Minerva, Chapter 7

in

Seven

'Hello David, come in.'

Mason entered the apartment, which was small even for Manhattan , and began pacing violently. O'Toole closed the door.

'Do you know a Mark Knolton?' Mason asked.

'No-o-o'' O'Toole responded, wondering where this was going.

'Mark Knolton is a former student who just happens to be on the construction crew at the main harbor.' Mason paused to compose himself. 'Before he left, I asked him to keep a journal on the development of the island, as detailed as possible. I promised him it would one day be famous, in the same category as Anne Frank's diary.' Mason chuckled but without amusement. 'In retrospect, that was an excellent analogy.'

O'Toole folded his arms. He now had an idea of what this was about.

'This morning I received a letter from Mark.' Mason stopped pacing long enough to look at O'Toole. 'It seems Minerva employees have an interesting way of dealing with the indigenous population.'

'You'll have to fill me in,' O'Toole said after an awkward silence. 'Mr. Knolton didn't send me a carbon copy.'

'Well, it's quite simple, really.' Mason resumed his pacing. 'You may recall the provision in the original sale; you should recall it, since it was the one thing upon which I specifically insisted.'

O'Toole took a step back and leaned against the wall. This was going where he thought it would.

'In that provision,' Mason continued, 'any Lotosian living on the island retained his property rights as dictated by custom. The Minerva Corporation was only buying the land owned by the Lotosian government; it was not to restrict the privileges of the native islanders whatsoever, unless they voluntarily agreed to sell their land over to Minerva.'

'Yes, I remember those details,' O'Toole said after another silence.

'Well, as I say, it seems the Minervan employees have a rather broad definition of the word voluntary,' Mason said with a sneer. 'Apparently islanders are much more likely to sell their property and move to the mainland, when masked men set fire to their huts in the middle of the night.'

Damn, O'Toole thought. He was hoping the college kid hadn't known about the fires.

'Okay David, I want you to calm down.' O'Toole uncrossed his arms and motioned with his hands to indicate that Mason should relax. 'I understand your concerns. But you have to understand, it wouldn't have worked to do it your way.'

Mason's eyes narrowed.

'David, listen to me. Don't you think I would've done it your way if I could? We're not talking about a few flower gardens in a corner of the island. We're talking about villagers scattered all over. We're talking about 'customary' rights to river access and to certain fishing locations. The government of Lotos nominally owned the entire island, and that's what we bought. Under international law, six months ago the Lotosian president could have ordered everyone to relocate to the mainland. At least this way, they get paid to do it. For a lot of these people, we gave them over a year's wages.'

Mason looked genuinely puzzled. 'When we settled on the island, you told me it could be done.'

'I thought it could.' O'Toole looked at Mason for a long time before continuing. 'The information I had was inaccurate. The report obviously was written from a Western viewpoint. I thought their property law was compatible with ours, and I thought we only had to convince a few elders to go along with us. But as it turns out, the tribal leaders either would not or could not order their people to move.

'David,' O'Toole pleaded. 'You can't build a factory on plots of land that aren't contiguous. Did you really think we'd find somewhere inhabitable that no else had found before us?'

Mason said nothing and headed for the door. O'Toole opened it and closed it behind him as Mason left the apartment.

A heavy despair settled on Mason as he waited for the elevator. He should have known better than to trust someone else'even O'Toole'with something so important. Mason had waited his entire life for an opportunity like this, yet O'Toole couldn't take the time to check his facts. But it wasn't O'Toole's fault, really; he had no idea of the ramifications of his incompetence.

It didn't matter anymore. The fact was that now, regardless of the unprecedented freedom and prosperity made possible by Minerva, critics would forever have an unbeatable trump card: Minerva stole its land.

Safely behind the elevator doors, Mason began to weep.

* * *

'Yep,' O'Toole said as he nodded to the bartender. The argument with David had greatly upset him, and for the first time in almost a year O'Toole found himself drowning in Guinness.

Didn't David realize that O'Toole had been trying to protect him? Once the wheels were in motion, O'Toole couldn't have stopped Callahan from doing what he did. At that point, better to shield Mason from it entirely, so at least his conscience could be clear.

One couldn't really blame Callahan, O'Toole mused. Callahan was in this for the money, and he expected expropriation in five to seven years. So he certainly couldn't be expected to deal politely with the villagers.

But why the fires? O'Toole shook his head. Maybe he's just bitter about his name. O'Toole chuckled: Eugene Callahan was an unlikely name for a corporate baron.

O'Toole glanced down at the paper. He had been picking up Verdicts ever since Tara McClare's payment of the full $250,000 had come in. Although not particularly interested in the topics of her articles, O'Toole could certainly appreciate McClare's style. Her articles exuded sex appeal as shamelessly as she did in person. And O'Toole was especially amused by the professional look, complete with glasses that were probably not even prescription, that McClare had adopted for her picture. O'Toole wondered if the paper would have even had the staff photos at the end of every issue, if not for Tara McClare's looks and her father's position.

'Ooh, we like her around here,' the bartender said as he placed the fresh beer in front of O'Toole. 'Tara McClare comes in just about every week. She lives right down the street.'

'I know,' O'Toole answered.

'Oh, you're one of those guys? A real fan, huh?' The bartender chuckled. The smartest thing the owner ever did was give Tara McClare and Guest a bottomless tab. When Tara got loaded and started dancing by the jukebox, nobody left the bar. The bartender chuckled again, recalling the night Jack had been too drunk to stand and so Tara had grabbed a beautiful woman at a nearby table to dance. Several men had lined up at the pay phone to call their friends at that point.

'I don't know what you mean,' O'Toole said. 'I'm supposed to meet her here tomorrow night. Today I was a bit thirsty after a business meeting, so I came here to check the place out.'

O'Toole wondered for a moment why he had offered that explanation to the bartender. He realized that he'd been preparing for an encounter with Tara , even though she was supposed to be out of town until the next morning.

'You talk as if it's a date,' the bartender said with a smile. 'If I had a dime for every time Tara McClare invited a guy here as a treat, and he thought he was getting more than just the free drinks . . . . Heh.'

'So she comes here with a lot of men?' O'Toole asked, taking care to sound unconcerned with the answer.

'Oh, well, yes.' The bartender seemed uncomfortable. 'But really, it's not like that. I shouldn't have said anything; Tara 's'Miss McClare is a wonderful girl. I was just saying that it was funny how fellas'and I don't mean you, of course, I'm just making an observation'look so pleased with themselves, sitting at a table and drinking beers with Tara McClare, and then Jack'that's Jack Quinn, Tara's boyfriend'will walk in and pull up a chair.'

'Hmm, I don't think she's mentioned a boyfriend,' O'Toole said. The bartender smiled.

'She usually doesn't.' The bartender added, 'But that means she must like you.'

'Ah, how reassuring,' O'Toole said with a grin. After a slight pause he asked, 'So what's this Jack Quinn like?'

The bartender actually threw back his head and laughed.

'Mister, Jack Quinn is the toughest man you will ever lay eyes on.'

'Oh really?' O'Toole finally took a sip of his beer. 'And why is that?'

'Well,' the bartender said, 'I can tell you a story, but you really need to keep it under your hat.'

O'Toole nodded.

'The thing is, normally I wouldn't say anything'and you'll see why'but I'd hate for you to go into this without knowing what you're up against.' The bartender lifted up his index finger to indicate that he would resume the story as soon as he dealt with a customer at the other end of the bar.

As he returned, O'Toole considered interrupting to make it clear that he was not 'up against' anything at all; he was just answering an invitation from Tara McClare to meet for drinks. But the bartender seemed particularly anxious to tell his story, something he had apparently done many times before.

'As I was saying,' the bartender said quietly, 'Jack and Tara used to live in Chicago . Jack was mostly staying out of trouble, but his one weakness is his temper. There were a few incidents, all minor, and before he knew it, Jack had a little problem with some local mafiosos.

'Now this one night, Jack and Tara were in a small restaurant eating dinner. In comes three guys: a made man and his two goons.'

O'Toole nodded his head to show his interest in the tale. The bartender was becoming excited. It was obviously his favorite story.

'Now this is important, you have to understand the seating.' The bartender paused to make sure O'Toole was listening. 'Jack and Tara were at a small table, both sitting on the booth side. The boss's nephew'sorry but I really can't say his name'walked up and sat down at a chair directly opposite them. The two goons each pulled up a chair and sat on the left and right side of the table.'

Quinn and Tara had had their backs facing the wall. After they sat down, Caruzzi's men had placed their hands on the table, using their gloves to conceal the revolvers.

''Come on without, come on within,'' Eddie Caruzzi said, 'well well well, it's the mighty Quinn.'

'What do you want?' Quinn asked. Tara instinctively slid closer to Quinn.

'What does any man want, Jack? To sit and have a drink with a beautiful woman.' With this Caruzzi flashed a toothy smile at Tara and wiggled his eyebrows.

Quinn dropped his eyes just enough to examine the table. The two men were both right-handed. They had both laid their guns flat on the table, barrel pointing straight out, away from their stomachs. Each man gripped his revolver with his right hand, while laying his left forearm and hand on top. For his part, Caruzzi's hands were empty; he was using them while he talked.

'Can anyone here tell me,' Caruzzi asked as he flagged a waitress, 'why there are so many Irish cops?'

'Because they're born pigs?' the man to Caruzzi's left answered.

'Because they're into bondage,' declared the other man.

'Excellent answers, all around,' Caruzzi congratulated his men. 'But specifically, the reason there are so many Irish cops''

Caruzzi slammed his hands down onto the table. People at nearby tables stole glances at the unfolding scene.

Caruzzi leaned forward and said in a steady voice, 'The reason there are so many Irish cops, is that the Irish are so fucking stupid, that when they all came here on a boat since they couldn't grow anything besides a fucking potato, they found out that being a cop was the only job they could get.'

Quinn sat back and tilted his head down. He wanted to see if the table were bolted to the floor.

'Nope, nothing down here,' Caruzzi said, sticking his head under the table. 'No guns taped to the underside, sorry.' Caruzzi once again leaned on the table. 'And it's well known that Jack Quinn doesn't carry a piece.'

That much was true. In addition to the frequent hassles with the police, there was too much temptation to snap. Quinn had long ago decided that he would walk around without a gun because, frankly, a man should be able to walk around his hometown without a gun.

'Are you listening to me, you piece of shit?' Caruzzi hissed, as Quinn continued to show no appreciation of the gravity of the situation. 'I know you're a real badass, aren't ya.' Caruzzi paused to regain his composure. He was a made man, now, and he had to control his sarcastic urges in situations like this. If nothing else, he had to let his men know that he was now a higher form of life.

Quinn suppressed a grin as he scanned the restaurant. He was quite sure Caruzzi and his men were alone, but with Tara present Quinn wanted to be careful.

'But though you may possess a certain street reputation, you shouldn't forget who runs the streets, Mr. Quinn.' Caruzzi thought that was a nice touch. 'Now how many times do I have to tell you? Leave Chicago .'

So much TIME, Quinn thought as he rested his right palm on Tara 's left hip, with his fingers bent back towards the wall.

'How long are you going to just sit there and stare at me, you ugly motherfucker?' Caruzzi demanded.

Quinn said nothing.

'Do you think I'm bluffing? You think mob shit is just in the movies?' Caruzzi turned to address Tara . 'Hey twinkle tits, listen up: I know how much you must love the eggplants, going to clubs with Jim Knight like you do. Well it's your lucky day: See, if your boyfriend doesn't get the fuck out of Chicago by next week, I am going to personally arrange for you to have five healthy black cocks''

'Julie!' Quinn suddenly yelled over Caruzzi's left shoulder, a look of hilarity on his face. 'Your nipple's showing!'

Automatically, Caruzzi's men glanced at the bar. Caruzzi turned his head left but suddenly felt very uneasy.

Quinn squeezed his hand tightly into Tara , and threw her off the bench. In the same motion he leaned forward, stuck out his index finger and jammed its tip into Caruzzi's right eye. He then stared at the center of the table as he brought his hands down. He simultaneously found both right wrists and with a quick jerk tilted them up. The two men, after spending years emulating fictional gangsters and knowing that the slow were the dead, did the obvious thing when each saw the other's revolver pointed at his chest: They pulled their triggers.

After the shots Quinn quickly let go of the wrists and punched a stunned Caruzzi in the chest, knocking him out of his chair and onto the floor. Quinn flipped the table out of the way and took a step forward as Caruzzi shuffled away on the floor.

Oh, he'll show me where it is, Quinn thought as Caruzzi's right hand traveled up his coat and slid inside. Quinn pounced, placing one knee on Caruzzi's chest while he threw open his coat. He found the gun, a small automatic. Quinn pulled his elbow back past his head, then brought the gun forward in a quick thrust, jabbing it into Caruzzi's mouth and smashing teeth in the process.

'Now Cyclops, you listen to me.' Quinn leaned over with his face only a few inches from Caruzzi. He whispered. 'You make sure you tell your uncle that you fucked with me. And then you tell him, that if anything should ever happen to Tara , I'm gonna hurt you for real.'

Quinn's fury was broken by a light hand on his shoulder.

'Johnny, we need to go,' Tara commanded.

As they ran out the door, Quinn glanced back at the floor. The man to the right of Caruzzi didn't look like he was going to make it. Damn.

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