The Best of a Tattered Lot

By – W.S. Holderby

CHAPTER 1

Lester Landeche looked out the window as the 737 began its final approach to the New Orleans International Airport. Even though the cramped airline seats were a little too tight for his six-foot frame, he smiled as his eyes took in the familiar surroundings. Lake Pontchartrain spread out below like a giant gray mud puddle, dotted here and there by those money-gushing oil rigs. As the plane passed over Interstate 10, he could see that the Friday night rush hour was well under way on the busy road. Lester sat back as the plane landed and began its slow taxi toward the terminal.
Lester loved the town and its quirky style. He had long ago decided that there was no way to explain New Orleans. You either loved it or you hated it. But it had grown and changed so much in the last decade. Gambling had come in and some of the corruption had gone out. Not all of it, of course. Right now, the city seemed to be poised on the brink of something, trying to decide which way to go. He hoped that New Orleans would never decide to take itself too seriously, lose its’ unique sense of humor and style. He had seen that happen in Atlanta and Miami where all the rules were quickly becoming more important than the people living there. So far, so good, though, New Orleans was still a great place to be.
When the plane reached the terminal, Lester remained at his window seat and watched everyone quickly jump up into the aisle. He always made a little bet with himself on who would get to the door first. This trip, his money was on the college kid with the expensive sneakers that was sitting in the second row. But he lost out to a little old lady wearing last year’s Mardi Gras beads and a big, flowered hat. With one graceful movement, she managed to block his aisle with her cane, stare him down, smile sweetly at him, and calmly walk out the door. “God, what a pro,” Lester said admiringly, to no one in particular. He waited until the last passenger had gotten off, retrieved his coat and suitcase from the overhead compartment, and walked down the aisle, past the good-byes of the crew.
He was really looking forward to the part pleasure, part work, weekend. Meeting up with his old friend, Bill Reese, and, hopefully, locking in some new business for his company were two of his favorite things to do. Since he’d started this new business two years ago, the number of clients had risen steadily. Very few firms offered the kind of service that his provided. The potential client he was meeting on Monday, Laser Metrics, was an internationally recognized laser optics company. The contract hinged on his ability to meet and win over the two major company directors who were based in New Orleans.
The crowded terminal bulged with the Friday exchange of people arriving and leaving. Lester walked to the bank of airline monitors and found that Bill’s flight from Dulles was scheduled to arrive in five minutes. This gave him just enough time to walk across the terminal and meet him at the gate. He had arranged a dinner meeting with Bill, to catch up on old times. After dinner, they would drive out and see if his crew was ready to start work. He knew that the crew, trailers and equipment had come in last night from Miami and should be ready by the time he met up with them after dinner. The big meeting with Laser Metrics was on Monday and he had to be ready.
Lester’s thoughts returned to Bill Reese. They first met when Lester’s brother Jim introduced them at a social gathering in Washington D.C. It was actually a going away party, of sorts. Jim Landeche and Bill Reese had just been assigned to Madrid, Spain. Although both of their passports stated that they worked in the Diplomatic Corp, Lester had his doubts. He suspected that their real assignments had more to do with top-secret information gathering, spying, than paper shuffling.
Lester’s firm had just been awarded a contract with the NSA to install and maintain some security equipment in several U.S. Embassies located throughout Europe. He had flown to Washington for a final briefing on the project before he, too, departed for Madrid.
Lester smiled as he remembered some of the good times they had when the three of them were together in Spain and later in Germany. That’s why Bill’s letter, saying he was looking for work in the private sector, was such a surprise. He figured that Bill was going to stick it out with the government and retire in a few years.
Lester’s smile faded as he remembered his big brother’s assignment to Germany. Jim had, over the years, become disillusioned with his career. An incident during his assignment in Germany reaffirmed his conclusion that government service, full of its useless, exacting procedures and cover-your-ass precautions, wasn’t for him, not any more.
Jim’s turning point had been the firing of his supervisor for unknowingly dating a girl suspected of being an East German intelligence officer. The reason given was that dating the girl gave the appearance of impropriety and that alone was enough to warrant dismissal. It didn’t matter that the guy had been an outstanding operative during the cold war, or that he had saved more than one life. They had even questioned his loyalty and threatened him with arrest if he didn’t go quietly. “The NSA didn’t outright fire the guy, of course,” Jim had raged. “They just eliminated his position.” His brother resigned from government service the next year. But Bill had remained in Germany and was now back in the states for a few months of training and reorientation.
Lester reached the gate just as Bill’s plane arrived. The usual crowds of families and friends, as well as the next passenger load for the return flight, were lined up, waiting. Within a few minutes, the incoming passengers began streaming down the walkway.
Bill was one of the last passengers to come off the plane. His ruddy complexion and red hair made him easy to spot in the crowded gateway. He was in his late forties and looking fit.
“Bill, it’s good to see you. You’re looking great,” Lester said grinning and shaking his hand. “It must be all of that Bratwurst and Sauerbraten.”
“No, it’s more like the company’s new fit and trim requirement. The options are the fat farm or the bread line. You’re looking pretty good yourself, pal. Where did you get that tan?” Reese asked, smiling. He was enjoying the reunion.
“I had a contract in Miami for the last three months. It improved my tan and my Spanish. But, tell me, how is Germany these days?” Lester asked.
“Different, that’s for sure. You wouldn’t believe the country now that the wall has come down. Nobody knows who to trust anymore,” Bill answered. “But, I’ll trust you to buy me a drink.”
The two walked to the airport bar and took a booth in the back of the lounge, away from the noisy group of tourists returning from Mexico. A waitress appeared and took their drink order.
“Your letter surprised me, I didn’t know that you were thinking of getting out of the agency. You’ve only got what, five or six years left?” Lester asked.
“Six, but I didn’t mean to give you the wrong impression. You can’t tell who reads your mail these days,” Bill replied. “What I mean is, I didn’t quite give you all the facts. When we talked, you said you needed somebody with an electronics and surveillance background. But, I wasn’t thinking of myself. I was trying to find a position for someone else. As for me, I’m going to try and stay put for another six years. But it’s hard to tell how long I’ll last.”
“Damn,” Lester said. “I was hoping we’d be working together again.” He couldn’t help but feel a little let down.
“I’ve got just the man for you,” Bill replied, ignoring the obvious disappointment on the younger man’s face. “He speaks six languages and is an expert in electronics. Christ, this guy can even read lips. He’s one of the best agents I’ve ever seen.”
“Well, with you vouching for him, he sounds like somebody I can use, especially if I land the new contract I’m after. When do I meet him?” Lester asked.
“Any minute now. We flew in together. He went to get our bags so you and I could talk a bit.”
“OK, it’s not what I had in mind, but you definitely have my interest. Now, what’s the real story on this guy? I have a feeling there’s a punch line coming. Did he get chopped from the agency because of the cutbacks? With his qualifications, they must really be cutting to the bone,” Lester remarked.
Their waitress brought their drinks and set them down on the table. “There you are, guys. I’ll check back in a while, just in case there might be anything else you need.” She was looking right at Lester.
“There won’t be anything else. But, thanks anyway.” Lester smiled at her as he placed a twenty dollar bill on the tray and told her to keep the change.
Bill waited until the girl was out of earshot. “They let him go, all right. But, it wasn’t exactly from the CIA.”
“Who then, NSA or a Military Intelligence agency?” Lester asked, puzzled.
“Well, he isn’t exactly from one of our organizations. Hell, he isn’t even from our side. He’s been with the other side, for the last twelve years.” Bill was studying his friend’s face.
“You mean he’s an East German operative?
“Actually, he was with the KGB, Dash. He was one of their best operatives in West Germany and Western Europe. But, he worked strictly with the intelligence collection branch using diplomatic cover, not with the head knockers,” Bill added.
“Jesus, you’re trying to find work for a former Russian spy, in the U.S, with me? Why?” Lester was trying hard not to let his mouth hang open.
“It’s a long story, but, basically, I owe him my life. A while back, I screwed up, big time. I managed to get myself and two of my men captured, on the wrong side of the wall. Vlad was the reason I was traded back, along with both of my men. When the KGB stopped operations in Germany and Eastern Europe, they cut him loose. He worked for the German phone company for a while, until they found out he was Russian,” Bill said, soberly. “It’s difficult to tell he’s Russian, by the way. He speaks English better than we do and he’s just as good with German. But, once the West Germans found out he was ex-KGB, they pushed him out into wherever ex-spies go these days when they’re no longer welcomed home.”
“How did you get him into the country?” Lester asked.
“I still have my ways, pal. He has an American passport and his new name is Vlad Kohler, a shortened version of his real name.” Bill was smiling again.
“Which is?”
“Don’t ask. If you’ve never heard it, you can’t accidentally drop it, OK?”
“I get the picture. But why do you think he has the kinds of skills I need for my business?” Lester asked thoughtfully.
“That’s why we’re here, to see if there’s a fit. I think there will be, if I understood your letter. You seem to be running a company that handles the same kind of operations you dealt with in Germany and Spain. You’re not involved in any national security work, right?” Bill asked.
“No way, I won’t do any more black work. I don’t even like working for government contractors, although I’m going to see one on Monday. We really need a man that can install and operate surveillance devices and run a project, alone. That’ll let me concentrate on running the day to day stuff. I’ve known you for a long time and I trust your judgment. If you think Vlad can do the work, I’ll take him.”
“I think he’s the best man for your needs. Leastwise, as well as I know them. I can’t think of anybody I’d rather recommend, on either side of the fence. No bullshit,” Bill replied
“Then that’s good enough for me. Maybe we should walk down to the baggage claim and find this guy?” Lester asked.
“There’s no need. He’s sitting over there, right next to the popcorn machine. He’s the big guy with the light hair. He looks German, but he’s from Moscow. Oh, one other bit of information. He’s pretty quiet but his brain is always working. And he can move like lightning,” Bill said, signaling Vlad over. “I think it’s time you meet him.”
Vlad got up and walked over to where Bill and Lester were sitting. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Mr. Landeche,” he said quietly, shaking Lester’s hand. “Bill has already told me a great deal about you. I really appreciate the opportunity to show you what I can do.”
“From my standpoint, you’re already hired. Bill and I talked about what I thought I could pay. If he shared that with you and that meets your needs, it’s a done deal,” Lester said, appraising the large man.
“But Mr. Landeche, your conversation was with Mr. Reese, not me. You are willing to pay me the same amount?” Vlad asked.
“Yes, I need somebody with specialized skills and I’m willing to pay for them. If you’re as good as Bill says, and I have no reason to doubt him, then you’ll definitely earn your pay,” Lester replied, with increased enthusiasm. He liked the man. He was direct and unassuming. Lester began to fit Vlad into his operation, rethinking how he could use the big man.
“Enough said, let’s go and get dinner. Since I’m buying, let’s go find some good New Orleans gumbo and have a few drinks. Tomorrow, we begin work. When do you have to be back, Bill?” Lester asked as they left the bar.
“Well, my plans changed a little bit since I talked to you. On Wednesday, I’m going back to Germany for another six months. Then, who knows. My flight back to Dulles is Sunday night. I’d thought maybe we’d all make a weekend out of it,” Bill replied with a grin.
“I’ve got to run out to the crew site later tonight and make sure everything is going on schedule. But, we should still have enough time to raise a little hell,” Lester replied. “Let’s get out of this place. Airports depress me. I’ve said too many good-byes in them.”
After dropping the bags off at their hotel in the French Quarter, the three men walked down Canal Street toward the river. Lester decided to take them to a small restaurant he knew on Decatur Street called “Rosella’s”. Rosella ran the restaurant with an iron hand, a soft heart and a very good memory. Lester met her many years ago, when he first moved to New Orleans after leaving the Air Force. He had spent a frustrating day job hunting in the steaming heat of the New Orleans summer. Looking for a place where he could cool off for a while, he opened the restaurant door and was immediately greeted by her cheerful banter. Maybe because he and his suit were both wilted from the heat and humidity, or because he had a lot on his mind, Rosella had decided back then that he was worthy of her friendship. And that was how it remained.
“Dash, ma cher, how ya been? I hope you just got back here in town, or Rosella’s gonna be mad at you,” she said as Lester and his two friends walked in the door. Grabbing him in a big bear hug, Rosella looked over his shoulder and saw the other two. “Well, don’t just stand there lettin the flies in. Come in and meet me.”
Lester introduced everyone and looked around the restaurant. He was glad that it wasn’t crowded yet. “Rosella, we’ve got some serious talking to do. Do you suppose we could have a quiet spot where we could eat your great gumbo and talk?”
“Cher, you know you can have just about anything you want. But, you ain’t getting no gumbo. That fool Oscar done burnt up the roux and didn’t tell me. Why I don’t fire that fool is beyond me,” she sputtered. “Damn fool.”
“Maybe because he’s your son?” Lester was laughing now. “And you know he’s about the best chef on Decatur street.”
“Course he is. I taught him, didn’t I? But, he’s still a damn fool! Now, I’m gonna bring you something special to eat to welcome you back, OK?”
As she led them toward a booth in the back corner of the restaurant, she grabbed a big bottle of wine off the bar. “Gentlemen, here is your table. I’ll send the fool out with something to get you started, just so you don’t starve to death while I’m creating your dinner.”
Vlad had been very quiet while Rosella was there. Watching her walk away, he slowly shook his head and smiled. “I guess I have a lot to learn about Americans and your way of life.”
“Son,” Lester laughed. “This isn’t America, it’s Louisiana. And even more than that, it’s New Orleans. Now, let’s sit down and drink some of this fine wine.”
“Just what does your company do?” Vlad asked Lester quietly after they had settled into the large booth and sampled the wine. “Bill has told me a lot about you, but very little about the type of contracts you get.”
“The reason he didn’t tell you is that he doesn’t know all the details,” Lester replied. “Actually, you could describe us as an information security firm. We are usually hired by firms concerned about possible security information leaks. They want to make sure that their internal corporate information isn’t reaching the competition. But, sometimes, we are simply hired by one company to provide them with information about another company.”
“Industrial espionage is another way to say it,” Bill interjected.
“If you’re gonna be crass about it, yes. We spy on one company for another. We find out when a merger or buyout is going to take place. Information can be collected that shows who really controls a company. Maybe a client needs to know how a private company really did financially last year,” Lester replied, trying to present the firm’s best image.
Oscar arrived just then with a tray of raw oysters and some hot boiled crawfish. “This should keep you busy til Mama decides what you’re gettin’. She said to tell you to get all your talkin’ done, cause when she comes back with dinner, you’re gonna be too busy chewin’ to do any more talkin’. It’s good to see you again, Mr. Landeche.”
“Thanks, Oscar. It’s good to see you, too.”
Once Oscar was out of earshot, Vlad resumed the conversation. “I’m a little confused. In this country, why would anyone need to discover more information than is contained in your disclosure statements?”
“A company’s 10K, 10Q or annual report reveals only a very small amount of information. And this information is really historical, based on what they did last quarter, or last year. Our clients want to know what a company’s going to do next week. A good example is the company I’m seeing Monday. This company is getting ready to submit a bid for a highly-competitive government contract. As you probably know, in this type of procurement, only one company walks away with the contract, winner takes all. In our preliminary conversations, they said that they definitely wanted to be that winner.” Lester replied.
“Isn’t this kind of spying illegal?” Vlad asked.
“Legality is only an issue in some circumstances. If you collect information non-intrusively, it’s just good business. We seldom have to break into any facilities or threaten anyone. We just get information that a company either gives away or doesn’t take precautions to conceal,” Lester answered.
“I don’t understand “non-intrusively”. What does this mean?” Vlad asked.
“We try to avoid trespassing on their property or bugging offices. I say we try, but we have been known to place a bug or two. This is why I need you. My company doesn’t have anyone that’s really knows much about the new micro-miniature sensors and transmitters. I presume you’ve used some of these devices in your past?” Lester asked.
“Yes, but we didn’t worry about trespassing or this non-intrusive bugging,” Vlad said, smiling. “When we needed to know something, we found a way to get the information.”
Their conversation went on for a while, each man finding out more information about the other. As they consumed the wine, oysters and crawfish, the talk turned to catching up on old times. As Bill and Lester talked about their adventures together, Rosella arrived with dinner.
“Here ya are, boys. I hope the business talk is done cause it’s time to dig in.” She poured them each a steaming cup of chicory-coffee and left.
Lester and Bill plunged into the huge platters of fried catfish, soft-shell crab, shrimp creole, jambalaya and some other things that Vlad didn’t recognize. But, after watching his two companions eat for awhile, he decided to join in. He was soon going back for seconds.
“This is really good, Mr. Landeche.” Vlad laughed as he took a cautious bite out of a spidery-looking soft-shell crab.
“This place is great, but so are a lot of others. Just don’t tell Rosella I said that. Vlad, I just have one more question for you. Do you have any problems with traveling?” Lester asked. “We take jobs all across the country. Sometimes you’ll be in ten cities in a single month.”
“I’ve done nothing but travel most of my life. I have no problem with it,” Vlad answered.
“Are you married?”
“I was, but she died,” Vlad answered.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that sometimes wives have an impact on your plans, especially when you’re gone all the time.” Lester said. He was sorry he’d asked.
“It’s all right, been a long time.” Vlad replied.
Lester let the subject drop. He’d find out all about the man as soon as he started working with him. The type of jobs they’d have left little room to hide any personal problems.
The three enjoyed another bottle of wine and some bread pudding with rum sauce for dessert before they started their walk back.
“By the way Dash, how’s Laila these days?” Bill asked as they left the restaurant.
“She’s still in Miami finishing up some business. I wanted her to come back with me but she didn’t want to leave any loose threads hanging. You know how she is about details. I’ll tell her you were asking, though.” Lester replied.
“Let’s walk back toward Bourbon Street. It’s almost 10 o’clock, time for things to start cranking,” Lester laughed. “Since Vlad’s never been to New Orleans, I definitely think this is one place he has to see.”
They were almost to Bourbon when Bill stopped to look in the window of a small antique shop that had already closed for the day. “Hold up a minute. Wouldn’t Marie love this?” He was always looking for presents for his little daughter.
As Lester, Bill, and Vlad paused to admire the hand-made dollhouse that Bill had spotted, two young punks, one black, the other one white, stepped out of a doorway and quietly began making their way toward the unsuspecting trio. One of the men held an automatic pistol at his side, the other a Bowie knife. The three men staring in the shop window didn’t look like they would offer much resistance.
Once they were within six feet of their prey, the black man spoke. “We don’t want no trouble here. Just give us your wallets and watches and we’ll be on our way. You gentlemen don’t want no trouble, do you?” he sneered. He was about twenty. His white partner, about the same age, didn’t say a word. He just pointed the gun, nervously switching his aim from Lester to Bill to Vlad.
“Hey, we don’t want to get hurt,” Vlad nervously shouted. “Please ……. Here, just take this and go,” he begged. Showing his wallet, he quickly brought his left hand back and threw it toward the thieves.
As the two men’s eyes locked on to the flying wallet, a steel throwing knife suddenly flashed from Vlad’s right hand. The knife struck the quiet gunman hard between the eyes, handle first. Shocked, he sprawled backward onto the sidewalk.
Vlad, waiting, expected the black man to reach for the gun. Instead, he started toward them, handling the Bowie knife skillfully, slashing from right to left. As he moved in for the kill, Vlad stepped into the sweeping arc and quickly drove his right hand up beneath the man’s chin. Simultaneously, his right knee, driven hard, smashed into the thief’s crotch. The man flew backwards onto a parked car and then crumpled down into the street gutter. Vlad calmly picked up the Bowie knife, looked it over and tossed it into a trash can in the alley.
“Jesus, Vlad, didn’t you see that white guy had a gun? He could’ve shot you, or all of us, if you’d missed,” Lester stammered, amazed at the speed of the action. He’d barely had time to reach for his wallet before the two men were sent flying.
Vlad walked over and, placing his foot on the automatic, stepped down hard, crushing what had been a plastic water pistol. He found his throwing knife and dropped it back into his pocket.
“I don’t think they’d kill anybody with that, do you?” Vlad asked, smiling like he was the only one who knew the joke and had kept the other two men guessing.
“Did you know all along that it was just a water pistol?” Bill asked, wiping his forehead with his pocket handkerchief.
“No, only when the black guy didn’t try to grab it. He should have gone for it since there were three of us and only one knife. If the gun had been any good, he would have,” Vlad calmly explained.
“Dash, there’s one other thing I guess I should have told you. Vlad is also an expert with edged weapons,” Bill said patting Lester on the back.
Once on Bourbon Street, with the sounds of music and laughter surrounding them, Lester led the two men into a little courtyard bar. Their drinks arrived quickly and Lester took a big swallow of his. Turning, he looked directly at Vlad. This Russian life-saver hadn’t even broken a sweat dealing with those muggers.
“Where’d you pick up that skill, Vlad?” Lester asked.
Vlad, sipping his vodka, was enjoying the lively music. “Which skill?”
“Edged weapons?” Lester asked. “Why edged weapons? Why not guns?”
“My father worked for the Moscow circus. He was a tumbler and acrobat, until a Stalingrad taxi ran over him. I was ten when it happened. Afterwards, he was too crippled to work, but he still wanted to stay with the circus. So, he practiced throwing the knife, axes, anything with an edge. I helped him and worked with him until I was sixteen. He became more famous with his knife throwing than he would have ever been as a gymnast. I still practice today, like I did with my father. When I’m doing this, I still feel like I’m with him. He died two years ago.” Vlad finished his explanation and signaled for another round of drinks.
The band finished their set and began passing the hat through the audience. Vlad dropped in a ten dollar bill and complemented the grateful saxophone player. The noise of Bourbon Street, crowded now with tourists trying to out-drink one another, filtered in.
“Weren’t you tempted to kill them?” Lester asked.
“Who? Oh, you mean the muggers? No, they never got close enough to be a real threat,” Vlad answered, smiling. “I think they’ll have some sore bones when they wake up. Maybe this will teach them a lesson. They shouldn’t pick on helpless visitors like that. Mr. Landeche, this New Orleans is sure an exciting place.”

“Yes, it is Vlad,” Lester laughed. “And by the way, you can call me Dash.”

 

CHAPTER 2
Several hours later, an old homeless woman slowly pushed her shopping cart down the deserted sidewalk. She was wearing several different skirts and at least two jackets. Her feet were covered with two burlap bags tied around her ankles and an ancient gray scarf covered her head. Her walk was stooped and she shuffled as she pushed her basket. But her eyes, partially hidden behind the scarf, scoured the street gutters and edges of the buildings. She walked right by the two security guards sitting on the concrete porch of the large industrial complex.
The old woman shuffled on until she came to the open gate of the fence that surrounded the complex. She paused for a moment, looking at two green dumpsters that were just inside. Finally, she pushed her cart through the gate and toward the huge trash containers.
“Hey, you old bag, get the hell out of here. Can’t you read? It says ‘No Trespassing’,” the larger of the two guards shouted at her.
The woman continued her tired walk toward the dumpsters, ignoring the two men.
“Leave her alone, Henry. She probably can’t read. Anyway, whatever’s in those two dumpsters, she’s welcome to it,” the younger man said with a laugh.
“I suppose you’re right, Lenny. Besides, she isn’t going to stop and I sure don’t want to touch her to throw her off the property. Let’s go and pull our rounds. If she’s not gone by the time we get back, I’ll call the cops. They can drag her out of those cans,” the larger man added.
The two guards walked back inside the building, leaving the dumpsters to the old woman. She approached the first of the two containers and opened the latched door. The night was dark and the lights from the building didn’t give off enough illumination to see into the metal dumpsters.
Glancing back at the porch to verify that the two guards were gone, she produced a small, black, high intensity flashlight. Placing the flashlight between her teeth, she searched around through the reachable contents in the container. Unsatisfied, she closed the door and pushed her cart toward the second container. She glanced in and, seeing what she wanted, turned and waved her hand in front of her flashlight. She then turned back and, grabbing the edge of the dumpster’s open door, casually rolled her body into the container.
Within seconds, a black pickup truck pulled up along the deserted sidewalk and stopped just outside the open gate. Two men jumped out, each carrying several black, full, garbage bags and ran up to the open dumpster. The old woman quickly passed them several bags from inside and, using the same technique as before, rolled out of the container. The men then threw the replacement bags they had brought back into the container. The three, carrying the trash bags they’d just recovered from the dumpster, moved swiftly back to the pickup. One of the two men grabbed the shopping cart and silently placed it into the back of the truck. As soon the three night visitors climbed into the cab, the truck slowly pulled away from the curb, not turning its lights on until they were well down the block.
Half a block away Lester, Vlad and Bill, each equipped with a pair of high tech, night vision goggles, sat in the car and watched the curious action.
“What the hell are you running Dash, a trash trading service?” Bill asked as the truck pulled away.
“What you just saw was a quarter million dollar contract award, my friend,” Lester answered. “The three trash pickers work for me. We found out yesterday that Laser Metrics puts its shredded burn bags in those dumpsters on Friday night. The trash haulers come by on Saturday morning and empty those dumpsters, sending the tagged bags to the incinerator and the other trash to the local land fill.”
“Their burn bags presumably contain confidential company information which we will analyze this weekend. I hope they will yield a few tidbits of knowledge that I can use on Monday morning, when I visit the company president.” Lester said this while studying the first floor windows of the building. He wanted to make sure that no one had become alarmed by the quick scenario that played out only moments before.
“You mean this company will give you a contract for stealing secrets from them?” Bill asked, disbelievingly.
“The old woman, is she really that old and disgusting?” Vlad asked.
“She’s nearly forty,” Lester said with a little smile playing across his face. “At one time, she was with the carnival. After she left them, she earned a living for a few years working a scam in Tampa. She’d hide in an alley, or behind a parked car. When an expensive car drove by, she would spring out and bounce off the hood. Then, she’d fake an injury and collect a settlement. The scheme also involved a lawyer and a doctor. Madeline, that’s her name, only got to keep a small piece of the take. She took the risks while the other two pocketed the big bucks. One day, one of the intended marks didn’t stop, or I should say, he stopped and backed up right over her left leg. She was never the same again. The lawyer found another fender dodger, but Madeline’s usefulness was over. I found her sleeping in a park in Tampa when we were working a job in Clearwater.”
“You said the bags contained shredded papers. How can you read shredded papers?” Vlad asked from the back seat.
“I’ll show you how in just a few minutes, when we drive over to the trailer. It looks like they made a clean getaway. Nobody’s paying any attention.” Lester was relieved.
” Why did you put new trash back in that can?” Bill asked.
“We always replace, bag for bag, anything we take. Occasionally, an agreement with the trash company requires a written account of the number of bags burned. I don’t know their arrangement. But, this way, there will be no discrepancy. Also, someone might look into the dumpsters in the morning. I don’t want anything to appear to be missing. We also make sure that the replacement bag markings match the real ones. They also contain shredded paper,” Lester replied.
“I thought you didn’t trespass or use intrusive techniques?” Bill asked smugly.
“Well, we don’t, usually. But with so little time, I need to gather information quickly. Usually, we just buy the bags from whichever trash company is contracted to burn them. That way, we can take possession outside the target company’s property. Most of the trash services don’t give a damn about security anyway. But, I didn’t have time to set up those arrangements. Don’t forget, we’re not really staking out this company. It’s a prospective customer,” Lester responded.
“And what will you do with the information on this company that you just collected?” Vlad asked.
“We’ll store it in our computers and then either give them back the paper, or destroy it. It depends on how our presentation goes on Monday. It impresses the hell out of some customers. But others don’t believe that we really have the information. When that happens, we show them the reproduced documents. That always makes them believe us. Either way, we record all the information we collect. You never know when it might be useful.” Lester placed his goggles back into their case. “Well, this show’s over. Let’s go back to the trailer and I’ll show a little bit of our operation.”
Driving to the outskirts of town, they entered a small travel trailer park. Three recreational vehicles occupied a remote section of the sparsely populated north side. Lester blinked his lights once toward the trailers and pulled up behind the same black pickup truck that they had seen earlier. The trailer’s lights were on but the shades were drawn on all the windows.
Lester led the way to the center trailer, the heart of the operation. Inside the thirty-foot long trailer, which had been completely stripped of its regular furnishings, were three computers in racks and two more sitting on long workbenches. The three people responsible for collecting the trash earlier looked up in unison as Lester, Bill and Vlad walked in. Sitting on short stools, the trio was busily working in the forward part of the trailer. The rear of the trailer contained two desks, several fax machines, and a radio softly playing rock and roll. Several air conditioners strained to keep the brightly-lit work space cool and comfortable.
“Guys, I’d like you to meet Madeline Connors, Tommy Ross and George Lopez.” The three trash gatherers looked up and nodded towards the newcomers. As soon as Lester completed the introductions, the three immediately resumed opening the bags and pasting the ends of the shredded paper together with stickers.
An older man with silvery-gray hair, his age somewhere between fifty-five or sixty, soon joined the crowd in the small trailer.
“And this is Harry Smith, our financial brain. I think he’s a close relation to Adam Smith, but he denies it,” Lester said, obviously proud of the older man.
“Pleased to meet you, gentlemen,” Harry replied to the introduction with a tolerant grin.
“Who is Adam Smith?” Vlad asked, puzzled by the reference.
“One of the world’s first financial geniuses and certainly no relation to me,” Harry answered, politely.
“Dash, we just received the last of the financial reports from the brokers and that on-line stock service. By tomorrow afternoon, if we’re lucky, I’ll be able to give you a complete dossier of what the outside world knows about the Laser Metrics Corporation. I’m hoping we can learn even more from this pile of trash. But even if we don’t, I think you’ll be equipped to make a good presentation on Monday, ” Harry said as he sifted through a stack of faxed responses.
“Why are you connecting all those shredded pieces of paper together?” Vlad asked, puzzling over the work being performed by Madeline, George and Tommy. Madeline had discarded her rags and was now dressed in jeans and a pull over. The two men were both still dressed in khaki jumpsuits with ‘Lindsey Trash’ stenciled across the back in faded yellow letters.
“They’ll connect all of the strips together and then put the leading end into that funny looking reader on the edge of the table. That reader will pull the strips through its read heads and scan both sides of the strips as they pass through the heads. The images are sent to that computer over in the corner and stored on magnetic tape. When its through scanning the strips, the computer will try to put Humpty Dumpty back together again by matching the image starts and spaces. Whenever it gets lost, one of us will help it pick out the strips that belong together. It’s time consuming. But, in five or six hours, we can put these three bags of trash back together and print out copies that are almost as good as new.” Lester was obviously proud of their gadgetry.
“Where’d you find a program that would read that fast, and on a personal computer, no less?” Bill was pretty amazed.
“We developed it ourselves. Initially, we tried using people and a pasteboard, but it took way too long. We decided that it might pay off to develop a computerized scanner. So, we developed the reader and the software,” Lester answered.
“How does the computer know where the strips start and stop?” Vlad was fascinated.
“The strips they’re using to join them contain a computer readable numbering system that shows how long the strip is. It assigns a number to uniquely name each strip. If you’re really interested, I’ll introduce you to the programmer who developed the software,” Lester said. “He’s back at the office.”
“That would be great. What kind of information can you retrieve from these strips?” Vlad asked.
“It can be anything, from internal memos to detailed company plans and forecasts. The company must feel that the information in these documents is sensitive or they wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of shredding and burning them. So far, we’ve never been disappointed with the information we find. We do use other techniques as well. But, document rebuilding usually gives us an edge, just enough to fill the gaps in our information,” Lester replied.
The three workers finished joining the strips and started the computerized reading. They carefully fed the strips in as the reader quickly scanned each one. They would easily be finished by morning. The computer would then take four or five hours to make its guesses, followed by another two or three hours of manually viewing and helping the software connect the strips into documents to finish the process.
“I think we’re done here. Let’s get back and catch some sleep. Tomorrow Vlad, you and I need to go over the list of long distance phone records we’ve received from our contact at Ma Bell. We need to identify the names of the companies by tomorrow night,” Lester said.
“Who is Ma Bell?” Vlad asked. “Oh, wait a minute, I know that name. It’s the phone company, right?”
“I’m sorry about that. You speak such good English that I forget you’re not from here. Yes, it’s the phone company.”
“Ok, now tell me what we have to do.”
“We’ve gotten, by fax, a listing of all the telephone numbers that Laser Metrics has called in the last six to eight weeks. We have to feed those lists into our page scanner over there and pull off the numbers. Then, we convert the numbers to company names using the reverse directory software we have on CD-ROM. It usually catches between 70 and 80 percent of the phone numbers. Any names the computer can’t come up with, Madeline will call on Sunday. Most companies have some sort of answering machine to catch any weekend calls and those machines usually give the name of the company. We won’t know precisely who received each call but I don’t have time to wait. So, just the company names will have to do,” Lester replied.
Bill had been quietly watching all of the activity taking place in the cramped, little trailer. He had been involved in many intelligence gathering operations in his day, but hardly any of them compared favorably with this sweet little set up. “Dash, I have to tell you how impressed I am with all of this.” He swept his arms in a wide arc to encompass his surroundings. “And it’s mobile enough to take it anywhere you need it. Just how long does it actually take you to set up in a new town?” Bill asked, amazed at the sophistication he saw.
“Well, take this set up, for example. Last Wednesday, I told them when I needed them to be back here, on-site. So, they rolled in last night. It only takes about fourteen hours to drive here from Miami,” Lester said, proudly.
Lester turned and walked back to where Harry was studiously sifting through mounds of fax paper. “Harry, do you think you’ve found a good enough reason for them to hire us?”
“Sure, the best reason I can think of. They’re in financial trouble. I’ll know more tomorrow, but I think they’ve been losing business. This fact has already forced them to consolidate two of their five plants. They hired a new president two years ago and he has increased their business. But, he’s also lost the last four major bids. I think they’ll decide to use us because they desperately need an ace in the hole. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the chairman of the board step down soon. If this new president can deliver a good-sized win, then he can slide right into the top slot. If he doesn’t deliver any better then he has in the last four bid battles, there will be a new president next year. Yeah, I think you’ll be preaching to the choir on this one,” Harry chuckled, walking toward the trailer door.
Later that night, after Lester had dropped them off at their hotel, Vlad and Bill met in the hotel bar. They were both still trying to digest everything they had seen and heard earlier in the evening. “You told me that Lester Landeche was an interesting man. But, after tonight, I think that might be a bit of an understatement,” Vlad finally said. He finished his vodka and motioned for the bartender to bring another round. “He never really got out of the spy business, did he?”
“I guess he didn’t. I always knew that he was a lot smarter than most of us. I just never realized the potential for what he could really do on the outside. It looks like this may turn out to be a very interesting ride for you, my friend,” Bill said. “I think I’m a little jealous.”
“By the way, who is Laila? You asked Dash about her earlier,” Vlad asked.
“I guess you could say that Laila Kane is Dash’s long time girlfriend. They’ve had an on again, off again relationship ever since their college days. After Dash’s wife died, and she got divorced, they just kind of picked up where they had left off. But every time they seem to get close to marriage, one or the other breaks it off. The last time I saw Laila was about two years ago, in Italy. She’s a classy looking woman, tall with light brown hair and big blue eyes,” Bill replied.
“And the people that work for Lester? It seems like they’re either ex-criminals or had some hard luck. And Harry Smith, you said something about him being part of a stock fraud?” Vlad asked.
“One thing you should know about Dash is that his nickname is Trash Man. If he has a job to do, he’ll always pick the people nobody else wants. He has a soft spot for people who are underdogs, or down on their luck. The other thing to know about him is that he always comes out on top. The people he hires have their backs against the wall. They can’t afford to lose anymore then they already have,” Bill answered.
“You mean like me?”
“Nah, you don’t even begin to compare with some of the people who have worked for Dash. Take Harry Smith for example. He was sent to jail for stock fraud. I think he did about five years. The fines they levied against him took every cent he had.
He’d been a top trader on Wall Street for years. Then he got tangled up with a fast track brokerage house. They started selling fringe securities, or stocks that the bigger houses refused to handle. In a couple of years, the Security and Exchange Commission indicted the principals of the company, and Harry, even though by that time he was only an advisor. Since he was so well known, the SEC decided to make an example out of him and two others. The SEC’s philosophy is to hit hard on a highly visible target. That’s supposed to keep the little guy from trying the same thing.
Anyway, the company’s president left the country after he was indicted. Harry and the other man went to prison. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Harry’s wife left him and took what little he had left,” Bill replied.
“So, how did he end up working for Lester Landeche?” Vlad asked.
“I’m not really sure, except I heard that Dash’s oldest son Tony is the one who recommended him. When Harry was released from prison, he was alone, broke and as far as the business community was concerned, he was a pariah. Nobody would even talk to him, much less hire him. I heard that Dash tracked him down and offered him a job. But, I don’t know any more of the details,” Bill explained.
“I think I’m actually going to like this line of work. I guess Mr. Lan…., I mean Dash, is a pretty good salesman,” Vlad said.
“Oh, he’s more than just a salesman. He’s one of the best damn surveillance contractors I ever worked with. And, he’s just as good with field operations. But, he’s can be demanding and a royal pain in the ass. If you’re on his team, he’ll back you one hundred percent. I just wouldn’t ever want to be on the opposite side,” Bill replied.

CHAPTER 3
The offices of Laser Metrics Corporation were well known to Lester Landeche. The three-story structure, reflecting new-age taste and high-tech metal designs, had caused a major furor during its construction. What would have been a beautiful, modern addition to the business district of New Orleans became an unwelcome eyesore, an affront to the Historic St. Charles district of the city. While most of the residents thought it was completely inappropriate to build a glass and chrome tower amongst the beautiful two-hundred year old mansions that line the street, the zoning commission of New Orleans did not. After two explosive city council hearings on the matter, one in which Lester was chosen to speak as a representative for his block, their citizen’s complaint was dismissed and the matter tabled permanently.
Lester was remembering all of this as he and Vlad entered the large lobby of the building. The modern Scandinavian furniture and expensive beige carpeting belied the company’s true financial standing. They were immediately greeted by an ancient receptionist who politely welcomed them to Laser Metrics. She then pressed a button on her phone and announced their arrival. Declining her offer of coffee and sweet rolls, Lester and Vlad walked over to a row of soft leather and chrome chairs that were lining the far wall. Choosing the two that were the farthest from the receptionist, the two men sat down to begin their wait.
Lester had decided that Vlad should see the sales part of the effort. “I’ll do the talking, but I need you to watch the reactions of each person. Write them down if you don’t think you’ll remember them,” Lester said in a low voice. “It’s very important to us. If I screw up and we don’t get the contract, I’ll want to know why.”
The two men waited ten minutes before the president’s secretary, a stern looking creature named Mrs. Randolph, ushered them into the board room. Laser Metrics had spared no expense judging by the look of the rich mahogany twelve-foot conference table and the fourteen deeply padded leather conference chairs in place. The president was already seated at the head of the table, waiting for them. Dean Frankman, a man in his early fifties, with dark brown hair and a warm smile, stood up and walked over to greet them.
“I’m glad you could come over this morning, Mr. Landeche. Please, be seated,” Frankman said after their introductions. “I wanted to discuss a few things privately with you, before Vince Donahue arrives. He is the board chairman.”
“Sure, how many will be attending this meeting?” Lester asked taking in the vast expanse of the room.
“Just Mr. Donahue and myself. We’ve decided to keep this little meeting a company secret. You understand our sensitivities to this matter, don’t you? You will after you meet him, I’m sure.” Dean Frankman spoke with unusual warmth in his voice. Lester couldn’t decide if his warmth was the result of training or if he was a genuinely friendly individual.
“Vince Donahue is, well, its best to speak frankly, a very direct man. He doesn’t approve of this effort one bit, but he hasn’t discovered a better solution. So, he may come across as being abrasive and unfriendly. But, let me assure you, we are all depending on you to provide us with vital information. We have not had the best fortune during the last two years. Our market is slipping and we’re being frozen out of some new technology.”
A quiet buzzer sounded from somewhere in the room. “That will be Mr. Donahue. Please, gentlemen, have a seat and I’ll bring him in. He really is a good man,” Frankman said with all the smoothness of a preacher greeting parishioners on Sunday.
“This should be interesting, ” Lester whispered to Vlad as they waited to meet Donahue.
Vince Donahue was wearing a grim expression as he entered the conference room. He had the stature and bearing of an ex-football lineman. After the brief introductions, he stood at the head of the table, facing the three men.
“First, let me say for the record, and to leave no misconception on your parts gentlemen, I’m opposed to this type of spying. We never stooped to this sort of thing in the past and I find it distasteful to do so now. However, Dean feels it’s needed and I have to bow to his decision. But I want to ask you a few questions,” Donahue said speaking in a surprisingly soft and well-modulated voice.
“I’ll be glad to answer any questions you may have, Mr. Donahue.” Lester began assuming the same measured tones. “How do you feel we can be of service?”
“Well, my first question is obvious. How do we know you can get us the information we need? Second, what are your qualifications? Third, do you have any references that we can check? Those three should get this discussion started,” Donahue said as he assumed his seat at the table.
Now it was Lester’s turn to rise from his chair. “The answer to your first question will depend on our discussion here today. It will be up to you to spell out exactly what information you need and from whom. Secondly, I believe you already have a concise idea of our qualifications or I wouldn’t be standing here today. Mr. Frankman has been in contact with one of our long time customers and has obtained their personal assurances that we are both reputable and qualified. Now, let me first answer your third question. We don’t use references, for the very reason that you stated. Most of our clients do not want it known how they obtain information on their competitors. They have a problem with our type of business, just like you do. It doesn’t stop them from hiring us, though. It only stops them from admitting it,” Lester replied.
“That may be the case, but it’s not good enough for me. Before we spend one red cent of our money on what may just be a flood of drivel and bullshit, I want to know what I’ll receive and that I can trust what you give me,” Donahue said, his face starting to redden. “My business depends on winning.”
Taking his seat again, Lester leaned forward, toward the aggravated Donahue. He loved this part of the sales pitch. “I absolutely agree with your concerns. That’s why we have prepared a short presentation that may help convince you that we’re genuine. We have done a little research of our own on your corporation. This has provided me with some insight as to the type of information you will need and why you need it.” Lester reached down and brought his briefcase up to the table. He placed it, unopened, in front of him.
Donahue and Frankman looked briefly at one another and then back to Lester. Both men were curious about the contents of the briefcase.
Seeing that he now had their complete attention, Lester began again. “Now, if you’ll bear with me, I think I will be able to establish the foundation of the most important factor of all, trust. Even if nothing else gets decided before I walk out of here today, I want you to have trust that we can do your job and confidence in the information we’ll provide. Is that reasonable?” Lester asked, sensing the serious tone that the meeting had now taken.
“If you can do it, yes,” Vince Donahue replied, as yet unconvinced.
Vlad was curious to see how the two unsuspecting corporate heads would react when they learned of the information contained in Lester’s report.
Lester quietly cleared his throat and began his presentation. “Gentlemen, I asked myself why Laser Metrics needed to take extraordinary measures to assure their competitive position. I believe I’ve found the reason. You’ve spent a sizable fortune on research and development, about 25% of your last years gross revenues. Unfortunately, you don’t have anything, as of yet, to show for it. Mr. Donahue, you built your company on two basic products. However, you’ve now run into a dead end. Your technology is out of date and you’re facing serious market erosion. If you lose this upcoming government procurement, you will be unable to continue financing new research and your company will self-destruct. You’ve already scoured Wall Street trying to find investment capital, to no avail. You’re pinning your company’s survival on the sixty-five million dollar manufacturing contract that is an add-on to the contract you’re about to bid on. That would save you, all right. The problem is, you have to win the first contract before you can benefit from the second one.” Lester looked at the two men seated across the table from him. “How am I doing so far?”
The two men sat in silence. They both realized that most of what Lester had just revealed was considered to be secure, confidential, top-secret information.
Enjoying their stunned silence, Lester decided to go for the kill. “Now, let’s look a little deeper. You make laser based measuring equipment. As I’ve already stated, your technology is old and out of date. New technology would drastically increase the tolerances you can measure and the speed of those measurements. Your limits now are one thousands of an inch. Unfortunately, todays’ market needs at least an order of magnitude better than that. You read your measurements in fifty milliseconds, your competition reads them in twenty-five. Your alternative plan for survival, additional capital by attracting outside investment, fell through when you were turned down by both the Amalgamated Investments and Boston Fidelity groups. That happened on Tuesday. On Wednesday, you made your wise decision to look for help with this contract. You’re now forced to win this contract or your fifty million dollar a year company is on the block.”
Lester wasn’t quite finished. “ Unfortunately, because of the current financial climate, you can’t even get enough backing right now to go public. Mr. Frankman, your five hundred thousand a year job depends on you producing a turn around within three years. Since your last stock option is scheduled for November, that probably means your three years are almost up. If you don’t win this contract, you’ll be out the door.
“As for you, Mr. Donahue, your personal fortune is entirely invested in your ownership of this company. If Laser Metrics dies, we figure you stand to lose about forty million. Now, in my humble opinion, I think those are all pretty good reasons to consider using my company. Don’t you?” Lester asked, looking Vince Donahue directly in the eye.
Donahue’s blood pressure had been steadily increasing with every word Lester spoke. His flushed face gave only a hint of the fury that now gripped him.
“Well, Mr. Landeche,” Frankman broke in nervously. “I don’t think we’re in as dire straits as you seem to think, at least not yet. There are other avenues that ……”
“Shut up, Dean.” Donahue spoke those words very softly. He had amazing powers to separate his internal state of mind from his outward demeanor. Right now, he was utilizing every bit of power he possessed. “Mr. Landeche, just how did you find out all of your information?” He looked at Dean, accusingly. “We’re not a public company who shows our finances to every Tom, Dick or Harry.”
“Well, don’t look at me. I didn’t tell Landeche anything about our finances,” Frankman answered defensively. “I didn’t even tell him who the competitors are that we want him to look at.”
Vlad suppressed a big grin. He knew what was coming next.
“Provo Optics in Salt Lake City, Advanced Laser Optics, called ALO, in San Mateo, and Laser Research in Seattle will be your three competitors in the US. There’s also the Wyatt Group in Bern, Switzerland, of course. But, I’m under the impression that your only real competitor is ALO. They’ve beaten you four times in the last two years, haven’t they?” Lester asked quietly. He already knew the answer.
“I’m going to ask you once again. How did you come by your information?” Donahue asked. His composure was about gone.
“The same way I’m going to find out the information about your competition, by knowing my business better than anyone else,” Lester replied. “After all is said and done, I think you’ll find we’re the best of a tattered lot.”
For a solid minute there was complete silence in the room. Dean Frankman shifted his weight around in his chair, comfort now impossible. But Vince Donahue just stared out the window. Vlad was watching the two men carefully.
Lester finally broke the silence. “Here is one more item for the record. I did not obtain any of this information from Mr. Frankman, or any of your employees, for that matter. Everything I know about your company, I gained access to over the weekend,” he said to the silent group.
“I think I’ve heard enough,” Donahue said as he pushed his chair back.
“Look, Vince, we may not like to hear it, but he’s telling us the truth. I told you they are the best. Let’s not dismiss them too quickly,” Dean pleaded, trying to get the meeting back on track.
“I have no intention of dismissing them, Dean. Mr. Landeche just gave me, verbatim, my summation to the Board of Directors. I only wrote it Thursday night. He’s also named all of our competitors, including, we both agree, our main challenger.” Donahue’s face was still beet red, but he was now a believer. “I think we should stop wasting his time. Sign him up and let’s get started. The proposal will be due in three months, if the government keeps to its timetable. I’m satisfied and you have my approval,” he said as he left the room.
“I’ve never seen him that agitated before,” Frankman began, the charm returning to his voice. “You hammered the cold, hard facts pretty hard, Mr. Landeche.”
“I sensed that a man like Vince Donahue is put off by having to resort to these kinds of tactics. But he really has no choice if this company is going to survive. I just needed to impress him with facts, without bull shitting him. Apparently, he understood. He said something about three months before you have to submit a proposal. Is that an accurate estimate of our time schedule?” Lester asked.
“Yes, that’s today’s schedule. We think the Commerce Department will release their specifications and requirements next month. Then we’ll have about two months to reply. Is that going to be a problem?” Frankman asked.
“Three months is not a long time to gain deep access to a company. But, we’re ready to get started, whenever you are,” Lester answered.
“Well, then, let’s consider it done. I’ll give you a company check for your initial deposit. Afterwards, please send the bills directly to me every week. I would appreciate it if as few people know about this as possible. I’m certain that if we win, our competitors will be looking for any avenue to have us thrown out,” Frankman replied.
“In my organization, that’s a common request,” Lester grinned. “But, I don’t want you to worry about it. We are very good at what we do. If it would make you more comfortable, I’ll give you either a verbal or written promise that we won’t discuss this matter with anyone.”
“I don’t want anything written. Your word is good enough for me. I’ll expect to hear from you again in a week or so. How often will we get together?”
“It depends on how many competitors you want us to investigate. But I don’t think we should meet here again,” Lester replied.
“Why?”
“You must realize that you are probably not the only one collecting information,” Vlad answered, smiling. This was the first time he had entered into the conversation.
“That’s correct. If I am seen here, that creates a link between us. I think we should meet someplace where neither of us is known. I have one more piece of advice for you. Burn your trash everyday, don’t leave it for the collection agency,” Lester said.
“So, that’s how you found out. All right, I’ll see to it right away,” Frankman said smiling and shaking Lester’s hand. “I want you to concentrate on Advanced Laser Optics. They are our only real threat.”
On their drive back to the hotel, Vlad was full of enthusiasm. “Congratulations, Dash, you did an outstanding job. How did you know Donahue would react the way he did?” he asked.
“I’ve seen men like him before. He puts on a macho, take charge display, but in reality it’s feeding his own self image. He was sold on us only because I scared him. When I first started to lay out my information, he was pissed off. Then I reminded him that he stood to lose a fortune if he didn’t do something, quickly. That something had to be to hire us.”
“I think we saved Frankman’s job, too. One of the letters we found in the trash was written by Donahue to a management recruiter. He wanted to begin a search for Frankman’s replacement. If we do our job right, and they win this contract, Frankman will owe us, big time,” Lester laughed.
“What is that remark you made that we are the best of a tattered lot?” Vlad asked.
“Oh, that. I guess you could call it our unofficial company slogan. Nobody admits to liking what we do, but they sure like our results. Our profession has a tattered reputation, so to speak. And we are definitely the best at what we do.” Lester was proud of the work done by his crew of employees. They represented the true ‘tattered’ portion of the motto, a label they had come up with themselves. He would tell Vlad more about their checkered backgrounds one day, but not yet.
“So, Donahue and Frankman are concerned about appearances? Is that the reason they don’t want the board to know about us?” Vlad wondered.
“Now you’ve got it,” Lester answered as they drove into the hotel parking lot.
“What’s next?” Vlad asked.
“We’ll pack up and start moving the operation to San Mateo tomorrow morning. I think it’s time we take a long hard look at Advanced Laser Optics. Now, go get ready. I’m throwing a victory party tonight for everybody.
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