows what’s in Marcie’s will…” She broke off. “Unless…”

“Unless what?” Daniel was intrigued by her beauty even as concern tugged at her features.

“Unless Haversack and co have leaked what they know?”

“Do you know?” His probing was direct and pointed.

Her large eyes slid from taking in the view to examining his face. “I should have said, ‘what they think they know’. Marcie has hinted many times that she would like me to take over the business, but I told her I wasn’t interested. I saw this quest as, maybe, a way of sorting out who would qualify for her generosity. I mean, she keeps saying I will be well looked after, but I think it worries her that I don’t really care.” She gave a half smile, “I know, it’s hard for you to believe, but I have a good profession. My faith tells me that money doesn’t buy happiness… and I have plans to follow my father’s footsteps.”

Daniel felt a pang of disenchantment. He almost blurted out, ‘What… and die in some terrorist ridden, third world country?’ but he remained silent for the moment. He couldn’t understand. Here was a girl who had everything to live for and she seemed determined to throw it away; for what? Was he bitter about his father devoting his life to one of these endless causes? To him it was senseless. He reflected; it may be that the resentment he harboured was more entrenched than he had first thought.

When he hadn’t said anything, she asked, “What are you thinking?” He harked back to her response. “Just the same; whoever it is probably thinks you’re first in line for the Dougall fortune. That inheritance is a lot of money. It might be they are just trying to scare you off. They may see you as the main contender in the quest, given that you know Marcie so well.” His speech was subdued as he chewed over what had happened. He didn’t point out that it was his briefcase that had been stolen. Was she just being obtuse; not aware that the raid had targeted his briefcase or was she deliberately smoke screening her possible involvement?

He looked at her empty glass. “Do you want another drink?”

“No thanks, that milkshake was enough.”

It occurred to him that the obvious risk to her during the attack probably indicated she had nothing to do with it. Still the timing was highly suggestive of some inside information.

“Who knew you were coming to pick me up?” he demanded suddenly.

Naomi looked startled. “What do you mean?”

“Did you tell anyone that you were coming with me?” He softened his voice, but there was still a noticeable keen edge to his inquiry.

She gathered then that he was still in deductive mode. “I let Marcie know because she was going to buy me a ticket if you weren’t going. And, I told Joel Reagan since he also offered to organise my flight.”

“Mmm…” was Daniel’s only reaction. It didn’t seem likely that Marcie was related to the attack. What motive would the young lawyer have?

Naomi continued after a moment’s thought. “I told some friends … and anyone could have followed me. It wasn’t as if I was being secretive or anything.”

His deductive structure teetered at the complication of numerous possibilities. “Mmm…” he murmured again. But this time it was hesitant, unconvinced.

There was still a sandwich on her plate. “You didn’t eat much. Do you want something else?”

“I’m not hungry … really!” She accentuated the last word as he looked doubtfully at her. His own pastry and drink had been consumed in half the time it took for her to finish her milk drink. A quick glance at his watch informed him it was time to make their way to check-in.

                                    --------------------------------------

 

The flight across to Los Angeles had been uneventful. Her preoccupation with the window seat and taking in the sights of her first plane trip since she was five, limited their conversation. That was fine with him as he had to annotate the outline to his microchip presentation on his tablet. The samples and technical details should be waiting for him in LA. That was the plan, anyway. He smiled as he imagined Gavin’s face when they would meet again. Nothing could compare to that triumphant, supercilious expression. It was always the same; he had that comical head tilt, wide eyed stare and raised eyebrows. He resumed typing.

 

After landing in Los Angeles and leaving Naomi at an up market hotel, Daniel returned to the airport. There he met Max who greeted him with a big grin.

“I heard what happened. Aren’t you glad that Gavin is paranoid about security?”

“I’ll never whinge again about locking our documents up in safes, setting alarms and paying for a night watchman,” Daniel mocked solemnly while holding up his right hand.

Max handed him a briefcase. “This one’s actually not stuffed with newspaper. Your computer is inside. I bet those guys will be a bit miffed.”

“A bit miffed? That’s an understatement.”

“So what gave Gav the clue that something was going to happen?”

“He was just suspicious; he’s always suspicious. He said that any suggestion made about my travel plans meant we should have an alternate strategy.”

“And he was right.”

“Don’t remind me. I’m sure Gavin will get plenty of mileage out of this. He still won’t let me forget my blunder with the article.”

The two spent half an hour having a coffee together before Daniel left Max in the airport lounge. He called Naomi, told her that he mightn’t make it to the inaugural ‘Marcie briefing’ held that night because he was behind schedule for his meeting and then made his way to the local departures terminal. He then caught a private jet, provided by the multi-national electronics corporation, to San Francisco.

Welcomed with some esteem after the hour long flight and following introductions and a degree of ceremony from some minor company executives, Daniel was whisked away in a corporate limousine.

Once through the gated entry, a short drive led them to a shiny glass and steel fifteen storey tower, which was the centrepiece of the complex.

It was late afternoon, and having freshened up, Daniel enjoyed the view from the fourteenth floor. He could just see the slowly descending sun reflecting off the distant Pacific while he stood and ate a snack provided by his hosts. He found it difficult to tune into the polite chat offered by an executive personal assistant and was a little relieved when he was taken to the board room.

The presentation went smoothly. Beginning with a comprehensive review of the patent to ensure there was no doubt whose intellectual property it was, he then cited the performance parameters of their 3-D chips. Data referring to conductivity, current flow and heat generation compared to contemporary silicon micro circuits was shown along with microscopic depictions of the vertical wafer arrays. Daniel finished off with power consumption graphics and draft planning documents for the mass production of the vertical array wafer chip. Finally, he exhibited the microchip samples he had in his briefcase.

Numerous questions followed and they were predominantly about the performance and testing of the circuitry. Some questions toward the end quizzed his company’s motivation for selling the technology rather than developing it. After responding with his take on the Wafer Chip Research’s vision and core business being research and development, there was a lull amongst the engineers, scientists and managers; a low murmur of discussion was interrupted by an inquisitive researcher.

“What direction is your research focus taking once you’ve licenced the vertical silicon wafer?” the questioner in a crisp lab coat asked.

Daniel gave a broad smile, “Our next innovation,” he stated enigmatically nodding his head knowingly. There was a chuckle around the room accompanied by, “Good try Bob,” and “What was he thinking?”

Bob responded with a shrug, “It was worth a try.”

             

The rest of the early evening was taken with the executives discussing their offer for exclusive rights to the manufacturing and distribution of the product. Describing the agreement as a ‘standard contract’, they outlined the ‘generous figure’ and the ongoing benefits of working with them. Daniel let them know that if they forwarded the final offer with the contract documentation, he and his partners would respond under advice from their legal team.

Although invitations were made to accommodate him overnight in San Francisco and entertain him the next day, Daniel insisted he was required in LA for another meeting. His hasty exit heightened their speculation and anxiety to close the deal and, more than likely, increased the monetary value of their proposal.

Leaving behind his samples for testing, Daniel jetted back to LA and arrived, somewhat travel weary, at the wholesale warehouse of Marcie’s clothing line.

Marcie gushed as he came in, “Thank goodness you’ve arrived Daniel. I’m sure Naomi can fill you in. If you had missed this you would have been disqualified.”

He raised his eyebrows and pulled a face as if to say, ‘That’s all news to me,’ as Naomi came up to him looking every bit the casual cargo pants fashion model.

Noticing his surprised look she explained, “Apparently it was written on the sheet we were given.”

Naomi went on to say that their submissions needed to take into account all Marcie’s properties. They were to identify her most valuable asset and had the choice to respond in a variety of ways: a complete comprehensive business plan, a vision idea for moving the business forward, or even just a short, clear explanation of where the proceeds should go if the business were sold off.

“Not very different from what was said the other day,” Daniel mused.

She walked him around the building to where the others were finishing up their tour. He gave a tired smile as they were reunited with their fellow ‘questers’. The group was dealing with the quest in different ways. He observed the note takers, the photographers and the computer users. And there was Heather sitting reading a novel. She abandoned the lightweight diversion to greet him. Heather complained that looking through a warehouse was not her idea of seeing America.

A planned rendezvous at a local café was avoided by Daniel who claimed that he needed a quiet night. Naomi took the opportunity to leave with him being unwilling to organise her own transport to the hotel.

They shared a taxi back to the hotel and Daniel suggested a late dinner together in the hotel restaurant. Although she had already eaten, Naomi went along for a late supper. He again wondered if somehow she could be conspiring against him and his company and, yet strangely at the same time, he also wondered why he felt contentment in her presence. He tried not to stare at her, mesmerised by her natural beauty, buoyed by the gentle scent of her perfume. Small talk led to his invitation to see the sights with him the next day. She smiled sweetly and declined his request.

“No, I thought I told you. I have some personal business to attend to.”

“Do you want some company?” he asked a little wistfully.

“No, but thanks for the offer,” her nose wrinkled with a funny grin as she added, “You know, I never thanked you for this morning. I really appreciate what you did.”

“This morning?” He was so taken by her that his brain refused to click into gear.

“You saved my life … it was a very brave thing to do.”

“Oh …” Daniel shook his head, “Don’t you believe it, it was self-preservation. I just happened to drag you down with me.”

“You’re being too modest. Those shots could have killed either of us …” she stopped reflectively, gave a slight shudder and added, “Anyway, thanks.”

 

Back in his room, he rang Earl in London. It was early morning and his brother was about to head off to the university. Following familial greetings, Daniel started fishing for information about his brother.

“I thought I’d just let you know that, for your sake, I attended Aunt Marcie’s bizarre meeting. You wouldn’t believe it; she has set up some sort of quest for her wealth.”

“A quest? So how did it go?” Earl sounded distant and his accent was strangely rounded.

“Well, don’t be surprised if we miss out entirely.”

“Why?” His voice was agitated.

“Well, from the advice I’ve received, and from what I’ve seen, a girl working for Marcie will probably inherit.”

“But that’s not fair,” he protested, “Why is she building up our hopes? Isn’t there any chance?” was his dismal enquiry.

Daniel’s reaction was stern. “Earl, what’s wrong? What does it matter? You’ve got a good job. Surely you don’t need more?”

No reply came. Daniel waited a few more seconds. “Earl?”

His words were quiet, almost ashamed, “I … I’ve made some bad investments and … and Ginny is sick … her treatment is expensive … and … it doesn’t matter. I have to go to work.” Earl’s attempt to abruptly curtail their conversation concerned his brother even more.

“Earl, I’m coming to London soon. I’ll contact you … we’ll talk.”

“Right, Daniel … Let me know when you’re coming. I’ve got to go, goodbye.” The phone clicked. Daniel looked at his phone oddly.

While Daniel trooped around the next day he was preoccupied with conjectures about Earl.  Since he was conveniently disengaged with what was going on around him by thoughts of his brother’s difficulties—was Earl ill too, how bad was his money trouble, what was wrong with Ginny—visiting the central fashion house, design rooms, distribution and marketing centres of Marcie’s fashion business and checking out her west coast residence was a blurry but bearable background event.

--------------------------------------

 

Naomi was visiting her grandfather’s brother. He was among the short list of living relatives she had been given by Marcie. Hopefully, one more step closer in unravelling the tangle that was her childhood.

                                               

Upon entering the neatly kept grounds of the retirement village in her small hire car, she followed the directions received at the entrance gate office. The stylish row of retirement duplexes followed a gently curving avenue decorated with carefully trimmed maples. Naomi took a deep breath as she pulled up at the address she had been given.

At the door of George Stockton’s home she hesitated. What would he think? What could she say to explain her visit? It had all seemed so reasonable when the decision to visit was made.

Soon after the buzzer was operated a be-whiskered gentleman opened the door enough to look her up and down. He looked kindly and, although elderly, still very full of life, a cuddly sort of grandfather.

“Hello?” his husky questioning greeting implied that he wasn’t accustomed to unheralded visitors.

“Er, Mr Stockton, I’m Naomi Stockton, your grandniece. I mean, my father was your nephew.

He looked at her thoughtfully. “You’re John Stockton’s daughter?”

She nodded.

“Well, come in grandniece, come in.”

           

The quite spacious unit was impeccably neat and smelled slightly of camphor. George ushered her into the combined dining lounge area.

“What can I do for you girly?” His congestive, throaty voice gave the impression speaking was an effort, but his manner was sprightly and welcoming.

“Well, Mr Stockton—”

“Call me George,” he insisted.

“—Um… George,” she began uncomfortably, “I came to ask you what you know about my father, John Stockton. You see, I was quite young when he died and I guess I’m curious about my family history.”

“Johnny Stockton …” he stared unseeing, right at her as if he were looking into the past. “Johnny, he was a wild one. He was the proverbial prodigal. His father, my brother, was a pastor. Did you know that?”

She shook her head, but said nothing not wanting to disturb his train of thought.

“Well, he lived a bit of a wild life out east, then he met this girl … well, there were a few girls really … and you were born in there somewhere. Anyway, the girl he ended up with was a Christian and she helped draw him back into the fold. He was certainly a changed man. They headed off to Kenya where she died.”

“That was my mother. Her name was Gayle,” Naomi filled him in.

“Was she?” George looked doubtful. “I thought …” but he petered out as if he had second thoughts. “It’s all so long ago … So he looked after you for a few years there I think.”

He gave her a kindly look. “Things weren’t easy for you were they?”

Naomi clenched her jaw to stave off rising emotions. She always got a bit teary if caring people gave her sympathy. “I was okay,” she barely managed.

“I think Gayle’s sister looked after you … that’s when that awful civil war in Ethiopia claimed John’s life. And after that, what, you’ve been with Marcie Quentin haven’t you?”

“That’s right. I stayed with some friends for a few years but you seem to know the story pretty well.”

“Yes, we have some mutual friends through church, and she has kept in touch. Are you still with her?”

Naomi blushed a little. “I live next door. She has a second house. Probably not for much longer though.” She didn’t want to give the impression that she wasn’t independent. At twenty five, she knew, her life experiences were limited, though the last few days were changing that.

George suddenly stood up. “I’m forgetting my manners. Would you like a coffee or a tea? I have some cookies too.”

“That would be lovely. Tea please.” She watched him fuss about in the kitchen and listened to him explain how Marcie had lived in Santa Barbara and was converted as a result of his brother’s preaching. Again, George pulled up short as if weighing his words.

“Then she could have known my Dad here?”

“Uh huh,” he indicated non-committedly. “So Marcie hasn’t told you anything about being here and then moving to Boston?”

“No … I thought she knew my mother well, but I didn’t realise she probably met my father here.”

For an instant it seemed as if the older man would say something. His eyes were traitors to his internal struggle. His head shook minutely. There were things that weren’t right in the world.

Vaguely he said, half to himself, “I should contact Marcie more.”

 

George brought the tea in and sat opposite her. He went on to share about the pioneering work her father had done in Ethiopia, establishing a clinic and combatting the scourge of famine and high child mortality. The church there had supported his mission and so they had heard of the many challenges that he faced over the years.

Naomi learned more of her distant relatives in California and viewed the obligatory photo album. She actually really warmed to her great uncle and it was clear he enjoyed the company.

The conversation, as she was leaving, seemed to progress from one topic to the other with each step toward the door, and culminated with assurances to keep in touch. She couldn’t help feeling that there was something more; there was something that George knew but just couldn’t say. It left her pondering the things he had said.

                                    ----------------------------------------------

 

That night the questers all met again at an art museum supported by Marcie’s ‘arts and culture’ foundation. Marcie spoke of a number of very expensive items, some bequeathed to the museum and some on loan. Even though Daniel attended, he was fed up tagging along with the more avid would be heirs. He sipped coffee in the small café to the side of the main building.

He’d already talked at length by phone to Gavin. His colleague told him that the police were no closer to catching the drive in shooters, though they had located the stolen car and CCTV footage showed two men in balaclavas.

His other news was more upbeat. The lawyers were going over a very generous bid for their chip technology. Apparently, testing of the vertical wafer circuits proved them to be at least as efficient as the specifications provided by Wafer Chip Research. Daniel felt a high degree of satisfaction as Gavin told how they had been impressed by his presentation.

 Heather joined him as he ended the call and picked at his cookies.

“What a bore,” she sighed. “Can you believe that we’re trailing after her like sycophants? No self-respect … How desperate we’ve become. I don’t understand it. Dad’s doing all right in the real estate business. Why does he lower himself to this … this?” she searched for the right phrase.

Daniel grinned, “Circus? … Parade of greed? … Invitation to indulgence? Am I being helpful?”

She took a sip of her coffee and then threw a sugar cube at him. “A dinna ken,” she giggled. “Such a tease ye are.”

He smiled at her affected Scots accent and she leaned close to him with a mischievous look.

“You know you’re aggravating some of the others, don’t you?”

Daniel looked a little bemused, “Why?”

“Well you’re gettin’ very friendly with the ‘heiress’ they say; sort of hedgin’ your bets.”

It felt like a blow to his stomach. Whether it was resentment or indignant pride, he didn’t know, but he felt constrained to abandon the tour then and there.

He looked at his watch. “I think I’ll head off Heather. Give my apologies will you?”

As he walked away Heather was guiltily bothered by his reaction; she called as an afterthought, “She’s a lovely girl Dan.”

Although it was an early return flight that Saturday morning, the loss of two hours flying east meant their arrival would be at two in the afternoon. Heather’s comment had been gnawing at Daniel and he broached the subject, in a roundabout way, on the way back.

“Naomi, I can’t spend my time doing this stuff. I just have too much work on at the moment, so I won’t accompany you to London.” He felt like saying, ‘I’m about to close the biggest deal ever for the company, so I don’t need Marcie’s money,’ but he refrained. Naomi showed visible disappointment and looked down at her hands.

“I thought you had to go to London for business,” she commented meekly.

“I will have to go eventually, but with what’s happening now, I can’t say when. I just can’t spend my time trying to work around Marcie’s timeline.”

It was after Daniel had dropped Naomi home that he realised he had made no mention of her visit to relatives, and he hadn’t shared the information he’d received about the shooting. He was no different was he? Just as all the other relatives were, he was absorbed in his own little ‘material world’.
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