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 The Profit Prophet

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: The Profit Prophet   Thu Aug 10, 2017 3:52 pm

Chapter 4

 

Back at Wafer Chip Research, Daniel and the others tried to figure out how to resolve their contract negotiations quickly and they also had to decide how long they were prepared to devote to consulting on the production line of the vertical wafer. A couple other companies were aggressively courting them, making ingratiating offers with contract incentives. But Daniel and the others were predisposed to favour the company whose reputation they had always admired. It was agreed to offer a three months intensive support program, another three months where Max and Erin would problem solve, and the remaining six months Max could be on call for a minimal fee. Anything additional to that and premium rates would apply. They had Reuben and Arnold write it in the contract.  

Several days were spent getting the contract package to their liking. Daniel then hived off to get up to speed on the latest developments in carbon layer conductivity trials. He read of some graphene trials in England and emailed a researcher over there to see if he could access the data they had on the conductivity of a carbon lattice one molecule thick. Preliminary reading indicated a huge improvement in power consumption, though at this stage, in his opinion, not as viable as their experimentation with carbon nanotubes.

Daniel and Gavin drafted a timetable for the carbon nanotube development, with a flowchart describing a number of different directions to investigate, to build on their promising preliminary trials. Using carbon depositions on silicon oxide was their current strategy, but another promising option involved graphene sandwiched between Boron Nitride wafers.

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

 

At the end of the week Marcie rang.

“We missed you in Toronto Daniel. I’m not sure how you’re going to respond to what I find most valuable if you don’t have a complete picture.”

Daniel felt like saying he didn’t care but manners prevented him from doing so.

“I’m sort of busy at present Aunt Marcie. How did it go?” The moment he asked the question he reprimanded himself silently; he was obligated, because of course she would give him all the details.

“You wouldn’t believe it Daniel, Morna couldn’t make it because she was sick … had a little bit of a tummy upset. Donald stayed back here with her while their children came along to Toronto. The doctor said it was food poisoning, a practical joke or something. Apparently Pat’s children added some phenolph-something into her food. The doctor said it’s a laxative and can be quite harsh.”

‘Phenolphthalein,’ thought Daniel, “It’s a crude, high school chemistry prank,” he offered almost mechanically. Marcie went on. “Needless to say, I have disqualified the whole family from the ‘quest’. Jason said he’ll sue. He’s getting his lawyer onto it, but Garth assured me he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.”

“Why did they just nobble one meal?” Daniel was inquisitive.

“Well, Naomi saw them up to something and asked them what they were doing. They claimed they weren’t doing anything. Anyhow, when Mona became sick the whole story came out—so to speak,” she giggled.

“We’re going to London next week. I’m emailing out the program. I don’t suppose you’ll humour me and make an appearance.”

Daniel would have liked to say ‘no thanks’, but the truth of the matter was that he was keen to speak to the Cambridge researcher whose article he had read. The professor had emailed an invitation for Daniel to visit as he had read Daniel’s published article on 3- D wafer technology and was interested in brainstorming the possible marriage of the two approaches. His brother’s financial situation was also a concern and Daniel felt it necessary to intervene in some way.

He replied slowly. “Matter of fact Marcie, I am going to London next week for business, so I may find time to join the ‘Wacky Racers’ or ‘Keystone Cops’ or whatever you like to call this event you’ve organised.”

“Don’t be so condescending, Danny. Have you ever known me to do something without a good reason?” It occurred to him that she always called him Danny when he was being rebuked.

He had to admit he hadn’t known her to be anything but a reliable, principled and sober business woman. Nevertheless he was still tempted to say ‘no, this is the first,’ but he exercised some restraint and restricted himself to just ‘no’.

“I’m heading off by myself Tuesday morning and the others will meet me on Friday in London, before we go to the estate in Ayrshire.”

“Why isn’t Naomi going with you?”

“I believe someone promised to accompany her to London.” There was a touch of irony in her voice. He had nowhere to go. He had said that if he was going he’d give her a call.
    “Yeah, that’s right. I better give her a call. I’ll get Marnie, in the office, to book the tickets.”


“You’re a good man, Daniel,” she warbled patronisingly. “I’ll see you in London.” Marcie hung up.

After hearing from Marnie, Daniel tentatively punched the number Naomi had given him into his cell phone.

“Naomi speaking.” Her words were musical to him.

“Er, Naomi, it’s Daniel Treloar; listen would you be okay to fly to London Wednesday?”

After some think time she responded, “Pardon?”

“I’m going to London Wednesday, would you like to come with me? You’re still doing this quest aren’t you?”

“Daniel, that sounds great.” This, after her initial uncertain response, was far more effusive—as if she was relieved to hear from him. She toned down her next words, “I sort of thought you might have bailed on the trip after what you said.”

“I wouldn’t do that …” the words were out before he had considered them. He backpedalled with a qualifying explanation. “Truth is … I wasn’t going to go but a business opportunity just came up and … well, Marcie reminded me that I had agreed to take you … I mean travel with you.”

He heard her snigger, “Fessing up are we? Well, I should tell you that I had made provision for an alternative plan. Joel Reagan and Garth Haversack are leaving early Thursday and they said I could travel with them, but I had to let them know today. So you just squeezed in.”

“I’m glad to hear that because the flight has already been booked.” She was quiet for a moment before responding, “You’re pretty sure of yourself. What would you do if I had already booked?”

He smarted at her estimation of him. “I would have brought Erin along,” he countered, amazed again at the acuity of his thinking under pressure.

           

There was a pause, “Erin?” she struggled to put the next question to him and he didn’t help.

“Uh huh, I’m sure she’d love to go to England.”

“So … is Erin a girlfriend or ..?” Again words became elusive.

Daniel rescued her, but there was some merriment in his voice, “No, nothing like that … Erin is a chemical engineer who I work with. She would visit the research facilities with me.”

“Oh, okay … well what time Wednesday?”

“Yeah, well, about that …” he sounded reticent, “It’s an 8:15am Flight, so I’ll pick you up at 5am. It sounds early but I don’t want to get caught in traffic. I’m sorry, but I’m not into rushing.”

“That’s okay,” she chirped. “I can organise myself to do that. So I’ll see you at five on Wednesday. Bye.”

“Okay, see you then.” He listened as he heard her end the call.

Daniel stared at his cell phone wondering what it was about Naomi that captivated him.

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

 

The drive was serene in the early morning dark. Travelling from his place in Ten Hills up to the lake to pick up Naomi had been a time of reflection. What was happening to his ordered life? Something was deep at work altering his predictable rhythm. Was it Marcie or some influence transcendent of human perception; something he was loath to acknowledge?

His heart did a little leap as Naomi appeared at her door. Was he already smitten by this girl after so few encounters? As he took her bags he tried to convince himself that his life had been an emotional desert and that he was vulnerable, that, perhaps, he was just grasping for any affection. She was cheery as she quizzed him on his week, how much she owed him and whether anything had come of the police investigation.  His spirits rose as he responded to her excited chatter and the sound of merriment in her voice.

For the second time in two weeks Daniel parked his Porsche in the high security parking at the airport. The transition to the plane from the business class lounge had some hiccups as a university lecturer just in front of them was being scolded like a naughty little boy by the matronly security guard. He had accidentally left a laser pointer in his hand luggage and was publicly humiliated as they explained to him the list of illegal articles.

Once on the American Airlines flight, Daniel settled down to reading the data they had gathered in testing their use of nanotube fullerenes as transistors. They were slowly improving consistent performance in their formation of reliable semiconductors, but it was all too time consuming and unpredictable. He pondered over the processes. Naomi left him to read and watched half a movie, had half a sleep and read half a magazine. Her mind was buzzing with questions, yet she was reluctant to disturb Daniel’s concentration.

When a meal was served, he stowed his computer away and looked to the side. She gave him a restrained smile. “Welcome back; thought you were in another world there for a while.”

“Just some homework …” His thoughts had constantly been distracted by her proximity. There was a growing awareness that he faced the dilemma of being drawn to her and being suspicious of her at the same time.

“I didn’t ask you. Do I need to book into a hotel or something?”

“No, that’s all done; at least till Friday. I’ve kept an option for extending, but I think you’re heading up to Scotland on the weekend.”

“Thank you,” she almost whispered. “You know I can’t help thinking that you’re doing all this under protest.” Her look was questioning.

Daniel looked into her soft brown eyes. “Mmm, well … let’s say, to begin with, circumstances conspired to involve me. Now … I think I’m intrigued, even a little bit obsessed by what’s going on here.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean the shooting, the theft of my luggage … you.”

“Me? How do I fit into that?” Naomi was wide eyed and a little bothered by his statement.

Daniel grinned, “That’s my question; how do you fit in? It’s a bit of a mystery to me.”

She tilted her head questioningly and then smiled enigmatically.

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

 

In London, Daniel had the cab driver show them some of the sights before driving to their Park Lane hotel. It was eight thirty before they made it down to the restaurant. To Daniel, it almost felt as though he were dating Naomi. He was looking across the table and seeing the idiosyncratic way she always dabbed her lips with the napkin before speaking, watching her eyes dance with excitement as she saw a new sight or shared ideas about life.

Except, and it was an important ‘except’, he had doubts. Why was she involved in the quest? Why was Marcie so conniving to get them together? Was she implicated in the raid at his place?

“So, what are we doing tomorrow? What will we see?” she asked with a glint in her eyes.

He couldn’t resist smiling at the assumptions she was making.

“Well, I am visiting my brother Earl and finding out if I can help him out a bit. You’re welcome to join me, but it might be a bit boring.”

Her demeanour changed, “No, I wouldn’t like to intrude. You need to spend some brother time together. I’ll give my Aunt Betty a call. I let her know I would visit; may as well be sooner than later.”

A sigh of disappointment in her voice suggested she was hoping for some sightseeing.

“Where does she live?”

“She lives in Paddington—Chapel Street, in an apartment.”

“That’s not too far from here, you could almost walk.” His comment caused Naomi’s eyes to open perceptibly.  “No,” he chuckled. “Don’t worry, I’ll get a cab in the morning and pick you up in the afternoon. How does that sound?”

“That would be good,” she responded with breathy relief.

Half way through a trifle dessert, Naomi tilted her face up to him, “Am I a burden to you Daniel? Because if I am I could …”

“No, no …” he interrupted. He slid his hand onto hers, suddenly aware that his feelings for her were beginning to dictate his actions, “more of a … distraction.” He pulled a face that looked like he had tasted a sour lemon as he anticipated a reaction. She turned her hand and caressed his thumb. “That’s a good thing isn’t it?” He couldn’t resist her playful expression and grinned as he clasped her hand in his. ‘Naomi Stockton, what is it about you?’ he wondered. Her eyes slowly averted his constant stare. Self-consciously, Naomi withdrew her hand and continued with her dessert.

Her questions were more distant after that. It was as if she’d been alerted that he was of doubtful character. She hedged around any personal comments and made phlegmatic remarks about the quest, Aunt Marcie and how tired travelling made her feel. He took the hint and was soon escorting her back to her room.

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

 

The two mile trip to her Aunt’s apartment took about ten minutes. Not much was said between them on the short journey to Paddington. His query about her first meeting with her relative on the west coast was answered with a vague reply that it created more questions than answers. She told him she’d tell him about it later since they had arrived at her destination. He waited in the cab until she entered the flat and bade a brief wave goodbye.

 His directions to the cabby to go back the way they came to the University where his brother taught, was greeted with the certain delight that a substantial fare provided.

“So, you’ve been to London before?” the cab driver offered.

“Yes, third time. First time was for study, second was family reasons and this time it’s a combination of both family and business.”

As they tracked past Buckingham Palace toward Westminster Bridge the cabby again engaged him in conversation. “Any reason why someone would be following you?” he almost droned.

Daniel spun around and peered behind him, “Which one?”

“Dark blue sedan … one behind the Honda; it was behind us going up to Paddington, and now it’s trailing us back.”

“I don’t suppose you can lose it?”

“Sir, this is not Hollywood. If you like I could put in a police call, but I’m not sure what I’d tell them.”

“Never mind, just drop me off at the front entrance of the university.”

“Oh, I see sir … hush, hush.”

Daniel didn’t have the heart to shatter the driver’s cloak and dagger interpretation; nevertheless, he was concerned about the possibility of another attack.  When he exited the cab he scanned the street in both directions. There was no sign of the tail. The driver, Harold, gave him his card when he received the fare and told him he could book him up if he were doing any large trips.

Inside the foyer he saw the reception area. A pretty, dark girl with a West Indian accent directed him to Earl’s office. His brother was expecting him. There was a moment of cool, sizing each other up before they almost simultaneously relented and gave in to brotherly affection. After the obligatory ‘It’s good to see you s’ and ‘How have you been s’, and a hug and back slap, they talked the family catch up theme.

Daniel discovered that Earl had been in contact with their father far more often than he had and so his brother had heard of some of the struggles and events in central Ethiopia and the mission in Somalia.

Later, Earl took Daniel on a tour of the university. It was not a prestigious institute, more a working class facility for accountancy and business management, arts and human sciences and construction.

He had two lectures before lunch. During that time Daniel was shown around by one of the psychology lecturers. It was apparent she had a keen interest in all things American. Although, feigning interest in her personal dissertation about the evolution of the human psyche, Daniel had no interest in the esoteric vagaries of psychological statistical analysis. He longed to talk to a physical empiricist—someone who could discuss the application of the laws of physics and chemistry and relate to him some scientific advancement in technology.

When he was finally rescued by his lunch break with Earl, Daniel couldn’t help but raise the question that was in the back of his mind. What was the failed investment? His brother stared at him deadpan. “Australian emu farming,” he said, as if it had been wrung out of him. “It seemed such a sure thing.”

He went over the whole thing in detail with Daniel. He’d basically gambled the majority of his savings in a venture that was losing value fast. As more farms sprang up the market for their product failed. It was not an uncommon story.

He then talked of Ginny and her failing liver function. They were on the transplant list. He was hopeful that a second diagnosis of a non-malignant cyst was more accurate than the initial information.

Amidst the description of medical opinions Daniel suggested monetary help but Earl wouldn’t countenance his offers of financial assistance. He quickly changed the subject and insisted that Daniel stay at their place. They had plenty of room.

Daniel tried to explain that with a travelling companion it was a bit awkward. Earl, however, was adamant that he and his friend stay with them; even if it was only one night.

When Daniel was about to leave with Earl, he recalled the earlier events of his arrival and considered the possibility of being followed again. He explained his predicament to his brother.

“Why would anyone follow you?” was his first reaction.

“Something to do with our breakthrough in micro circuitry… It appears that industrial spying is alive and well,” he commented sardonically.

“What! … because you’ve created a fast chip?”

“Well, it may also have something to do with an article I wrote describing some algorithms we had planned for a prototype nanotube array.”

“What sort of algorithm?”

“One that a quantum computer might run …”

Earl gave him a disbelieving stare. He knew enough about number theory and the exponential capacity of the theoretical quantum computer to realise a functioning prototype of any description would be of great interest to military intelligence operations the world over.

           

When his wordless stare became really uncomfortable Daniel snapped, “What?”

Earl shook his head slowly. “What possessed you to publish something like that?”

Almost apologetically the younger sibling answered, shrugging, “Egotism? Machismo? Audacity? I don’t know. It was as if I had something to prove at the time. I know now it was a mistake. We’ve already had several visits from various national security agencies informing us that our research is now the property of the United States. Apparently the Homeland Security Act allows for compulsory purchase of any intellectual property deemed necessary for intelligence or security needs. Our lawyers are still haggling.”

Earl ran both hands down his face in exasperation. “And I thought I had troubles …” his words evaporated with the heat of a new idea. “I’ll grab a lab coat from Errol’s office. That should make it more difficult for them to recognise you.”

“Good idea,” Daniel humoured him. He was quite certain that should these people want to find him, they would have a list of addresses, including Earl’s, which they would stake out. In the meantime, it was a relief to be leaving via the basement car park and be an anonymous, lab coated passenger in Earl Treloar’s car.

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

           

Daniel directed him back across the bridge, past Hyde Park and up to the residence in Paddington.

On the way he checked with Naomi to see if she would be ready. She sounded relieved to hear his voice. Earl was taken aback by the fact that his brother’s travelling companion was a girl and he suddenly had a barrage of questions for Daniel.

“How long’s this been going on for?” was his first blunt question.

Daniel looked at his brother to try and determine exactly what he was getting at when it struck him.

“Oh, it’s not like that. We’re just travelling together …” He could see from Earl’s reaction that he wasn’t clarifying the situation. “What I mean is … you know that girl I said is likely to get the inheritance? Well it’s her … Naomi.”

“And, you’re just travelling with her.” Earl had a smug grin as he said it.

Daniel then registered how he was making it worse; his account was being misconstrued. They were pulling up to the kerb so he resigned himself to elaborating the narrative at a more opportune time.

“It’s a long story. I’ll explain later.”

The appearance of a beautiful girl being ushered into the back seat didn’t alleviate the constructions Earl was placing on their relationship. After introductions, which quickly had Naomi wondering what had been said about her, Daniel made a face as if to say he didn’t know what was going on. What had piqued Naomi’s interest was the way Earl said, “Ginny will be delighted to meet you. You’ll be able to have a real natter.” What was he on about?

On the way to the hotel, Naomi related an entirely unsatisfactory meeting with her Aunt Betty. It seemed she had no new family history to contribute and talked incessantly about movies. She had a wall full of DVDs and in one corner vestiges of a VCR collection that had been mostly converted or replaced by DVDs. Whenever Naomi tried to bring the conversation back to her father she seemed to clamp up as if there were secrets; perhaps there were secrets that she was not permitted to divulge.

Having reorganised some of their luggage from their hotel rooms, they took the Vauxhall Bridge to the A2 all the way to Bexleyheath. Earl quizzed Naomi about her history with Marcie and they somehow diverged onto the topic of Marcie’s faith. “I suppose she was responsible for putting my father on the straight and narrow,” recollected Earl. “And then she contacted a local church when we arrived and they made us feel welcome. We’ve been going there ever since.”

Daniel just clenched his jaw and remained silent. Earl continued, “Yeah, I guess I was curious that Dad changed completely when he converted. I mean, I figured he wasn’t an unintelligent man. You know he’s a doctor,” was his aside as he glanced behind him to see if Naomi was still tuned in. She nodded, “Daniel’s filled me in a bit.”

 “Well, we read, that’s Ginny and me, and found out as much as we could about the historical veracity of the existence of Jesus. Then we read other apologetics and started to recognise the morality and purpose of the Christians at church. It didn’t take long before we were convinced, not just logically but morally, that we had a need and we’ve been pretty steady ever since.”

“I love to hear people’s stories about how they came to faith. It sort of puts everything into perspective.” Naomi sounded buoyant. “Maybe I can attend your church with Ginny and you before I leave.”

Daniel roiled within. Religion! Where had it got his family; they were totally disconnected. What had it done for Naomi? Her father had died and she was orphaned. And Earl! How had it helped his situation? It took considerable effort to not make some scathing comment about sanctimonious fools who got themselves into trouble and then expected logical, clear thinking, rationalists like him to rescue them. He monitored their progress along the A2 past Greenwich Park and on toward Bexleyheath. All the time he scowled in sullen silence, trying to ignore their observations about contemporary evangelism and being relevant to the community.

They arrived at a neat two storey house not far from a lake and park. In contrast to his morose mood in the car, Daniel regrouped and successfully portrayed the cheerful brother in law for Ginny. She had a slight yellowish colouration and looked listless. He didn’t want to add to her trials by being sceptical and belittling their quaint beliefs. Ginny got the wrong impression right from the start when Earl had phoned and told her to expect two visitors for an overnight stay.

“How did you meet Daniel?” she asked Naomi when they were tidying in the kitchen.

Naomi chuckled, “It’s not like that Ginny. Both Daniel and I are caught up in this quest, so we’re travelling together. It’s my first time out of the US, so he sort of agreed to help me out.”

“Oh, sorry … I just thought …”  She smiled to herself, she was certain there was more to it. She had seen the way each had glanced at the other during the meal.

 They talked into the evening about their jobs, about Aunt Marcie and about life in England. When Ginny took Naomi to show her the rest of the house and her room, she shared how they were postponing having children until her medical issues were resolved. Daniel saw that as an opportunity to confront Earl about his hypocrisy.

“Earl, how can you spout all that stuff about faith and being satisfied when your finances are in a mess and Ginny is so sick?”

“I think you’ve missed the point Dan. Sure we’ve got troubles but at the same time we’re at peace. When you’re where God wants you then it’s all good. You really ought to check it out for yourself. Ask yourself, why are you alive?”

“You’re saying God wants all this to happen to you … and it’s all good?” He couldn’t conceal the hint of scorn that crept into his tone.

“I’m saying that there’s more to life than health or money. We’re relying more on God than ever. We’re more relaxed about things, more thoughtful and loving to each other, and more aware of the purposes of God. What have you got?”

Daniel was dumbfounded. He expected to find Earl and Ginny in a mess, and instead Earl was provoking him with some disagreeably searching questions. What was it with Christians? Couldn’t they keep their beliefs to themselves? Why did they have to try and convince everyone else? Ginny and Naomi came back and Earl brewed them all some coffee.

That night there were a few forays into the humorous stories of growing up together and some fuzzy commitments to get together in the near future before the brothers said their goodbyes. Since Earl would leave for work early the next morning he felt it necessary to finish the evening with some brotherly advice.

“Dan, you should contact Dad. At least send him an email. He always asks if I’ve heard from you.”

Daniel nodded, “Yeah.” It was an unconvincing response, but all he could manage before they went off to bed.

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

 

Friday breakfast at the kitchen table was a peculiar experience for Daniel, who was last to surface that morning. Earl had already left to join the daily commute and Ginny and Naomi were poring over a devotion book together and discussing thoughts with the familiarity of sisters. The fare was marmalade on toast and tea so while he made his own, declining Ginny’s offer to be the responsible hostess; he tried to appear totally disinterested in the subject matter.

They were discussing Jesus washing his disciple’s feet and how everything Jesus did appeared to be opposite to their expectations. How Peter’s pride wanted to reject a gracious act. It was a symbol to them of being a servant, but also a lesson on how to follow in His steps.

Daniel had grabbed a newspaper and pretended to take no notice. The picture of Jesus washing the feet of people who looked embarrassed, confused, insulted even, invaded his thoughts though; it was just what his dad, and what Naomi’s dad, had chosen to do—serve others.

Why did words written so long ago demand his attention so that the words on the newspaper were like a foreign language? Naomi was commenting on the last verse mentioned in the handbook, “That verse seventeen is a challenge to me – ‘Now that you know these things blessed are you if you do them.’ I struggle with the doing part.”

“You’re telling me,” affirmed Ginny, “After two years of being sort of spectators at church, we’re going to start inviting fringe members to meals, just the way we were treated when we arrived.”

Naomi looked concerned, “But what about your condition? Won’t you find it too taxing?”

“I talked to Earl. We want to start now before it gets too difficult. Besides, it’s much better than sitting at home feeling sorry for myself.”

 

All too soon for the girls they had to part. There were more promises of keeping in contact as Daniel and Naomi carried their overnight bags to the door.

With hugs all round, the two Americans bid a fond farewell to Ginny and took Harold’s taxi on a lengthy journey via the hotel to a small boutique in Chiswick. This was where they were scheduled to meet that morning with the other ‘questers’.

It was a quiet trip with Naomi practising in her head a way to let Daniel know that he didn’t have to chaperone her any more. She wanted him to know that he’d been more than generous with his time; she had enjoyed his company and meeting Earl and Ginny, but he should feel free to carry on his own business.



           
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