Thursday, September 29, 2011

SAECULUM (A Novel:Part 3) – Crepusculum II & III.

SOL OCCAXUS (Sunset) Monday, 19 September, 2011

CREPUSCULUM (Evening Twilight)
I. Friday, 23 September, 2011
II. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
III. Thursday, 29 September 2011
VESPER (Evening Dusk)
CONCUBIUM (First Sleep – Coitus – Rest)
MATUTINUM (Dawn Goddess)
DILUCULUM (Dawn Twilight)

SOLI ORTUS (Sunrise)




The narrow passageway that wound its way steeply upwards was the central artery of a warren of streets that clung to the side the hill like a vascular anomaly. Airless and deserted apart from the small ginger cat, perched nervously on a low roof, that watched suspiciously as he walked up and down its length a couple of times Michael Mara was increasingly conscious of the very conspicuous way he was inspecting all the doorways and peering into the darkness of the few unshuttered windows. He had tried knocking on a couple of doors to no avail. Tired, he leant against a wall and lit another cigarette. Soon the light would be gone and he did not want to get lost in the area. Shaking his head in exasperation he had one more look at the map he carried before deciding to give up on the quest and start his descent down the steep road that would bring him back down to the city centre.
Just then Michael heard one of the doors creaking open behind him and quickly turning, he saw an elderly man, dressed in a finely tailored white-cotton suit, step out into the street. He hesitated for a moment, to watch while the man locked the door behind him, before approaching. “Perdone Señor. Habla ingles? Could you possibly help me? I’m looking for a bookshop on this street,” Michael asked loudly and deliberately.
The elderly man looked at the sweat-soaked visitor with an amused expression before answering in a quiet voice, “A bookshop! Here! On this street? No. Of course not!” He emitted a small nasal laugh. “No bookshop I am afraid. I am sorry. This is a residential street. You will have better fortune finding such a shop in the area closer to the central markets.” Reaching into a pocket the old man pulled out a fob watch, the casing of which was tethered to his waistcoat by a chain of rose-coloured gold, and flipped open the lid. He shook his head as he looked at the dial. “Unfortunately the bookshops will be closed by now.”
Michael blushed. “I know. I mean to return tomorrow but as I was walking nearby I thought I would check if there was a bookshop here. I’m sorry to have disturbed you.”
“It is not a disturbance. Perhaps you will have better luck tomorrow.”
“Perhaps. It’s . . . It is strange though,” Michael persisted.
“What is so strange my young friend?” the older man asked kindly.
“I was told by somebody I met earlier today that there was a bookseller on this street.”
“I see. What is the name of this bookseller that you seek?”
Michael pulled out a notebook and opened it. He read his written note. “Alonzo Aldahrze. Do you know of him?”
The old man appeared to be taken aback somewhat and immediately began tapping the ivory-handled and metal-tipped wooden cane that he carried in an agitated fashion on the cobblestones of the street. Small sparks flew up. The unwelcome disturbance caused the lounging cat to jump from the nearby roof and dash between the two of them with an irritated shriek. Quickly looking up and down the street the old man then stared, without speaking at Michael.
The silence was awkward between them. “I am sorry, Señor. Did I pronounce the name wrong? Have I said something to offend you?” Michael ventured.
“It depends. Who gave you this name?” he asked sternly.
“A young lady called Isabella Sanjil.”
“That is very interesting! Very interesting indeed!” The old man visibly relaxed. “Come, my lost young friend. I was about to take my evening stroll and you can accompany me. Let me lean on your arm.” He leaned forward and with his free arm linked that of Michael. “What do those English gentlemen call it . . . A constitutional? Are you English?” he asked as he began leading them both off at a brisk pace down the street.
“No! American. I don’t understand,” Michael blurted out, feeling slightly awkward with the unfamiliar physical familiarity.
“Of course you do not, my dear boy. I am Alonzo Aldahrze, the man you are looking for, although a collector rather than seller of books and I certainly do not have a shop.” He paused for a moment to size up Michael again. “Isabella sent you? That is indeed most interesting. She would know well that I do not have a bookshop. How is the dear princess? I have not seen her since she came back from America.”
Michael stopped. America? She never mentioned that, he thought. “I’m sorry Señor Aldahrze, I only met her for a brief time today. I was reading an old Baedeker guide and she told me that you might be able to help me source some more. Perhaps I misheard her when she said bookseller, she might have said collector.”
“It is of no concern. What is your name young man?”
“Michael Mara.” Michael unlinked his arm and removing his wallet opened it and handed the older man a card.
Aldahrze looked at it carefully before pocketing it. “She is an attractive young woman, our Isabella. No?”
“Very,” Michael answered a bit too quickly.

They walked in silence until eventually reaching the Plaza Nueva. The older man stopped suddenly and examined the card again. “Well Doctor Michael Mara I will try and help you with your Baedekers, but you will have to give me something in return.”
“Sure. Of course Señor . . . What would you like?” Michael was slightly apprehensive, wondering what the older man would demand of him.
Alonzo Aldahrze smiled at Michael's hesitation. “Do not worry Doctor Mara. I would just ask for the pleasure of your company for a while. I am an old man and I like to talk as well as listen. I have few people to converse with, particularly in English, and if you can spare the time, join me tomorrow evening for my walk. I will meet you here at the same time.”
Michael blushed, ashamed at his reticence. “I was due to leave tomorrow but I have decided to change my plans,” he said, finally deciding on a whim.
Alonzo Aldahrze smiled again and like an indulgent uncle, squeezed Michael’s arm gently. “Good, that’s settled then. I am sure you will find that the effort will be worth it. Until tomorrow then Doctor Mara.”


The cell-phone suddenly vibrated into life against his chest wall. While reaching into his pocket to retrieve it Michael realised that he must have forgotten to switch it back to outdoor mode after the conference had ended that morning. Sitting down on the bed he flipped the lid open and saw from the number display that it was Rod Mallory calling. Only he, Willard Adams, his personal secretary and his wife, Caroline, had the number. He pressed the receive button. “Hello, Rod,” he said breezily. According to Michael’s two-timezone watch it was midday in San Clemente.
“G’day cobber. How’s it going mate?”

Rod Mallory’s strong Australian accent bounced off the satellite and hurtled to earth; neither warped by space nor distorted by the many years he had spent away from his native Kangaroo Island in South Australia. Michael Mara smiled at its effect on him. Mallory had been a champion surfer and martial arts expert in his youth but it was his intellect, often cunningly shrouded, that had brought him to America, first to the University of Hawaii and then to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That same intellect was to help him achieve a quick and substantial fortune as an offshore investment banker and at the time that Michael was seeking both finance and business expertise to help develop and market his genetic patents Mallory had offered to come on board to help establish the company. Rod Mallory was currently the chief financial officer of Hoxygene.

“Good Rod, thanks,” Michael answered truthfully. “The conference was reasonably informative and Granada is a beautiful city.”
“Washington Irvine the second eh, cobber? Are you staying in the Alhambra as well?” the Australian asked.

Rod Mallory’s prodigious memory always fascinated Michael but, he thought, it was very, very unusual for him to interrupt his sacrosanct Saturdays to make a business call. Normally at this time of the day Mallory was to be found lording it on the tennis courts of the country club where they were both members. Michael did not play tennis much, a reflection more of his skill than inclination, preferring the solitude and challenge of hill walking that took him well away from the atmosphere of greed and vanity within the club. There, a better plastic surgeon, a larger yacht, a bigger house or a killing on the stock exchange defined your present, and prompted envy even amongst people already very wealthy. And that was just the men, he mused. He had remained a member of its enclaved pomposity for the sake of his wife Caroline, whose characteristic cool and dignified restraint rapidly evaporated when preparing to serve for the match. She and Rod Mallory had formed a mixed doubles combination that had dominated the local veteran’s circuit for the past three years and on the few occasions that he had had a chance to watch them play he had found that the intensity of their game unnerving. The mountains were Michael Mara’s necessary escape to sanity. Something must be up, he surmised.

“No, not really, Rod. I’m slumming it on the lower slopes. Still a good view though,” Michael explained. There was silence on the line. “Rod are you still there? Rod!” he growled into the receiver.
There was a banging sound in the background and a pause before the Australian came back on the line. “Sorry mate, I just had to shut the door.”

Michael could still hear persistent background noise, which sounded like running water. For some reason he suddenly wished, at that point, he had access to one of those Taiwanese electronic surveillance facilities that he’d seen written about in a recent copy of the International Herald Tribune. You dialled a special number and it would play back all the background peripheral sounds, with the voice screened out of the person you were in contact with. According to the report, Taiwanese women were buying the gizmos in bucket-loads as they wanted to know what their husbands were up to. The replayed sounds helped localise the errant spouses, particularly if they emanated from houses of pleasure. He had also read that the Israeli secret services had modified the application to be able to activate somebody’s phone even if it was turned off to act as a receiver form wherever the phone was located.

“Are you at the tennis club? It sounds like it’d raining,” Michael asked.
“What? Oh yes. I’m in the pro’s office. The sprinkler system just came on and I needed to shut the door. It’s splattering against the windows. Michael?” Mallory’s voice became strident.
“Yes, Rod.”
“Are you sitting down cobber?”
“Yes,” Michael lied. That type of demand nearly always automatically caused the opposite reaction and start him pacing. He got up and moved to the window, pulling back the curtains, to look out at the city. It was twilight and the streetlights were beginning to flicker on. “What is it, Rod?”
“Charles Alexander rang me with an offer. Its incredible.”

Charles Alexander was the President and Chief Executive Officer of Alpanna BioPharm, one of the biggest biotechnology conglomerates in the world. They held patents for as diverse a range of gene products as an eye pigment regulator, a complete activating sequence from the HIV virus which was now being used for vaccine production, a lung cancer associated protein, to the genes controlling disease resistance in soybean and rice crops. The present big money spinner for Alpanna, because of its implications for the paper industry, was one of the genes controlling the amount of structural proteins in the Eucalyptus tree. Hoxygene, Michael Mara’s company, had been negotiating with Alpanna BioPharm for development funding in return for the commercial production rights.

“What do you mean, Rod? Will they give us the funding?”
“More than that, Michael!”
“Get to the point, Rod!”
“They want to buy a majority stake in Hoxygene.”
“What! No way, Rod! We agreed that we were not open to offers,” he said crossly.
“Easy cobber. You’ve not even heard the -”
“I don’t care what the offer is Rod. Hoxygene is not for sale.” By this time Michael was pacing furiously, his free hand clenching and opening in frustration. “Do you hear me, Rod?” he shouted down the line. There was silence on the connection apart from the running water sounds he heard earlier. “Rod?” he asked, checking if his partner was still there.
“When you’ve calmed down cobber, you arrogant shite, I’ll speak to you. This is a business call Michael and not some playground battle over who has the most marbles.” The tone of Mallory’s voice was loaded with venom. “Call me tomorrow.”
Michael could feel himself breaking out in a sweat, caused by a mixture of anger and fear. He fought hard to compose himself. “No . . . You are right, Rod, I’m sorry for shouting. Stay on the line.”
There was a pause. “That’s better, mate. I hate playing silly games in order to haul ivory-tower scientists down into the real world.”
Michael tried to recover some of the lost ground. “Have you spoken to Bill?” he asked.

Willard ‘Bill’ Adams was the 65 year-old chairman of an old, family-run Wall Street investment bank. A few years previously, he had immediately recognized the potential of the prospectus that Rod and Michael had put together and rather than farming it out to other investors had committed the family money to the start-up costs for Hoxygene. This had amounted to about 9 million dollars and gave the bank a fifteen per cent stake in the company. While Michael controlled 45 per cent of the issued shares, Rod had 24% and in addition, there was about ten per cent placed with large institutional investors. The remainder of the shareholding was tied up in a family trust controlled by his wife Caroline, and her brother Max. Caroline was English. Michael had met her by chance, about ten years previously, while skiing in the same group in Copper Mountain, Colorado and they had married two years later. Encouraged by Caroline and Max, their father Jack, a wealthy London industrialist, had invested in Hoxygene. Michael had never liked Jack, as he was often too patronizing to his ‘American Paddy’ son-in-law but he did appreciate the industrialist’s commercial vote of confidence. After Jack’s death his shares were put into a family trust for the benefit of Caroline and Max.

“Yes.” Rod Mallory confirmed. “Bill was with me yesterday when we met with Alpanna BioPharm.”
“Yesterday!” Mara could not contain himself and shouted down the phone again. “That meeting was scheduled for next week . . . after I returned!”
There was silence again on the line apart from the sound of another slamming door. Mallory came on the line again. The tone of his voice was deathly cool. “Michael, I’ll not be shouted at. I’m way past the time when I need to tolerate such behaviour, from anyone. Alpanna asked for the meeting to be brought forward and I obliged. If you can possibly extract your head from your arse for one moment, I want you to listen up to what is on offer. Either, use that cold, detached analytical ability that you are wont to wallow in, or piss off.”

The venom stung Michael. Although Rod and he had developed a close working association over the years, he still knew very little about Mallory’s personal life away from Hoxygene and the contact necessitated by Rod’s tennis arrangement with Caroline. They rarely socialised together. This was his fault rather than Mallory’s, he recognised, as he was somewhat jealous of Mallory’s easy and warm relationship with Caroline and tended to avoid being with them both at the same time. This reservation meant that Michael had had little opportunity to probe Rod on his inner thoughts, to understand him better. Michael regretted this reticence because it had been Rod who had originally approached him at a conference and, encouraged him to develop Hoxygene together. Michael had always admired Rod’s ability to diffuse the patronizing formality of American business negotiation with judiciously used ‘out-back’ charm. In all their time together they had never had an argument where he had heard Rod resort to such unfettered anger. There had to be a very good reason, he thought.

“Rod.” Michael calmed his tone-of-voice.
“Yes.” Rod Mallory’s was still sharp.
“I am beginning to feel like some African or South American dictator who heads to Switzerland for a prostate operation only to wake up and find that a well-planned coup has removed his need for a toilet at home.” Michael was not in any mood to apologize any further.
There was a silence for a moment and then loud laughter filtered down the line. “Idi Mara. The name suits you, Michael, just do not catch the dick-rot.”
“Rod, what is the offer?” Michael mollified.
“Listen mate, I can sense how unhappy you are about what’s happened but it was Alexander who rang me requesting an urgent meeting. He also indicated that if I did not agree to do so straightaway then all negotiations for funding were off. What was I to do? Given the stance of the arrogant dickhead I brought Bill along for support. At the meeting the original agenda, that you and I had agreed, was immediately discarded by Alexander, and we were handed a summary proposal on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis.”
Doors were opening and closing in the background and there was still the constant sound of running water. “Go on, Rod,” Michael said.
“One hundred and ninety million for yours, mine and Bill’s shares. You are to become a board member of Alpanna.”
“And you?”
“Hey! I’m out of here mate. I plan to spend the money. I’ll buy bloody Queensland, or a third world country! Whatever,” Rod Mallory laughed.
“And Bill?” Michael asked, wondering about their ‘silent’ backer’s intentions.
“Will probably piss-off back to New England I’d imagine. Happy in the knowledge that the Adam’s family mansion is safe for another generation of puritan coin-collectors.”
“Rod, I’ll think about this and will talk to you on Friday,” Michael said.
“Friday! I thought that you were due back tomorrow evening.”
“I’ve changed my plans somewhat. I’m staying on in Granada for a few more days and will fly back via London on Thursday night.”
“Alpanna BioPharm want an answer by next weekend.”
“They’ll have to wait until I return.”
“Yes, Rod.”
“Aside from the Alpanna offer, you . . . you sound about as happy as a bastard on father’s day. What’s up? The women of Granada are meant to be some of the most beautiful in the world. How can you fail to be enchanted?”
“I’m not like you, Rod.”
“And you would know mate, with your head stuck under an extraction hood all the time.”
“I thought that it was you antipodeans that kept your heads down.”
“Wow, very quick. Perchance sharp Irish wit to blunt my jesting barb. For your information I like having my legs in the air… but seriously mate, you do sound a bit distracted. Why?”
“I don’t know, Rod.” Michael was not entirely sure that he really wanted to get into an explanation of something he could not understand myself.
“That’s a cop-out mate. Enlighten me a little.” Rod Mallory wasn’t letting go.
“You are right in a way. Despite the success of Hoxygene I am feeling a little unfulfilled. It’s as if I’m seeking a new direction to my work but do not know where to turn. I need to re-energise but cannot find either the time or the stimulus. It feels a bit like hitting the marathon runners ‘wall’. Perhaps that is why the sudden offer and your meeting with Alpanna made me angry. Perhaps that is my way out but I just am afraid to take it. Do you understand what I’m trying to say, Rod?” Michael wasn’t really sure whether he wanted Rod to understand or commiserate with him.
“Does this impasse extend into other areas of your life as well, Michael?”
“You mean with Caroline. God no! Why should it?”
“I just wondered.”
“Well stop wondering, Rod. It’s not related. I’m more than capable of separating my work from home.”
“Of course you are, cobber, but sometimes even the most capable of us are unable to prevent an overlap of frustration.”
“Listen, Rod, I appreciate the psychotherapy but it is something I will work out. I just need some time to myself.”
Rod Mallory did not sound that convinced. “Thanks, Rod. I’ll talk to you during the week.”
“Do not pass on the Alpanna proposal. It . . . It might be outside of your control.”
“What do you mean, Rod?” Michael was on guard again.
“Oh . . . nothing mate. Think about the offer and I will see you Friday. Enjoy the extra few days. Alexander and Alpanna have asked us for a joint meeting to take place with them and their financial advisors on the 11th September.”
“Manhattan. The WTC, south tower; 9.30 a.m.”
“I’ll have to think really hard about this, Rod.”
“I’ll arrange a time for you, Bill, Caroline, Max and me to meet on Monday in New York before briefing the legal and financial whiz kids. Bye.”
“What’s Caroline –”

The connection went dead. As Michael looked out the window a few fireworks were exploding over the southern edge of the city. Isolated and non-choreographed, their impact soon fizzled out against the vast expanse of the cloudless, moonless, but not yet star-filled sky. He tried ringing Rod back on his cell phone a couple of times but there was a continuous engaged signal.

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