Frank had never been at the airport so much in his life. As each foreign dignitary arrived he red carpeted them and ushered them to the terminal. A slight sense of frustration was building, which he was trying to suppress. The representatives all gave him a warm greeting but the person they wanted to greet most was the Taoiseach. By his calculations those Head of State greetings were televised 67% more than his ones on the tarmac.
Frank paused for an out-of-body moment and shook his head in shame at his own pettiness. There wasn’t time for this, he thought.
JJ’s line of attack matched his own paces.
“It’s hard to keep up with you Frank. You’ve been on the go for a whole 24 hours now, maybe you should stop for a coffee?”
“Tea, I meant tea, sorry”
“JJ, aren't you meant to be the person who tells what’s next on the agenda? Not trying to sway me from it?”
“I’m checking it now. Yes it definitely says tea break here”
Frank stopped an smiled; he gave in and they took five at the airport coffee dock.
“So, who’s here so far Frank? Let’s double check”
“France. UK. Greece. Sweden. Germany.”
“No U.S of A? Hmmm”.
“Not yet. They’ll only be here as long as they have to be.”
JJ mused, “but they’re the ones with the most moolah, they need to be here.”
“I know that JJ. What do you think all this sweat is for? At least 55% of my sweat is about that”.
JJ smiled, “They’ll be here. Nobody likes missing the biggest even of the year”.
Frank knew that JJ was right, the American president and Foreign Secretary couldn’t be seen to miss this when all other heads of state were present. He previously had some delicate discussions with the Americans on this whole issue. Their instinct was to swoop in and take control of the situation, but Frank convinced them to let Ireland handle it. They relented and Frank hoped it was his negotiation skills, but more likely the Americans realised that letting this play out offshore meant any collateral damage would not be theirs to deal with.
But that was a footnote now. The main pressure came when they had all actually arrived as promised. Then it was Frank who was under the microscope, the package he had put together would be stress-tested today. He had to keep Larry and the research team happy. He had to mind his protocols with Stapleton and the military advisors and, of course, listen to the constant buzz from Martina.
But putting up a good show in front of the world’s media an politicians and the big man himself would be the biggest test of all. He knew he could do it - knew it, so he did.
“Here we go” JJ interrupted his thought process.
“It’s POTUS Frank, the plane is coming in”.
The final piece of the puzzle - it was show time.
It was afternoon and all guests had had a chance to stop at their hotels and freshen up and experience a sliver of Irish hospitality. But most of the guests were impatient, hotels were pretty much the same the world over.
After Frank got off the phone with Secretary General Stapleton he gave the nod to JJ. He in turn nodded to the team beyond. This set in motion simultaneous phone calls which resulted in more besuited team members spreading throughout the booked out hotels. They all leaned into the guest suites and nodded at the point of contact for each entourage. The cavalcades began rolling out along the dual carriageway into deepest County Clare.
Media vans followed the cars; helicopters hovered above them. News channels went into a rolling feed.
Frank was at the visitor centre with the meeting party. The Taoiseach had arrived already but was not outside the front door with the rest of them. Frank was pacing back and forth and trying to micro manage every detail. JJ stepped in and took some of the tasks away from him and remonstrated with Frank.
“You need to relax, you need to zoom out Frank. You can’t do every job yourself.”
Frank nodded assent and carried on pottering about.
A few minutes later the burgeoning swam of journalists and TV people heralded the impending arrival of the first limos.
They all fronted up.
“Showtime” said JJ.
“You keep saying that” Frank muttered out the side of his mouth.
“Where’s the boss?” he then asked.
JJ made a perceptible little start. Then he leaned into someone’s ear.
“Get the Taoiseach!”
One of the team scampered off to complete the frontage of officialdom.
Nora was glued to her TV. One after another the cars pulled up and grey haired men got out and tied their middle suit button. Women with sharp hair swung their legs out of impeccably clean cars. All of them duly shook hands with the Irish Government representatives and smiled through a hailstorm of camera flashes.
If Nora wasn’t so closely linked to this situation, it would have felt like watching a royal wedding she thought. But it didn’t feel like that at all. It felt more like a very very slow car crash unfolding, nay, evolving in front of her eyes.
As usual the TV commentators didn’t really have enough facts to keep the pace moving along. So they resorted to the back-stories of the arriving dignitaries. And inexorably slipped into commentating on the women’s dresses and how well certain men looked for their age.
Nora could take no more of this pageantry and felt drawn into moving off the couch, moving away from the television. Moving, where? Stop it Nora, she fought with herself. Her eyes slowly moved towards the keys on the kitchen counter. There’s no point in going over there, right?
“Tommy’s at home this evening right?”
“Eh, yeah - why?”
“Fancy spending time with your buddy? Maybe even a sleepover?”
“Are you trying to get rid of me or what?” “What? No, no. It’s just that I know you guys are really tight, yes?”
“Tight? Have you turned American or what?”
“You know what I mean” she darted back.
“Well, I won’t look a gift donkey in the mouth”
“Horse, Conor, it’s horse”
“Nothing, just go upstairs and get your bag”
Conor walked upstairs pausing twice to look back at his mother. He wondered why she was being so cool about this. But he wasn’t going to rock the boat, just take what’s offered. He laughed at the idea of his mother being a ‘gift horse’. Then wondered what a gift horse was.
As soon as Conor was deposited at Tommy’s, Nora drove back to the family home. But she did not get out of the car. She parked there, idling, staring at the dashboard. She laughed a little because she had forgotten to tell Moroney what she was planning, but the laugh dropped quickly and her face became stoney serious again. ’What am I thinking’ she thought and switched off the engine. But she didn’t get out, she continued to stare at the dashboard. Her hand hovered over the keys and returned to her lap. After a few false starts her hand seemed to make the decision for her. The car sprung into life and she sped off in the direction of the visitor centre. She couldn’t stay away and simply watching it at home felt like living in limbo.
By this stage, all the welcomes and salutations had been completed and the tape had been cut. The Taoiseach, Frank, JJ and a heavy military entourage were escorting assorted heads of state into the main hall. It was decked out in bunting and had various information stations dotted around it with some interactive touchscreen presentations for the visitor’s pleasure.
But the main attraction sat placidly in his seat in the middle of the hall. Unmoving, it seemed to stare out into the middle distance - but nobody could quite tell where exactly it was looking as his eyes had no pupils. Once they got within a few feet of the alien, Lieutenant Murphy and Secretary General Stapleton took over the baton from the politicians. They explained in detail how the alien was found in the Burren and how his ship was made of nothing they’d ever seen before and how he was perfectly safe and hasn’t made any aggressive moves in the whole time he was here.
“Amazing, simply amazing” pondered the US President as his muscles began to relax, “up close, it’s even more impressive than on TV’
The French president was next to shuffle forward but simply chose to put his face within 6 inches of the Alien’s face. Looking into those shiny large eyes, all he could see was his own reflection. He could gain any more insight by his proximity to this beast. One by one the heads of state got an up-close and personal view of this singular creature, all offering platitudes and generally stupefied by this world changing event.
Once they began to shuffle away, it was time to press the flesh, hard. The government representatives had to milk this captive cow and make sure they followed through on promises made. Each delegation was shepherded into their own break-out groups for drinks, food and cajoling. It was at this point that Frank’s stress levels began to ebb from 100% to 95%, his posture loosened visibly and he knew the most difficult part was, if not completed, at least in motion. Next, the public would be let in and they could get their own view of this intergalactic marvel. The tourism benefits would be almost incalculable.
Outside, there was a PA announcement that visiting hours would soon begin. Among the crowd was Nora, giddy with boldness. She looked around her. On her left was a boy of 8 or 9 with a knock-off Alien t-shirt. The Alien on the front could have been anything between a beetle or a gorilla, but he didn’t care, his face was flush with excitement. His mother chatted to another woman next to her. Nora could tell from the conversation that these two women had never met before, but could chat away endlessly like only women could when placed in the environment of a long queue.
Just in front of her to the right was a man in his forties, alone. He had the look of an alien-spotter and would somehow cross things off his list when he got inside. Nora chuckled at the futility of such a pastime.
The PA announcement prompted all of them to look up at the same time, apparently they could begin making their way inside the door.