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The next morning Lydia and Asch rode into Easthaven for a meeting of the Easthaven Garden Club. It was about the first time Asch had put on long pants and a collared shirt since he had arrived on the island, and carrying a portfolio no less. About 30 people showed up, about half well-dressed ladies, most of the rest younger gals, and about half a dozen men. Asch figured one was a henpecked husband and the rest were older men looking to make time with the ladies. And they all seemed to care about Easthaven. Lydia handed out sheets with council email addresses, and the URLs of about four relevant websites. One or two of the ladies looked at the URLs and bent over their smart phones.
The outcome of the presentation was a lot of angry looks and remarks directed at the non-present mayor and city council, and murmurs to tell so-and-so and what’s-her-name about the scandal. One lady was a councilman’s wife, and she was especially determined “to get to the bottom of this.” Mrs. Needle from the paper was there, and she had taken copious notes. She approached Asch, “I was going to skip this meeting, figuring I had already covered the Garden Club enough this season, but I heard about the distinguished, handsome speaker from the states, and figured I’d come take a look. Now I’m really glad I came. This is going into the paper!” She cocked an eye at him, “and your appearance wasn’t misrepresented, either.”
“Well, thank you for the compliment, though I’m not sure that salt-and-pepper hair should really score me any points, but—”
They were interrupted by the door slamming. Sharon came running in, streaming tears. “Oh, Lydia, Mr. Jones, hi, Mrs. Needle. You can cancel that article about my scholarship. Asch, Lydia, my dad already signed the agreement! I knew I should have gone home yesterday. Now all those posters are wasted. I got there just too late to talk to him about it. In fact, the guy from the corporation was just leaving the house. When Dad started to tell me what he thought would be good news, I exploded! I told him what I thought about his SUV and the scholarship, even waving my finger under Mr. Oily’s nose. His actual name is Ivan Skavar, by the way—I probably embarrassed Dad in front of the guy, but Oily wasn’t the least bit upset—he said I could go to Harvard or not, he had what he wanted, and he waved the paper at me! I slammed the door in his face and then really started in on Dad. I accused him of accepting bribes, making decisions that would hurt the community, and what about his oath of office? Could I ever trust him again? I yelled everything I could think of at him. Betrayal of trust, selfishness, malfeasance, draining our mountain dry, foreign instead of local laborers, everything. Then I stomped out and came here.” She sniffled some more and Asch handed her a hanky. “Oh I wish I had come home last night. We-we could have had an adult talk,” she sobbed, “and maybe I could have persuaded him. Instead I blew my stack and was too late to do any good anyway. I-I’m sorry I let you guys down.” She blew her nose and sniffled, tears streaming down her face.
The rest of the room was silent. Lydia gathered the girl into her arms. “There, there. All might not be lost just yet. Technically the paper might be subject to council approval. A lot of people in this town know what’s going on and they’re up in arms about it. Even if the agreement stands, they might have a lot of trouble pulling off their project in an uncooperative community. So let’s don’t give up hope yet, okay, Sweetie?”
Mrs. Needle looked ferocious. “Just wait until I pit my pen against his sword!”
Lydia choked down a laugh. Mrs. needle looked at her puzzled, and so did Asch and Sharon, but then Asch figured it out and just smiled. “Sorry. A fly” Lydia said. It was Asch’s turn to stifle a laugh.
Asch frowned. “You say his name is Ivan Skavar?
“Sharon looked up. “Yes, why?”
“I wonder if that might be a pseudonym.” He saw puzzled, curious looks. “When I was a kid I knew a song that featured a Russian named Ivan Skavinsky Skavar. His enemy was a Turk named Abdul Abulbul Amir.” He started to say something else, but didn’t.
“Think we could get him for signing a fake name?” asked someone. Several people murmured about that being an attractive idea.
“Of course we’d have to find out if it is a pseudonym,” muttered Lydia.
“I know! The airline. He has to ID himself to get on the plane.”
“Someone call the airport. He’s probably still on the ground.”
“I can call them,” offered Asch. “I have it in my phone.” He placed the call.
“Island Airlines, Mary Ashton speaking, how may I help you?”
Asch gulped, and in his most professional voice, said. “Hello. I’m calling from a community meeting in Easthaven and we’re trying to track someone down who may be headed for the states on the next flight out, probably in first class. It’s very urgent. Can you check for us?”
Mary picked up on the situation, but Asch could hear the smile in her voice, “We have some restrictions about Mardin Escort giving out information, but if you can give me the person’s name, we can issue a page.”
“The name is Ivan Skavar, but don’t page him just yet, if possible. This might become a police issue.”
Pause. “I’m sorry sir, but there’s no one with that name on any of our manifests.” Another pause, “What’s going on, Asch?”
Asch spoke to the room, letting Mary hear, “No one of that name on any of their manifests.” He turned to the phone. “Do you happen to know if any private planes, such as a corporate jet, is scheduled to fly out today?”
Mary picked up on his urgency and got serious. “Um, lemme check some stuff. Only thing scheduled is a training flight by one of the instructors, and that’s a pretty light plane. It would have to do a lot of island hopping to go anywhere. Um, I can give you three names of people who just bought tickets if you promise not to tell anyone.”
“Well, it would be a man, if that helps.”
“That reduces it to two. I took the reservations myself; what does he look like?”
Asch handed the phone to Sharon. “Describe the guy.”
Sharon timidly took the phone. “Hello?”
“Hello, Sweetie. Can you tell me what your friend looks like?
Sharon got her dander up. “He’s not my friend, he’s a crook! But he’s kind of dark, some grey at the temples, slightly overweight, but not obese. Maybe five and a half feet tall. Um, Midwestern accent, I guess.”
“Might his name be—let me talk to the nice man again, okay?”
Asch took the phone. “I’m here.”
Mary lowered her voice. “You’re not going for three of us, are you? Wait don’t answer that. We can wait until this evening, and by the way, Octavia doesn’t know I’m in town. Now it’s her turn for a surprise. But down to business: Might the name be Simon Waheed? The other man is a fair-haired Scandinavian type, Gunnar Gunnarsen. Looks like a college kid on vacation. Mr. Waheed looks kind of greasy. Anything else I can do? Hold the plane? Have him detained by Security?”
“Um, when does the plane leave?”
“In about two hours, unless there’s a delay.” Her tone of voice hinted that a delay could be arranged.
He spoke to the room again. It looks like we have two hours, folks. And his name appears to be Simon Waheed.” He turned to the phone. “Thank you very very much for your help. You just might have saved a town. If I need to, can I reach you at this number?
“Better to call me on my cell.” And she gave him the number.
“He put the phone down, well, folks, we have two hours or less. Unless the plane is delayed.”
“Island Airlines is pretty good,” one of the men chimed in, “but there’s some weather rolling in, so that could happen.”
“Okay, I think we need to do two things” another man spoke up, “Take a look at that contract, and have a word with the chief of police.
Asch noticed that each guy had had a woman look at him admiringly when he spoke up. “My word!” he thought to himself. “The people on this island are horny. Don’t they ever get any? Or maybe they need a little excitement to get them out of their living rooms.” But he held his peace. He should be one to talk.
John saw a crowd coming up his front walk and tried to talk first. “Look, folks, I’m really sorry. Sharon just told me some things I didn’t know, but it looked like such a good deal for the town, and the guy said he had to report in person to his boss by tomorrow or it would kill the deal—”
“Let’s work at solving the problem. We can do blame later. Let’s see that contract,” male citizen number two interrupted. Everyone gathered around to look at the signatures at the bottom. Underneath John Conner’s neat signature was an illegible scrawl. “Well, that could be any name at all!”
“See if he can do it again!”
The town’s beat up old police car pulled up. The chief got out and ambled up to the house. He did a double-take when he saw the crowd. “My word! Somebody get murdered?”
“Somebody might get murdered. Can you legally sign a document under an assumed name?”
The chief hemmed and hawed. “Well, you need to talk to a lawyer about all that sort of thing.” He looked at it. “But this document isn’t notarized. I don’t think it’s binding to the town either way.”
“He said he’d have his secretary notarize it at the office,” John mumbled, “so I let it go. He said he was satisfied that I had signed it since he watched me himself.”
“Well,” said the councilman’s wife, “we have several irregularities here. But they might not be enough to stop a high-powered corporate lawyer if they still want to go through with this operation.”
“Maybe we should have a little chat. Think we could persuade him that he’s wasting his time?”
Asch spoke up for the first time. “I for one would like to see this guy.” The remark solidified the group.
“Let’s go! The airport’s not that far away!”
The chief spoke up, “Um, let’s don’t have a lynch mob here, okay? Mardin Escort Bayan Our jail can’t hold all 30 of you. Unless you’re all really friendly, which I don’t exactly see right now.” He smiled. “Sir? you said you’d like to see the guy, Claudia? You’re the closest we have to city council here. Lydia? You’re with this gentleman, correct? Oh. John. You’re the mayor. I suppose you should come, too. That’ll pretty well fill up the squad car. The rest of you, well, maybe tag along, or make a few phone calls.”
Lydia spoke up. “Why don’t you take Mrs. Needle. Sharon and I have some things to do in town.”
John ventured, “Phil, you could take my SUV; I’m thinking I should donate it to the police department anyway, considering what’s been going on.”
The police chief gave the mayor a level look. “I need radio, lights, and siren, so we’ll take the squad. Be sure to mention that offer later.”
On the way to the airport, after talking quietly with the police chief, Asch called Sharon. “Detain him.”
At the terminal Asch and the police chief were given ID badges, Mrs. Needle got a press badge. Claudia Johnson, the councilman’s wife, and the mayor were allowed into the observation room with Mrs. Needle.
Asch and the chief walked into the room. Asch and Simon looked at each other. Simon jerked upright, surprise written all over his face, then consternation, then cynical humor. “So we meet again, Jones, mean Ashurbanipal. Sir.”
Asch kept his face neutral. “So did you trick Monsanto into actually hiring you, or are you still freelancing?”
“What do you care? How did you know it was me?”
“Guess.” Asch was grim.
The chief watched the conversation with interest, and kept silent.
Asch opened his cell phone, never taking his eyes off Simon except a quick glance down as he pressed a speed dial number. He held the phone to his ear. “Hey, Tom! Yeah, it’s me, yeah things are great. I’ll have to tell you all about it sometime. Say—remember the guy with the Turkish name who snookered our security people and—yeah, well, I found him. You still want him? Okay, hang on.” He turned to the police chief. “What’s your phone number? I have someone who wants to press charges against this guy on an unrelated issue.” He handed his phone over.
Phil took up the conversation, stepping out of the room.
Waheed started to sweat. “Hey, come on, Asch. We were friends once. Buddies! You wouldn’t do this to a friend, would you? I mean that was just a friendly lesson for their security system. I’ll bet they made lots of improvements. I should bill them for what I did.”
“Keep digging yourself in deeper, Waheed.”
Phil returned, handed the phone back to Asch, and put a sheet of paper in front of Simon. “This is a receipt for the papers that Airport Security confiscated. Look it over and sign at the bottom. They’ll give you a copy.”
Simon looked at the paper. It listed the contract as “Four (4) pages of business correspondence on Monsanto letterhead.” He hesitated, then scribbled on the signature line.
Asch and Phil started to step out, but Simon called, “Hey when do I get out of here? I’ll miss my plane.”
Phil replied, “In a few minutes. We are about done with you.”
Out in the lobby, they compared signatures. The scribbles were completely different. Asch commented, “so you think we’re really done with him?”
“We are. As soon as you mentioned freelancing, Mrs. Needle called the Monsanto number on the letterhead. It was a Monsanto tech support phone maze, so she googled a few other numbers and got through. They never heard of him, and had no knowledge of the island based on the info she gave them, but they’d be willing to talk.” He snickered. “It appears the whole thing was made up. I suspect he was going to try to sell the deal to Monsanto and just disappear if they weren’t interested, bad check to the auto dealer and the university. The FBI should be here in a couple minutes.”
“Yes. Your colleague didn’t waste any time. Apparently whatever he did at your old company ruffled more than a few feathers. The agent called me while I was out earlier, wanted me to hold him for them.”
“Wow. And here I thought the mills of the gods grind exceeding slow! Maybe not this time, eh?”
A burly guy in sunglasses and a dark suit approached. “Hi, Phil. There’s a reward out for this guy, by the way. We have several warrants on him. You want to bring him out and sign him over to me? Cuffed.” He looked at Asch. “Ain’t computers wonderful?”
Asch had to agree.
After Waheed was gone, Asch spoke up. “Listen. Why don’t you guys head back without me? I live on this side, the jitney’s easy to use, and the squad car’ll be a little less crowded. If you manage to reschedule the town council meeting,” he looked at the mayor, “I’d like to attend, if the meeting is open to the public.”
They were agreeable, and Mrs. Needle promised an interesting next issue of the newspaper. Asch headed for the Escort Mardin ticket counter.
“Good afternoon, Sir, how may I help you?” said the attractive brunette behind the counter.
“It would be very helpful if I knew when your shift is up,” Asch replied in his most suggestive manner. “Then maybe I could escort you into town for some entertainment.”
The brunette smiled and leaned forward, revealing some cleavage. “How about in ten minutes? I’m dying to hear what’s going on and why Mr. Waheed left the building in handcuffs.”
“I guarantee you it wasn’t for any excitement in bed,” said Asch. “I’ll go use the facilities and meet you out front.” Mary winked and blew him a kiss.
They headed for the jitney. “Lemme wait until all three of us are together for me to tell the whole story. Not that I don’t mind talking to each of you, but that way you’ll both get the same version.” Asch paused, “I can say right now, though, that it looks like a happy ending. For the town.” Asch smiled. “I’m okay with a happy ending for us, too. How shall we surprise Octavia?”
“How about we go reserve a room at the Islander, then you go into Rita’s and distract Octavia while I sneak into our usual booth, then you have her seat you, and I’ll be there waiting!” It was the best plan they could come up with without raising Octavia’s suspicions. “Tell you what else,” she added, “let’s get off at the hardware store. I want to get something.”
She picked up about 20 feet of soft three-quarter-inch braided nylon rope. Asch figured the handcuffs had given her ideas, but he kept his mouth shut. He got a suite at the hotel, and they went up to unload. Asch put Mary’s flight bag on the chair and turned around to find her about half an inch from him. “You haven’t welcomed me to the island properly yet,” she said, closing her eyes and brushing her chest against him, her lips parted.
Asch surprised her by putting his hands on her breasts and nuzzling her neck. Then he tangled one hand in her hair and kissed her under her jaw. She moaned and pressed her hips onto him, then reached forward and grabbed him through his pants, which made him grunt. He grabbed her butt cheeks and pressed her against him and put his mouth on hers, plunging his tongue into her. They moaned together. Then she worked at unfastening his pants and he hitched up her sundress. Neither of them wore underwear and they plunged onto each other in their urgency. She cried out a little feeling him enter her, and he trembled at feeling his skin being pulled back as he entered her tightness. He pulled her dress the rest of the way up, and she raised her arms to help. He reveled in the feel of her breasts against his chest and started to pump with more urgency.
Suddenly she pulled away, gasping. “Are you ready to finish?” she asked.
She got a regretful look in her eyes. “So am I, but let’s wait for Octavia.”
Asch gave a shuddering sigh, “Okay, I’m game. I’ll sure be ready when the time comes.”
She grinned at him and scampered into the bathroom with her sundress. He rearranged himself, and presently she reappeared, dress back on, and had him help her run the rope under the head of the bed. “Maybe we’ll use this, maybe not, but don’t mention it, okay?”
“Okay. I’m figuring out that women are crazy. But I suppose it’s late enough for us to head over to Momma Rita’s.”
It looked like Octavia was in the kitchen, so Mary scooted over to the booth and Asch waited by the counter, where Octavia would have to face away from that booth to greet him. Not that she’d be able to see into the corner of the booth anyway.
Octavia came out and a big grin appeared on her face. “Asch! I’m eager to hear how your presentation went in Easthaven. Lemme seat you—you’re all sweaty! That must have been some garden club. Did they make you do the weeding for them?”
“You won’t believe. It’s quite a story. When’s your break?”
“Oh, I can get away in about—Mary! You’re here!” The two hugged. “That’s why Asch is all sweaty. I hope you left some energy for me.” She stuck out her lower lip.
“Oh yes. We decided to wait for you. So be prepared for some energetically good times.” She waggled her eyebrows. “And that’s not counting the Easthaven adventure, which I haven’t heard yet, either, so hurry on that break.”
They ordered something to drink and waited for Octavia. When she finally came over, the ladies sat side by side, the better to hear Asch’s story. They were alternately interested, indignant, sympathetic, worried, amused, and relieved as he told the story.
“Poor Sharon, commented Octavia. She’ll be glad to hear how it came out. I wonder how her dad will spin it.”
“So far the spin is gullibility and inexperience,” Asch said.
Mary added, “So if I understand this correctly, you figured out who this guy was when you heard that pseudonym.”
“Pretty much. It’s a good thing I never got around to telling him at my old job that I recognized the Turkish name, though Abdul Amir wouldn’t have been all that uncommon. But using Ivan Skavar was just too big a coincidence. And when Sharon described him, that pretty much sealed the deal for me. I didn’t know about all the other warrants, though. I guess this guy’s a big-time con man. He sure had John going.”
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