ON SUSPECTE LA MAIN DE L’EMPEREUR DANS LA DÉLIVRANCE DE MINE AFRICAINE.
The tag line caught Oriel Meirieu’s attention on a newsstand copy of Le Monde, as she headed for the Metro to work. She purchased a copy and read.
There had been a mine collapse in South Africa. Fifty miners had been trapped nearly a kilometer beneath the surface. After a day, with work crews struggling to reach them before their air ran out, an extraordinary event occurred.
The trapped miners walked out on their own.
According to their reports, a strange tunnel appeared glowing with sunshine. Hurriedly they had escaped, carrying their injured with them. Finding themselves in their own town, the mysterious tunnel vanished behind them.
Oriel nodded to herself. It sounded like the Emperor.
“Buzz! So it’s you who called this meeting.”
Buzz Chapman looked at Bill Gilbert and Earl Parker, two other vice-presidents for Western Petroleum.
“No, I thought one of you had called it.”
The three executives looked at each other.
Parker shook his head. “Don’t look at me. If my secretary tells me I have a meeting, I come.”
“You don’t suppose it’s a computer glitch again?”
“I don’t know.”
There was a knock on the door.
A young man in an expensive suit entered. “I apologize for calling you here with no explanation. I know your time is valuable.”
“Who are you?” asked Parker.
“I am a representative of the Emperor. I have come to make you a business proposition,” said Archer.
Parker glanced at his watch. “I can listen for five minutes.”
The salesman smiled. “More than enough I think. First a demonstration.”
From his briefcase he took out two white plastic pipes, each an inch in diameter and two inches long, each capped on one end.
He tossed one over to Gilbert. “Would you hold that over the trash can? I’d hate to make a mess.”
Puzzled, the executive did as he was told.
Archer took the other pipe and started pouring water into it from the pitcher sitting on the table.
The water ran out Gilbert’s pipe and rattled into the trash can.
Chapman said, “Let me see that.”
Archer took his over and handed the man the pipe and pitcher. The executive poured some water through, then set the pitcher down and poked his finger in the opening.
Chapman jerked his finger out.
Archer chuckled, “I did the same thing when I first played with them. No damage to the finger,” he held up his hand, “but I lost a couple of ounces of blood.”
Parker growled, “What’s the point of all this?”
“Simple. Cap off a large pipeline in say, Saudi Arabia. Cap off another in Houston. The Emperor will supply the magic, and you simply pump your Middle East oil directly to the Houston refinery. No oil tankers, with their attendant environmental dangers and costs.”
“What diameter?” snapped Chapman.
Archer shrugged. “Up to six feet, I believe the Emperor said. Other arrangements could be made, I am sure.”
“What does this cost us?”
“Twenty-five cents per barrel. Dollars or imperials.”
The executives looked at each other. Gilbert mumbled, “A sixth the cost.”
Parker asked, “What guarantees of performance does the Emperor supply?”
“None. In all honesty, the Emperor is above the law. Guarantees, contracts, court orders—they have no force over him.
“But he is interested in long term business arrangements. Try it out as a pilot program. You have nothing to lose. If it doesn’t work, you haven’t lost any oil.”
Parker tapped his fingers on the table. “We would need an exclusive contract.”
“Hmm. I’m not sure I am authorized to do that.”
“No deal without an exclusive contract.”
Archer spread his hands. “I will have to check with the Emperor on that.”
An amplified, distorted voice came from somewhere near the ceiling. “One year.”
Parker smiled. “Five years. We will need that long to sell our tankers.”
“Jay, you got your FBI Emperor Task Force, and I’m still outside begging for crumbs.”
“I’m sorry Rudy. I had the ear of Heisman, and he made good noises about you, but then we had a clamp-down.”
Jay was silent on the telephone. “Rudy, give me five minutes. I’ll call you back. Let me see what I can do.”
“Don’t forget to remind them of the reams of data I have sent you.”
Rudy waited. There was still quite a bit of information he was still digesting from Interpol’s ICIS database. There had been reports of the Emperor making business deals in three countries so far, but the hotspot appeared to be in the USA.
I’d bet anything the Emperor is an American.
“Rudy, here’s the deal. Imperials started showing up in Seattle. Several different sources. The Bureau moved twenty agents into the area, but before we could turn up a lead, the sources dried up.”
“You suspect a leak?”
“We don’t know. But Heisman says I can send you a vetted summary of our meetings.”
“Better than nothing. But I’m not giving up. I want a seat in your task force.”
“Don’t hold your breath. I can get you the summary in an hour, okay?”
Rudy poured over the carefully worded summary. Most names and places were excised.
One thing showed up immediately. Companies that had turned over the imperial bills to the police were now starting to claim them back. A market was developing for imperial script. E-bay was selling most of them. While they were selling at considerably less than parity with the dollar, the price was climbing.
The FBI had investigated some of the buyers. Some were collectors, or news media hungry to get their own copies to investigate.
But there were others. Some were secretive—there were more than a couple of buying agents working for clients who demanded anonymity.
One big buyer was the City of Los Angeles. When questioned, they reluctantly admitted that they had been contacted by a salesman who offered to reduce ozone levels on high smog days. He had offered a demonstration, and it had worked. They contracted for five more days, and imperials cost less than dollars, so they had gone out on E-bay to acquire them.
Rudy nodded. The Emperor was providing both supply and demand for his imperials.
The FBI had demanded to bug the drop and the city agreed.
He could see why the FBI wanted tighter security. There appeared to be several wonderful leads. Any cash or script that made it back to the Emperor was a fishing line they could use to reel him in. Any leak could spoil the whole deal.