“Mr. Hall, I’m Henri Colombe. We met at dinner in France.”
“Certainly Monsieur Colombe. I remember you well.” Irwin also remembered he’d seemed rather cold and skeptical of Jeff and Jeff’s associates. Even though it was Jeff who had extended an invitation to call anytime he wished to discuss banking, it was instead Irwin he was calling. The lag between speaking and Henri’s visible response said he was still on Earth.
For some reason, there was a ding, ding, ding of alarm sounding in the recesses of Irwin’s mind. He smiled pleasantly at the man, but was already sliding a pencil back and forth through his fingers. Something he did as a stress reliever. People thought he was taking notes and felt good that he assigned their conversation that much importance. In reality he doodled fantastic creatures, fragments of ancient movie scripts and odd nonsense lyrics from early TV used to sell soda and razor blades.
As Henri inquired about the progress on Beta, Irwin scribbled paisley creatures with big eyes, zen-doodle fields of geometric shapes, and in careful script, Danger Will Robinson, danger! He made the exclamation extra dark and circled it all. What was bothering him so? It came into sharp focus suddenly.
People on Home were not above name dropping and flaunting influence. They were human after all. It simply wasn’t quite as structured as Earth. Colombe should be reminding him they met at the Prime Minister’s home because that enhanced his status. If he wanted to emphasize the social aspect over political considerations, he still would say they met at the Durand’s. Why wasn’t he doing either?
Irwin mentioned a few milestones in the progression of Beta’s construction. That was easy to relate since it was all things he’d told others recently. All the while, he was thinking furiously on why Colombe had disassociated himself from the Prime Minister. Or was he avoiding any mention of France itself? That should be easy to find out.
“Were you interested in Beta as an investment or as a personal residence?” Irwin asked. “I made that mistake recently with another gentleman. I’m afraid I subjected him to my standard investor’s sales pitch only to find out he simply wanted to buy an apartment for his own use. He was rather kind about correcting me but I still felt silly.”
“For my personal use, certainly. I’m surprised you still have any room for general investors,” Colombe said. “If it was a high-rise apartment building, I’d think you’d be at the stage you had all the street level commercial space leased and a big billboard out front saying there are residential units for sale. I’d like to get in before all the desirable units are spoken for.”
“It’s true many of the business spaces were designed for specific customers,” Irwin admitted. “Including a high g cubic sited and drawn to spec for a branch of our bank. I do have one gentleman who put a deposit down to have first choice on a residential unit on a full g corridor. We’re not as restrictive as most Earth cities with zoning statutes. There isn’t a strict division of residential and commercial unless there was a noise or mass issue that would encroach on their neighbor’s quiet enjoyment. Or dual use for that matter. I’d be happy to accept an earnest deposit to reserve second choice for you if you wish. That is still early enough to give you access to equivalent units.”
“What is a suitable deposit?” Colombe asked. “I’ll arrange transfer if you will grant me that reservation status pending receipt.”
“The first fellow volunteered a four-hundred-ounce bar. That seems like a good enough token to make standard,” Irwin decided. That at least finally elicited a few extra eye blinks from the fellow. Whatever his personal wealth, a standard bar was nothing to be sneezed at.
“I’ll arrange for it to be shipped,” Colombe promised.
Now that the deal was sealed, Irwin could try to dig a little deeper to see if his misgivings had any basis. He wanted new business but not if it was shady or outright criminal, and that’s what his inner voice had been telling him about this from the start.
“I’m surprised you didn’t look to acquiring a property on the Turnip,” Irwin said. That was the unofficial and much shorter name most applied to the French habitat due to its shape. “It has more of a French culture and uses your language. It’s also closer so you don’t have this irritating lag to do business. It’s not as if the North Americans and Chinese are a threat, constantly snipping at you like they did us.”
Colombe waved that away with one emphatic sweep of the hand when he replied. “They aren’t shooting at us right now, but I regard the entire Earth as a less stable region I don’t care to stay near. I want a clean break from Earth law, even French law, and all my attachments to the past when I leave. I don’t plan to stay active in business to need good quick communications.”
“That’s fine then,” Irwin said. “Beta should suit you.”
“Very well,” Colombe agreed and disconnected looking satisfied.
Irwin hadn’t wanted to keep questioning him further but Colombe’s answer raised more concerns than it answered. Colombe was in his fifties by his appearance, young for a man of his station. Irwin needed to find out his exact age and a lot more. He was at the peak of his career and there wasn’t really anywhere to advance. The head of the European Central Bank wasn’t going anywhere soon, and was pretty much a figurehead now.
The previous head of France’s Bank had remained at his post for a couple of decades and there seemed no reason that Henri Colombe could not do the same if he wished. Right when he was ‘sitting pretty’, as Irwin’s mother used to say, he was subtly disassociating himself from their present administration and planning his exit. It smelled.
He’d have to investigate what Colombe actually made and if he had unexplained wealth beyond his earnings and smart investments. Perhaps he had inherited wealth and all of Irwin’s misgivings were wrong. But it felt like the man had his hand in the till the way he wanted to be beyond the reach of French law.
Irwin did regard that as his business. He didn’t want to be associated with a crook, didn’t want to be responsible for bringing such a person into Beta. Besides that, he’d taken a liking to Joel and knew that a scandal in banking would attach to him and his administration even if he was personally uninvolved and unaware. That would be a shame. Irwin would give Joel a back-channel heads up to audit him if Colombe still looked dirty a few days from now.
If he was innocent, and Irwin in serious error, it would simply be an inconvenience to him. The harm done would be more to Irwin’s reputation with Joel, so he wanted to be certain about the matter.