I post faster than I write, so there are going to be gaps and eventually a different novel, also unlikely to be completed. Meanwhile, Practical Exercise is up on Smashwords and on Amazon.
Humboldt Bay Traveller’s Residences
Humboldt Bay, California
Victor Chelan, his back to the room, stared out the large windows of the Residence’s private dining hall. The old town of Eureka had long since been swallowed up by the encroaching waters of the Pacific, now fifty feet higher than when he had been born. As a seaport, the Bay was still excellent, though its channels and breakwaters had changed drastically through strange long years. Bulger Holdings had cleverly bought a more or less flat area, Table Bluff, to the South, and much ground behind it. The former owners, the Wiyot Tribe, justly thought they had made a superb deal in very difficult times in exchanging their old reservation for a new, far more pleasant and larger one, high enough not to disappear below the Pacific, as Duluwat Island had already done.
Behind him the clink of dishes meant that his staff would soon be finished helping themselves to an early breakfast, early enough that the rising sun had briefly tinged the breaking waves far below in scarlet. He turned around, saw that everyone else had started eating, and helped himself to the buffet. Scrambled eggs with salmon, mixed fresh fruit, a bit of sausage, and a pair of croissants should keep him going until lunch.
He sat. A half dozen faces turned to look at him. “Finish eating,” he said, “but let’s see where we are. Legal? Tara?”
“I finally received the last confirmations that we had seized Bulger’s accounts across the Union.” Tara Broadhurst rolled her deep brown eyes skyward. “I also have all of their transaction records since their takeover. Those will take a while to untangle. Dewey and Rothham had huge management fees, then tried to strip funds at the last minute, but we’d already served the right banks. The major noteholding banks were very fast off the mark to serve liens on themselves.”
“Is litigation recovery possible?” Charles Smith, Chelan thought, would be the new financial manager. “Those fees were remarkable.”
“All technically legal,” Tara said. “They owned the place. The noteholders somehow forgot to put appropriate financial controls in place.”
“Curiously,” Victor said, “this question has already been discussed with the South Oregon Procurator-General. The difficulty is that the principals of Dewey and Rothham just moved…to certain islands in the Caribbean and Pacific outside our legal reach. Then they returned money and profits to their legitimate investors and fired their entire staffs.”
“Outside?” Charles asked.
“The Republic,” Victor explained, “would be happy to extradite them, just as soon as the Union signs on the dotted line and becomes a Republic province. That’s Junior Associate membership, member with no rights or voting privileges.”
“Security?” Victor asked.
“There’s an outside firm,” Pamela Davis answered. “They keep the perimeter sealed, and monitor in and out traffic. They haven’t been paid in two months. They were about to walk when I told them there are new owners. They do want to be paid, though, or they will take their fencing with them when they leave.”
“Were their fees reasonable?” Victor asked.
“Standard for the length of the perimeter.” Davis spread her hands. “A new fence, lighting, and electronic backing of that perimeter would cost way more than they want.” She passed the numbers to everyone’s display. “Also, separate issue, each of us now has Seldon Legion escorts.”
“That’s under the range where the Audit Committee wants to be asked, I think. Richard?” Chelan turned to the Audit Committee’s representative, who nodded approvingly. “OK, pay them and retain them, two month’s trial basis.”
“Personnel? Or is that Personnel and Legal?” Victor asked.
“Ayup.” Ebenezer Wyatt had retained his North New Hampshire style of speech. “California Law says exactly what we do, and Tara did it. The last Bulger CEO – he’s on a Pacific Island – had an Executive Assistant. Mrs. Mabel Brixton was entirely cooperative, got the mandated notices out to everyone – Tara and I stood there while she did it – she really wants to keep her job – and has collected the responses, exactly as the law requires.”
“I have to sign off on those things, first thing?” Chelan asked.
“Correct,” she answered. “Under a hundred employees, you have to sign personally. Twice. On paper, like this was still the twenty-third century.”
“Am I required to catch the geese for the quills, for the quill pens?” Chelan mumbled.
“Sir, no, sir,” Davis responded. “Geese bite. You leave that to the security detail.”
“What about hiring?” Chelan asked.
“We advertised for technical staff, with vacuum experience and security clearances,” Wyatt answered. “The Space Guard had a remarkably large staff, at least three years ago, given how few ships they have. You’d think they had plans beyond routine maintenance.”
“They did,” Chelan answered. “Enlarging their already bloated personal empires. Too bad for them the National Renaissance Party won the last election, no matter it is good for the country. Too bad for the country that many good people are being let go, and many not so good people are being retained.”
“And better for us,” Wyatt said. “I already have some superbly qualified applicants; I asked one to be there this morning.”
Chelan poured himself a second cup of coffee. “Isn’t that premature?” Two envelopes of sweetener and a healthy slug of milk followed into his coffee mug.
“No, sir. Even if the Bulger people all want on board – not likely – and we want them – we don’t, I’ll explain in a moment – their organizational chart has no Boss of the Yard, and we need one. Someone to see what you say gets done.” Wyatt nodded vigorously. “The explanation? Yesterday I was contacted by the employee representative – no, he’s not Union. That’s different. He offered me, or you, a deal. You would get 50% off the top of everyone’s salaries. You wouldn’t ask why no one ever shows up for work, because most of the staff was a purely a skimming operation.”
“That was the images we captured, these past two weeks,” Davis said. “And the satellite photos over the last year. Big parking lot, always empty. Almost no one is there, except the hi-res manufacturing crew, who are way separate from the rest of this operation.”
“How did they pull this off?” Chelan asked.
“Some deal with Dewey and Rothham,” Broadhurst answered. “Key employees know how much the previous owners were taking, and agreed to keep it quiet, if they were allowed to run their own skimming operation, and give Dewey and Rothham a cut. I’ve seen this racket before, several times.”
“What happened to the offer?” Chelan shook his head and took another swig from his mug. It was truly excellent coffee.
“I explained, politely, that the world had changed. No hard feelings, but people were going to show up for work every day, and work hard,” Wyatt said. “Curiously, all these people had come on board when Dewey and Rothham bought Bulger, three years ago…most of the old staff was paid to leave, or so I am told by Brixton. A year’s pay, and contacts elsewhere.”
“Tara,” Chelan said, “Please comb carefully through pay records. That year’s bonus had to be recovered somehow, and skimming employee salaries would be a path.”
“Will do, boss.”
“Go on, Ebenezer.” Chelan reached for the cookie tray. “How was your answer taken? By the way, did you have backup? Sometimes these labor discussions get a bit testy.”
“For sure,” Davis said. “Four of my people at two nearby tables. More outside.”
“The representative was completely agreeable,” Wyatt observed. “He said he was expected to ask, but he knew the answer would be ‘no’. He’s already seen parking lot photos, so he knows we know they were all making false hours claims. That’s a felony here in California. I explained that if people went on their way, we wouldn’t say anything. We shook hands; he went on his way.”
“Engineering?” Chelan looked at Roger McNaughton.
“Only God knows,” McNaughton answered. “Can’t tell until we do an inspection.” The emphasis was on ‘we’. “Can’t get in until start of work this AM. Bulger environmental units – that’s the fine-resolution molecular spray people – are still rated AAA grade; the Imperial Navy has a standing offer for the last three years for any extra they make, at a premium price. They understand we and the Space Guard come first. The graving yard…you’ll see for yourself.”
Imperial, Chelan thought. They call themselves a Republic, but their Star Navy has a different opinion on the matter. Of course, some of that is diplomatic. Some aliens think Empires are more powerful Republics. “Did Bulger ramp up production to meet that demand? I don’t remember hearing this before,” he asked.
“We need to work though their accounts, but they didn’t, not that I can tell.” McNaughton shrugged. “I only found the offer in their Navy public files.”
Chelan slipped a half-dozen large cookies into a sack in his carryall. “And with that, I believe we should wash up and meet in the lobby, say in fifteen minutes. Is that enough time for security?”
“Ten minutes would do,” Davis responded.