Influenced by Melisande’s obvious distress, Harold discerned a sinister undertone in Lars Gleason’s greeting. A less prejudiced observer would have sensed only rather stilted camaraderie.
“Mel! I’ve found you at last. Milos! How’s Zephyrcon been treating you?”
Both mumbled into their drinks. Lars sat down at their table.
“Babe, we need to talk. You got some free time?”
“My schedule’s awfully tight, Lars. I - ah - I have a dinner date tonight that I have to get ready for.”
“I won’t take more than half an hour. That leaves plenty of time for even you to dress for dinner.”
“I don’t know, Lars. . . .”
“Look, I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t have something important to discuss.”
“Well, here I am. Discuss away.”
“It’s a private matter.”
“Involving the Seattle bid.”
“I’m neutral. Neutrals don’t engage in private conversations about bids.”
“I promise I won’t compromise your neutrality. Mel, you’re being evasive. Tell me why you don’t want to talk.”
Her straw gargled as it sucked up the last drops of her drink.
Lars turned to Harold with an insinuating smile. “Milos, would you mind leaving us alone for a few minutes?”
Harold stood up. Melisande grasped his wrist and pulled him back down. “No, stay.” She looked sternly at Lars.
“Tell me your exact agenda, and I may be willing to arrange a meeting. Otherwise, I’m not budging from this chair.”
The man’s eyes rolled. “Okay, you win. I want to consult with you about Deno and his role in the bid. Is that worth thirty minutes of your valuable time?”
She studied her empty glass. “It might be - unless you’re trying to involve me in some plot against him.”
“No, babe, absolutely not. I made a deal, and I’ll stick to it. But there are other people who weren’t parties to the deal. . . .”
Her voice was faint, though still with an edge of sternness. “If you really want to talk about that, if this isn’t a pretext. . . .”
“I swear to you, Mel.”
“All. . . right. . . . Give me ten minutes.”
He grinned jovially. “Thanks, babe. My room in ten minutes.”
“No. My room.”
“Sorry, it has to be mine. I happen to know that yours is in use.”
“If you say so. . . .”
After he had left the lounge, she turned to Harold. “May I have another round, Mr. Savoy?”
She consumed her second drink in agitated silence, fingers trembling against the glass. When the last dregs had been sucked through the straw or licked from the ice cubes, she rose and walked, still silent, to the elevator bank. At the last moment, she attempted a smile.
“I have a bad feeling about this, Mr. Savoy. . . . Harold.”
Without thinking - if he had thought he would never have done it - Harold squeezed both of her hands. “Good luck, Melisande.”
The elevator door opened. She pulled away and went inside.
After the door had closed, Harold stood blankly, until a hand slapped his shoulder.
“Planning to take root on this spot?” Deno Stavrakis asked.
“Hi, Deno. How are you?”
“I’m just fine. Where was Melisande going? She looked upset.”
Such blunt curiosity made Harold secretive. “She had an appointment.”
“With Lars Gleason, of course. You don’t have to say anything. I’ve gotten pretty good over the years at reading body language. Do you know what they’re going to talk about?”
“He said he wanted to talk about your role in the Seattle bid.”
“To be more precise, he’s going to try to persuade Melisande to talk me into dropping out.”
“How do you know that?”
“Lars is boringly predictable. He fancies that he can convince anybody to do anything, thanks to the magnetic force of his personality. I’m the one exception, and he hates me for that.
“He knows he can’t win a straight power struggle with me. To oust a co-chairman requires a two-thirds vote of the bid’s executive board, and he can’t hope to get half the number he needs, though I know he’s been propagandizing steadily for months. You see, I keep in touch with the board, trade favors with them, treat them as friends, while he just blusters and expects them to be overwhelmed by his awe-inspiring smofhood.
“So that’s why he has to try to get to someone like Melisande, who’s an old friend and might be able to influence me. Of course, he’s no more likely to get her to help him than he is to put together a two-thirds majority on the board.
“Basically, Harry, their meeting is going to end with him looking very downcast and her looking very jubilant. I’d put money on it.”
“How about a drink before we get down to business?” Lars Gleason poured two glasses of sherry. Melisande accepted one without altering her stolid, skeptical expression.
Lars drained half his glass in one swallow. “First thing, I’d like you to read this.” He took an envelope from the top of the dresser, removed two sheets of paper and handed them to her.
The letter, typed on “Seattle in ‘05” stationery adorned with the bid’s logo of a bigfoot hurling the Space Needle like a javelin, was dated three days earlier.
Mr. Deno Stavrakis, Co-Chair
Northwest Convention Fandom, Inc.
This letter is written on behalf of the undersigned members of the executive board of the Seattle World Science Fiction Convention bid committee and represents a consensus of views that we have reached after long deliberation and soul searching.
At the outset, we wish to emphasize that we recognize and are grateful for your many valuable contributions to the Seattle bid. Without your early, enthusiastic and dedicated support, the bid could not have reached its present state as a clear front runner in the 1996 race. The statements in the remainder of this letter are not intended to belittle your past accomplishments and imply no dissatisfaction with them.
On the other hand, our bid is now at a crucial point in its history. We face a serious, well-financed Las Vegas bid, and our position is complicated by the presence of the Portland bid, which, although not likely to survive the first round of ballot counting, has diluted our strength in our home region. Faced with these circumstances, we must do everything possible to ensure that the voters are not distracted from our message by side issues.
With much regret, we have seen certain elements of your personal beliefs and conduct develop into just the sort of distraction that we fear. No one, of course, questions your right to hold and to propagate your deeply held views. But fandom is, as you know, a diverse and open community, and many fans see the presence of opinions like yours as a threat to that diversity and openness. It is vital that the Seattle bid not become a stormy petrel of this controversy, to the detriment of our unanimous goal of bringing the Worldcon to Seattle.
We urge you to consider what is optimal in the present environment and how your role could be adjusted to suit the bid’s best interests.
Naturally, we do not want to lose your wise counsel and advice. Perhaps you could assume a position that would emphasize strategic planning and creative development of ideas for implementing new concepts in the Worldcon. This course would reduce the risk that your ideological and religious positions would be attributed to the Seattle bid as a whole while preserving for you an important place in the overall scheme of things. This is merely a suggestion. If you have alternatives to present, please let us hear them.
Because it is necessary to resolve this matter at the earliest possible moment, the undersigned intend to exercise their authority under the by-laws to summon a special meeting of the executive board, to be held on Sunday, December 2nd. By the time of that meeting, we trust that you will have considered this letter in detail and will have formulated an appropriate response. If no mutually acceptable solution can be reached, it will unfortunately be necessary to settle your future role in the Seattle bid through action of the board.
“You’ll notice that it’s signed by every member of the board except Deno and me.”
“I can read, Lars. . . and count.”
“This is the best thing for Deno. The fact is, he’s moved away from fandom. Maybe that’s good for him, but he doesn’t have the dedication he needs to co-chair a Worldcon. He should face that now. It’ll be harder when the con is breathing down our necks.”
She refolded the pages and handed them back. “If you have the votes to kick Deno out, you don’t need an outsider’s permission. How does this involve me?”
“I don’t want to use the letter if there’s a viable alternative. You aren’t an outsider, Mel. You and I are old friends. You and Deno are older ones. I’d like you to help him and me. Talk to him. See whether you can’t convince him to step down of his own accord. No pressure. No threats.”
She twisted the stem of her glass between thumb and forefinger.
“You’ve almost finished your sherry. Have some more.”
She flicked her hand negatively, but he poured anyway. She set the glass down on a counter and waited for him to go on.
“You may not believe this, but I care about what happens to Deno. We’ve had our spats, but we’ve worked together so closely for so long that there’s a kind of bond between us. And lately I’ve seen that he’s under strain. Why else this religious thing? I’m concerned that an open fight with the board would snap him. He might do something crazy.
“You can make the transition easy for him. Won’t you help?”
For a long time, neither of them said anything more. She scarcely seemed to be present in the room. Her physical body was like an uninhabited husk, liable to float away under the recoil of any words that she might utter.
Then her head inclined slightly, and her chin bobbed up and down. “I’ll talk to Deno. Not as your agent but to let him know what the facts are. He’ll make his own decisions.”
“Thanks, babe. You’ll never know how grateful I am.”
He stared at her with a broad, foolish grin. She stepped away. He seized hold of her hands, which instantly went limp.
“Mel, could I say one more thing?”
“If you want to.”
“I’m sorry I snapped at you last night. I was tired.”
She gargled a few meaningless syllables.
“My hope is that Zephyrcon can be a new start for the two of us. Even if I’ve irritated you in the past, I still think you’re incredibly beautiful -”
“Lars!” She jerked her hands to her sides and rebounded a quarter of the way across the room.
“Now, don’t get excited. I’m not propositioning you.”
“Try thinking about Caroline. Remember her?”
“That’s practically over. We wouldn’t be going on this vacation if it hadn’t been paid for months ago. She’s your stereotype of the hot-blooded, jealous Italian female. I think she resents the fact that I have a mother.
“Anyway, all I was saying was that you and I used to have good times together.”
“No, we didn’t. You hung around and wormed yourself into my life and inflicted gifts on me and then. . . . I should have stopped you right away, but I was trying to be kind, and I never feel comfortable about disliking anyone. . . .”
“We shouldn’t be prisoners of whatever misunderstandings there were in the past.” He handed her the glass that she had abandoned.
“I’d like to get to know you again, babe. And I was thinking - maybe if we were closer, I’d get a different perspective on Deno. There might be some way to work it so that he could stay on as co-chair. . . .”
“Are you saying - No, I’m not going to say it. You can’t use my friendship with Deno as currency to buy me.”
His expression grew so pained and offended that she momentarily suspected him of sincerity. In that interval of uncertainty, he came close enough to clamp a grip on both her arms, squeezing them tightly just below the elbows.
“I’m beginning to see what I did wrong. You’re not one of those women who can be caught with honey. You want somebody a little rough, a little forceful -“
“Lars, I - think - that - you - had - better - let - go.”
They formed a tableau. It lasted long enough for Melisande to wonder whether she could bring herself to scream if necessary. By degrees, his grip relaxed. Avoiding her eyes, he made an elaborate business out of topping off his own glass and digging the rim into his lips.
“I didn’t mean anything, Mel.”
“Someday you’ll learn that actions have consequences. You can’t wait until you see how what you’ve done affects other people and then proclaim that it was all a mistake. And you shouldn’t be surprised if, after you’ve annoyed people often enough, they start taking steps to protect themselves.
“Good day, Mr. Gleason. I will talk to Deno. As I said, he deserves to know the facts - about his own situation and about whom he’s dealing with.”
As she opened the door and stalked away, anger made her forehead and her palms and her arms from the elbow down wet and burning. All of her muscles quivered. She made sure that Lars could not evade her last, malignant glare before she walked briskly toward the elevators.
Under Deno’s guidance, Harold revisited the art show and finally learned how sales were conducted. Each piece had a slip of paper attached to it, on which would-be purchasers could write their bids. If enough were recorded, the piece was sold by voice auction later in the evening. Otherwise, the highest written bid won.
At the moment, there were no bids at all on the “street gang”, which was not too startling, as the bid sheet asked for a minimum of four hundred dollars.
“Don’t bother,” Deno advised. “It’s just a glorified cartoon. Though you probably can get it for the minimum bid, and I think it was used as a book cover. You might be able to resell it at a profit.”
Harold pondered. His natural instinct was to delay any decision that entailed spending money. In line with this tendency, he now recalled that he had a more urgent matter to deal with.
“I don’t suppose the painting will walk away, and I ought to see whether I can get hold of my office computer expert. He was going to fix that disk that Melisande and your co-chairman had trouble with yesterday.”
“Ah, the famous Worldcon budget data disk. There’s a story behind that. For months, Lars has been promising to put a first draft budget together for the Seattle Worldcon, and he hasn’t delivered. Last board meeting, it was made clear that he had better have something by the end of this month, or else. So naturally he thought of copying somebody else’s budget. If he can’t do that, he’s going to be in real trouble.
“And the thing is, he’s so egotistical and unperceptive that he doesn’t even realize how hot the water is that he’s thrown himself into. I keep in touch with the board, as I told you, and they’re getting fed up with him. Any day now, I expect some of them to approach me about deposing him.”
Harold did not have to go all the way to the lobby to find a telephone. Deno commandeered one from a room used by the convention committee. This time, Lon Margolin answered.
“You bet your boots I left it at the front desk,” he responded to Harold’s query. “Told the girl your name twice and made her write it down. Sounds like I should of glued it to her forehead.”
“This doesn’t make any sense. Well, I’m sorry I dragged you into the office on Saturday morning for an exercise in futility.”
“Nothing to be sorry about. If’n your disk stays lost, I’ll just copy you the data to another one.”
“Huh? Oh, you made a backup.”
“‘Course I made a backup. S.O.P. Tell you what. Now I’ve got the LAN copacetic again, I can modem the data to you.”
“My laptop’s back in the office.”
“No problem. Just find you a hacker who’s got one at the hotel. Lots of the sci-fi crowd have computer jobs, so you won’t have no trouble on that end.”
Harold felt as he did when some professional crisis had been resolved. Minute chords of tension that had imprisoned his diaphragm and strained the muscles of his limbs abruptly relaxed, and his head grew a little giddy. He asked Margolin a few logistical questions, gave effusive thanks to both the programmer and God, and left the telephone suppressing an urge to whistle.
He went to the front desk to borrow stationery and write a note for Melisande or her roommate:
Dear Miss Thomas or Miss Silverbury,
Call off the bloodhounds! The office electronic mage can reconstruct your data and send it here by phone line. We merely need to find someone at Zephyrcon with a computer and modem. (He assures me that such folks abound at skiffy affairs.)
If necessary, I can supply more info when Melisande and I meet for dinner. Meanwhile, all’s well that ends well.
In his elevated mood, he decided to return to the art show and place a bid on the street gang scene. It definitely would enliven his living room.
Surreptitiously, he whistled a few bars as he crossed the lobby.
A “Do Not Disturb” sign dangled from Melisande’s door knob. She sighed and made up her mind to try the con suite.
At this hour, the suite held only a few fans, some gathered into quiet conversational clumps, others engaged in the solitary consumption of soft drinks, beer or potato chips. The new arrival found an empty couch near the window. Still red-faced and breathless, she dug a paperback copy of Beneath the Wizard’s Eye (her obligatory purchase from her friend Dick) out of her purse.
She was not left alone for long. Looking up from the middle of chapter two, she saw Colin Satterlee’s long face hovering over her.
“Hi, Melisande. I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
She closed the book and shrugged.
“Did you hear about what Gleason did at the Galactic Empires panel?”
“Faintly. You two got into a fight?”
“A loud disagreement. He was pulling his usual trick of hogging the panel, and I finally told him to let somebody else speak. Milos Savoy had been trying to break in for twenty minutes. Well, Gleason wasn’t going to let a mere pro push him out of the limelight. He started shouting and then ordered me to leave. Just like the Worldcon business meeting.”
“I’m sorry, Colin.”
“Don’t be. Every time he pulls a stunt like that, he pounds another nail into his coffin. Even the smofs are getting fed up. And I don’t want to brag, but I think I’m becoming the nucleus of the opposition, sort of the leader of glasnost in fandom. In fact, I’ve been wondering, Melisande, whether you might want to consider appointing me to chair the business meeting at your Worldcon.”
“That’s not really my decision, Colin. It’s up to the board, and they have a full agenda to think about right now.”
“Okay. Besides, I know there’s lots of fannish politics involved. Nobody can afford to make the smofs really mad, and Gleason will want to run the meeting again, I’m sure. Well, just keep me in mind. Who knows? Maybe by then Gleason won’t be in any position to run anything.”
He waited for a reply, holding his body in an awkward crouch that placed his head at Melisande’s level but avoided the presumptuous act of sitting on the same piece of furniture. When she resumed reading, he remained there a moment longer, then slid away.
At the end of chapter two, feeling that she had shown sufficient respect for Jody’s “Do Not Disturb” sign, Melisande located a telephone and called their mutual room.
No one answered the ring. Her watch indicated that she had almost an hour to get ready for dinner with Genie Galen. That might be adequate.
She noticed, as she went out, that Deno Stavrakis had entered the suite and that he and Colin Satterlee were engaged in an intense conversation. Neither seemed to be aware of her departure.