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   Chapter 4 Councilor

Councilor: Book Six of The Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 18961

Updated: 2018-02-26 16:35


Chapter 4

Elena surfaced from her paperwork to add her lunch order to the list Victor was making. When lunch arrived, she chatted briefly with Stephen and was told James would be thrilled to meet with her first thing in the morning. It was a quicker turnaround than she liked, but Elena smiled nodded and got back to work, reminding herself to take the background files home with her. Everything about Stephen's reaction to her willingness to meet with James screamed relief and she didn't have the heart to force him to postpone.

By four in the afternoon, her eyes were almost crossed and she decided she needed to leave the small office space if she wanted to keep her sanity and her eyesight. She stood, feeling her limbs ache from so long in one position.

"Well at least I got some of the piles cleared, " she said, feeling pleased with the amount of work she actually accomplished. While some of her desk reemerged, her calendar filled up dramatically. In the process of sorting through things, she made several calls to answer questions and managed to schedule several meetings with various heads of house scattered across North America, most of which would take place on Haven.

"My district, " she reminded herself with a shake of her head. Luckily as Victor guessed, there were few immediate concerns. Most simply wanted to touch base with their newest Councilor and to let her know where certain things stood.

"Let's check in on the stores, and go grocery shopping, " she decided still uncomfortable with being responsible for so many and more than willing to step away from the politics of it all for a moment. Elena gathered up the files she needed to review for her morning meeting with James. To the stack she added the still sealed agenda for the Council meeting aboard the Lorenzo she needed to attend at the end of the week. She figured that could wait until the end of the day. After checking in she would get groceries and as her final act of responsibility, she would read the Council agenda. In her mind it sounded like a sensible plan and she wondered how long before it would become as derailed as all of her other sensible plans seemed fated to end.

After picking up her stack, she let the others know her intentions and exited the office, feeling somehow as though she were making a great escape. "It'd be more of an escape if I shredded the paperwork instead of taking it with me, " she decided as she placed the stack in the passenger's seat. Elena drove home to drop off the papers and to pick up whatever Jennifer added to the grocery list. She was amused to find both fruit leather and potato chips on the list.

With a relatively short shelf life and fragile composition, most channel riders didn't bother stocking potato chips, or if they did, few bags actually made it to the DF. As Jennifer had never been out of sight of the DF, except to practice a few channel crossings, until she signed on with the Storm Chaser, the snack was a unique novelty and one she enjoyed.

As Elena tucked the list into her purse and left the apartment again, she tried to remember if fruit leather fit into the same category. It was certainly more durable, didn't get soggy in the salt air mere moments after being opened, and wouldn't crumble to bits if someone sat on it. Elena thought they had a relatively long shelf life, especially if they remained in their plastic. She just couldn't remember when she first came across them and if they were a novelty or just something Jennifer liked.

Elena shrugged and decided to ask Mateo and Benjamin about the novelty aspect when she got back. Elena enjoyed the short walk to the stores, pleased to no longer be stuck in the office. Being able to walk on a sidewalk in heels instead of a dirt path in hiking boots seemed strange at first, but she soon fell back into old rhythms.

As always the sight of her businesses made her smile. This time however the pleasure in seeing what she had built was tempered with worry. If she had to pick up stakes and head skyside for an extended time, what would happen to those who worked for her? All of her employees were good people and hard workers and she knew that they would have little problem finding new jobs if she had to close. But would they be able to walk away free and clear or would they be stopped, picked up and questioned? She didn't know and had to swallow her worry as she moved forward, hoping she would not be forced to abandon them.

It was late afternoon and she could see a few shoppers slowly browsing in each store. She knew they would get a slight rush as the office workday ended and people did a little local shopping before heading home for the night. Elena decided to stop into Calabrese Imports first. The bell over the door jingled musically as she pushed it open and Emily looked up from behind the register, her polite customer friendly smile splitting into a grin when she saw Elena.

Elena moved forward, but before she could greet any of her staff one of the customers called her name. She smiled at the woman who was just thrilled to run into her if her gregarious greeting was anything to judge by. Elena scrolled through her mental database trying to dredge up the woman's name. She was pretty sure it ended with an e sound. Mary, Nancy, Stacy. None of them sounded right, though.

"Maybe an a sound, " Elena thought as she listened to the woman discussing her latest project. Something in Elena's brain clicked. "She's one of the designers from Mara-Lee Designs, " she recalled even though the woman's name still escaped her. They did a lot of corporate design work. Feeling on firmer ground, Elena smiled.

"I'm certain we have something that could accommodate your needs, " Elena said when the woman paused for air. "So with the boutique hotel you will want different items for each room so everyone is unique, but still falling under the same thematic design?" Elena asked, condensing the woman's ramblings.

"Exactly, " the woman said pleased to be understood. Elena led the woman around the room, passing her purse to Emily behind the counter as they walked by. Elena decided it was as good a way as any to have a look around and make certain everything remained on point while she was gone.

Somehow she was unsurprised to see that some of the off world items created by the artists and artisans on Haven ended up as merchandise. Elena made a mental note to have Victor send any paperwork that could link her merchandise to off-world sources to Haven, just keeping the altered manifests citing earth-based artists on hand. Just in case.

The designer's theme seemed to be something related to world travel and by the time they reached the counter she earmarked several pieces for purchase, including a rather large sculpture to use as a point of interest piece for the lobby. Elena kept her thoughts about putting a sculpture of a Deresac fertility goddess in a hotel lobby to herself and let Emily ring up the charges.

"Nothing like jumping back into the pond, " Max said coming up to her.

"Gotta stay sharp, " she replied. "So did I miss anything?"

The answer was apparently yes and Elena smiled as Max, TJ, and Emily filled her in on all of the neighborhood gossip, all of which had little to do with her and most of which was amusing. Elena quickly learned of several local love affairs, and some not so secret crushes. She learned of three new store openings and one closing. There were a couple of retirements, car accidents and even a bad nose job mixed in.

Susan, the manager arrived and when the neighborhood gossip finally wound down, added a few actually business related elements to the mix. As Elena went over the reports in the office, she was familiar and able to add, clear up and settle all of the issues Susan brought up. Susan took notes and walked off satisfied. Having caught up in the imports store, Elena took her leave and headed next door towards Nibbles.

While this store thrilled her just as much as the other one, the welcome was more polite and less gossipy. The staff here was younger and respectful, trusting Roger, their manager to fill her in on anything she needed to know and not as comfortable with her as the imports store staff. She thought that if anyone were to be taken in for questioning it would be the staff of the imports store rather than that of Nibbles. The others in the imports store were with her from the beginning and stood with her as she took those first shaky steps into a life outside of the Guild and were more than simply employees, even if they didn't know the Guild even existed.

"Which is kind of ironic since the imports store has only a few off world pieces while Nibbles is almost entirely filled with off world products." She thought.

After making a circuit to check on things, Elena joined Roger, Nibble's manager, in the back office, going over the same sorts of things she just covered with Susan. Again there were no surprises and she was able to deal with his concerns fairly easily. Having no other excuses, Elena turned her steps towards the staircase, preparing to deal with Andre.

"He's not back yet, " Roger told her before she could go more than a few steps. Elena blinked in surprise wondering where Andre could have gone. She knew he hadn't shipped out with any of the channel riders and certainly hadn't made an appearance in Haven.

"Back?" she asked.

"He

had some sort of family emergency, " Roger replied. "The summer campaigns are all in place of course. Andre did leave the fall and winter ones for you to look at as well, you know the back to school, Halloween and holiday ones. I think he had stacks dealing with everything from Thanksgiving to New Years, there might even be a Valentines stack as well. He left Victor all of the ordering information so once you approve things can be set into motion."

"I see, " Elena said, wondering why Victor hadn't mentioned Andre's disappearance. "I hope everything works out, " she said thinking of Peter. Victor had no love of Andre and in fact only mentioned him when absolutely necessary. Personally Elena thought his disappearing would qualify as necessary information.

"He seemed more annoyed than worried when he left, " Roger told her. "So maybe it wasn't a medical emergency."

Elena shrugged. "I really don't know that much about his family other than he is related to Peter, " she confessed.

"He doesn't talk about them to us either, " Roger told her with a shrug.

Elena sighed. "Well I'll just have a look at the ad copy and designs so Victor can get started."

Roger nodded and noticed one of the clerks needed assistance with a customer. He rushed off to help as Elena climbed the stairs, a frown creasing her face. She entered the conference room at the head of the stairs and automatically moved towards the coffee pot. The pot was clean and dry and not even the scent of old stale coffee stained the air. Before Andre betrayed her by feeding information about her business to Riko's ill-fated nephew Douglas, she spent a great deal of time sharing this room with him as they worked. As he drank nearly as much coffee as she did there was almost always a pot going. Without the warm scent filling the room, it seemed rather cold and lifeless.

Elena shook her head and instead of making a pot of coffee, pulled a bottle of water from the small fridge located below the counter. She twisted off the cap, took a long pull from the bottle and walked over to the conference table. Each season was placed in a different stack. As it was already nearing the end of March, Victor approved the summer campaigns and Elena flipped through them quickly, nodding in approval. Andre, despite his consuming vendetta against his cousin Peter, always did good work and Victor had a good eye so she wasn't terribly concerned with leaving the advertising in their capable hands. She was pleased to see her faith in their talents justified and that they had gotten the job done despite the personal animosity.

Andre, it seemed, left something for every month. From Independence Day celebrations in July, picnic and barbeque themes for August, and September's new school year to New Year's Eve Celebrations in January and Valentine's day in February and everything in between.

"I wonder if he was just being thorough since he suspected I might be skyside at the end of the season again or if he wasn't planning to return for a while, " she mused. "Or ever." Elena sighed and set down the listed suggestions for compatible window displays to match the February ad campaigns.

"Well I was going to call him about Tina anyway, " Elena decided, pulling out her cell phone and sinking into one of the chairs at the conference table. She pulled out her cell phone and opened Peter's contact information. Calling him always made her stomach twist into knots, knowing that any request would come with strings, often ones she couldn't see. She pressed the call button and mentally framed her opening, trying not to look as though she were prying too much into Baranov family business.

"Elena what a wonderful surprise, " Peter said as he answered the phone. His voice had the same purr as an expensive sport's car. "I hadn't expected to hear from you until we met on the Lorenzo." Oddly enough he seemed to be once again edging towards flirty and Elena wondered if he was just trying to keep her off balance.

"Yes, " Elena replied. "As I began to settle back in, several items came to my attention and I wondered if I could run them by you."

"I would be delighted to assist in any way possible, " he replied. Elena could almost hear the "for a price, " that he didn't say. "Perhaps we could meet for dinner?"

Elena took a deep breath and hoped it sounded as though she were contemplating his offer. "I'm not so certain a public venue would be best, " she said realizing as the words left her mouth that it sounded like she wanted to be alone with Peter, somewhere private. She didn't want to encourage the flirting so she quickly pressed on. "Perhaps I could tell you my three items and see if they go well with food?" she hedged feeling out of her depth.

"Of course, " he replied, his voice was tinged with amusement.

"Well the first was Andre, " Elena began. "When I arrived I was told he left on unspecified family business and no one knew when he would return. In the conference room I found nearly a year's worth of campaigns and wondered if that was my signal to look for a new marketing person or if he would be returning at some point." Elena finished, thinking she managed to stay out of Baranov family business and only keep her interest professional.

"Ah, " Peter replied. "I am not yet able to answer that question. I should have an answer to you by the close of the season however."

Elena frowned into her phone, not liking what she heard for a number of reasons. Even though she was hurt and angered by Andre's betrayal, she had not mentioned it to Peter for fear he would enact some, possibly fatal, retribution. Considering Andre's obsession with destroying Peter, it was possible he did something…unfortunate while she was gone and was found out.

"Unfortunately, that leaves me in a bit of a bind, " Elena said, hoping to do what little she could for Andre. "I will most likely be spending the off season skyside leaving me unable to interview and hire a new designer when the season closes. While I trust Victor's eye on the campaigns, I would prefer to do the hiring myself, especially since both you and my grandfather are counting on me for those elements. We would need a new designer in place before the opening of the season next year."

"I see the dilemma, " Peter replied sounding thoughtful. "I will do what I can to shorten my timeline and should the decision cut the season too fine, I will make certain a temporary designer is in place, allowing you to assess when you return."

Elena was hoping he would just let Andre go, but realized that wasn't in the cards. Shortening his time in limbo had to count for something though. She knew she would appreciate a decision being made quickly if she were in his shoes. Waiting for disaster to strike always made her stomach cramp up.

"Thank you, " she said politely not knowing any further way to help Andre out or at least prevent his potential demise.

"So on to item number two?"

"Yes, " Elena replied ordering her thoughts and pushing her concerns of Andre to the side. There was nothing she could do for him now and she had to admit whatever he was going through, he had brought upon himself. "For the meeting aboard the Lorenzo, " she decided, going with the lesser of her two remaining questions. "The handbook mentions I can bring one advisor or adjunct with me, I was wondering if Lisa would be acceptable or if bringing a lawyer qualified as a hostile act."

Peter laughed. "I think we can deal with you bringing your lawyer, " he told her. Elena was fairly certain that the other councilors, including her grandfather, used the advisor rule to bring their bodyguards. As Lisa's physical appearance typically brought to mind words like delicate and doll like and the councilor's bodyguards brought to mind words like linebacker, she could see the amusement. She figured as long as Lisa didn't have to pass some sort of hand to hand combat initiation challenge, she would be fine.

"Good, " Elena replied. "Then on to number three." Before she could lose her nerve, Elena quickly described the problem Lisa discovered with Tina and her employer, Groban, Incorporated. She could practically feel Peter's amusement drain out through the phone and the knots in her stomach tightened painfully. She knew there was a possible danger to Tina, but knew of no other way to handle it. She had to know if it was important or if it was something that could be immediately dismissed. If suspicions leaked out then there were those of the Guild who might take preemptive action without waiting for explanations, and that Elena wanted no part of.

"I will have my people double check Lisa's findings, " Peter told her, his voice somber. "While I do not doubt her abilities, the system is unfamiliar to her and she may have made a mistake. In any event suspicions like these are best verified by more than one source. I will have my findings to you before the meeting aboard the Lorenzo and we will discuss the need to add it to the agenda." He sighed a dark heavy sound and Elena wondered if being a councilor weighed heavily on him. She always thought the power fit him like a second skin. He seemed born to be a counselor.

"I suppose you were right, " he continued. "This is not a matter to discuss in a public place. I will be in touch." Before Elena could respond, he ended the call and Elena was left listening to silence.

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