The Aquitaine Progression


Chapter One


Geneva. City of sunlight and bright reflections. Of billowing white sails on the lake sturdy, irregular buildings above, their rippling images on the water below. Of myriad flowers surrounding blue-green pools of fountains duets of exploding colors. Of small quaint bridges arching over the glassy surfaces of man-made ponds to tiny man-made islands, sanctuaries for lovers and friend sand quiet negotiators. Reflections.

Geneva, the old and the new. City of high medieval walls and glistening tinted glass, of sacred cathedrals and less holy institutions. Of sidewalk cafes and lakeside concerts, of miniature piers and gaily painted boats that chug around the vastshoreline, the guides extolling the virtues and theestimated value of the lakefront estates that surelybelong to another time.

Geneva. City of purpose, dedicated to the necessity of dedication, frivolity tolerated only when intrinsic to the agenda or the deal. Laughter is measured, controlled glances conveying approval of sufficiency or admonishing excess. The canton by the lake knows its soul. Its beauty coexists with industry, the balance not only accepted but jealously guarded.

Geneva. City also of the unexpected, of predictability in conflict with sudden unwanted revelation, the violence of the mind struck by bolts of personal lightning.

Cracks of thunder follow; the skies grow darkand the rains come. A deluge, pounding the angry waters taken by surprise, distorting vision, crashing down on the giant spray, Geneva's trademark on the lake, the jet d ear, that geyser designed by man todazzle man. When sudden revelations come, thegigantic fountain dies. All the fountains die andwithout the sunlight the flowers wither. The brightreflections are gone and the mind is frozen.

Geneva. City of inconstancy.

* * *

Joel Converse, attorney-at-law, walked out ofthe hotel Richemond into the blinding morning sunlight on the Jardin Brunswick. Squinting, heturned left, shifting his attache case to his righthand, conscious of the value of its contents butthinking primarily about the man he was to meetfor coffee and croissants at Le Chat Botte, asidewalk cafe across from the waterfront. "Re-meet"was more accurate, thought Converse, if the manhad not confused him with someone else.

A. Preston Halliday was Joel's Americanadversary in the current negotiations, the finalisingof last-minute details for a Swiss-American mergerthat had brought both men to Ge neva. Althoughthe remaining work was minimal formalities,really, research having established that theagreements were in accord with the laws of bothcountries and acceptable to the International Courtin The Hague Halliday was an odd choice. He hadnot been part of the American legal team fielded bythe Swiss to keep tabs on Joel's firm. That in itselfwould not have excluded him fresh observationwas frequently an asset but to elevate him to theposition of point, or chief spokesman, was, to saythe least, unorthodox. It was also unsettling.

Halliday's reputation what little Converse knewof it was as a troubleshooter, a legal mechanicfrom San Francisco who could spot a loose wire, ripit out and short an engine. Negotiations coveringmonths and costing hundreds of thousands had beenaborted by his presence, that much Converserecalled about A. Preston Halliday. But that was allhe recalled. Yet Halliday said they knew each other.

"It's Press Halliday," the voice had announced over the hotel phone. "I'm pointing for Rosen in the Comm Tech-gem merger."

"What happened?"Joel had asked, a mutedelectric razor in his left hand, his mind trying tolocate the name; it had come to him by the timeHalliday replied.

"The poor bastard had a stroke, so his partnerscalled me in." The lawyer had paused. "You musthave been mean, counselor."

"We rarely argued, counselor. Christ, I'm sorry,I like Aaron. How is he?"

"He'll make it. They've got him in bed and on adozen versions of chicken soup. He told me to tellyou he's going to check your finals for invisible ink."

"Which means you "re going to check because Idon't have any and neither did Aaron. This marriageis based on pure greed, and if you've studied thepapers you know that as well as I do."

"The larceny of investment write-offs," agreedHalliday, "combined with a large chunk of atechnological market. No invisible ink. But since I'mthe new boy on the block, I've got a couple ofquestions. Let's have breakfast."

"I was about to order room service."

"It's a nice morning, why not get some air? I'm at the President, so let's split the distance. Do you know the Chat Botte?"

"American coffee and croissants. Quai du MontBlanc.- "You know it. How about twenty minutes?"

"Make it a half hour, okay?"

"Sure." Halliday had paused again. "It'll be goodto see you again, Joel."

"Oh? Again?"

"You may not remember. A lot's happened since those days . . . more to you than to me, I'm afraid."