Tsibola is sitting in his office in his New Washington mansion. He was recalled from his post in Nivet for a few days, to give the Senate advice on the trade bill.
Tsibola is looking over his briefing, preparatory to retiring for the nap he promised Bernice he wouldn't neglect.
Maklinn comes in carrying the afternoon mail and a couple of newspapers.
Tsibola: Good afternoon, Maklinn. Anything important, or can it wait until after I've handled the Senate?
Maklinn: A couple of interesting items, sir, but nothing in the mail that can't wait a few hours. On the other hand...
Maklinn turns towards the door.
Maklinn: There's a gentleman outside who's hoping to speak with you.
Tsibola: A gentleman? Who?
Maklinn: Senator Pardim, sir.
Tsibola: Pardim? He doesn't sit on the commerce committee. What does he want?
Maklinn: I don't know, sir. He said he wished to speak to you directly about it, whatever it is.
Tsibola: Well, I suppose I can spare him a few minutes. Go ahead and show him in.
Maklinn: Very well, sir.
Maklinn exits, and moments later the door opens again.
Pardim: Ambassador? Thanks for giving me a bit of your time.
Pardim advances, hand extended to shake. He's a recently elected senator, and campaigning habits have not quite worn off.
Tsibola: You're quite welcome, Pardim. How can I assist you?
Tsibola shakes hands, but doesn't rise. It's too much work, these days.
Tsibola: Forgive me for not rising; I tire easily, these days.
Pardim: I wouldn't have been so insistent, but I'm heading back to my district shortly.
Tsibola: I see. Why don't you tell me what's on your mind?
Pardim: I've got all the details here, but I'll just go over the problem briefly.
Pardim opens his attache case and takes out an envelope.
Pardim: Two men in my district are incensed because their wives ran off to Nivet, apparently together, taking an infant daughter. One of the men came ofter them and was allegedly beaten up by both women at the border post, then dragged back across the border and dumped by the side of the road by a Nivet official, some sort of guard.
Pardim: They went to a local lawyer, who suggested they either find an expert in interterritorial law, or protest to me, which they have.
Pardim spreads his hands.
Pardim: It isn't clear what they expect me to do about it, so I'm referring the problem to you.
Tsibola: Well, that's not the usual sort of problem that crosses my desk, I'll give you that.
Pardim: It's pretty ludicrous really, isn't it?
Tsibola: What sort of outcome are they seeking? Do they want the ladies to come back to them? Or are they just trying to get the child back?
Pardim: Presumably they'd like their wives and child back under their control, their property returned -- apparently one of the women took some jewelry with her -- and some kind of redress for being beaten up and forcibly deported, if that did indeed occur as described.
Pardim: I find it a bit hard to believe that a man would let himself be "beaten up" by a couple of women, even if they're that kind of women.
Tsibola: I don't suppose either of them thought to ask the ladies why they felt compelled to take such a step?
Pardim: If they did, it's not in the material their lawyer sent me. After all, I'm not their clergyman -- I don't do marriage counseling, and I don't suppose the lawyer does either.
Tsibola: Are these put-upon gentlemen critical constituents of yours? Or are you looking for a way to send them on their way?
Pardim: They're just small businessmen in a small town, but as a new senator, it would do my reputation some good to mollify them a bit rather than just brush them off. I can tell them that I've personally taken their problem to the Ambassador, which is, after all, as high as it can go on our side, isn't it?
Tsibola: I suppose. Do remind them that these things take time. And for goodness sake, don't promise them any particular outcome.
Pardim: Thank you. I shall do as you ask.
Tsibola: Leave me the lawyer's summary, and I'll hand it over to one of my staff.
Pardim places the envelope on the desk and stands.
Tsibola: I don't suppose they know where the ladies went?
Pardim: Apparently not. They went over the border at a very small crossing, and vanished.
Pardim: Carrying their belongings in a wheelbarrow!
Tsibola: To tell the truth, my staff might well actually succeed in tracking the ladies down, just to be able to tell the story.
Pardim: Indeed. Well, I've taken too much of your time, and I have a train to catch. Thank you, again, Ambassador.
Tsibola: Do give your own lady wife my greetings.
Pardim: I shall, assuming she hasn't headed for the border with a wheelbarrow while my back was turned!
Tsibola: Heaven forbid!
Pardim laughs again.
Pardim: I think I keep her too contented with her life to consider a move like that.
Tsibola: Any decent man does. Which makes me wonder what sort of fellows your two constituents are. And why they apparently don't mind the world knowing about their incompetence.
Pardim: I suppose they're something of a laughing stock in their village and that's made them even angrier about it.
Tsibola: It would. And like fools, they think reminding everybody about the whole thing will make folks more sympathetic.
Tsibola himself has so little sympathy that even a Farris channel would find it hard to zlin.
Pardim: Well, as a senator, I have to do my best to serve the people who put me in office, no matter how foolish they may otherwise be.
Pardim pulls a gold watch from his pocket.
Pardim: Oh, dear. I must run. Thank you again, Ambassador, and best of luck to you in your new post.
Tsibola: Thank you.
Pardim nods and heads for the door. Poor sick old man, stuck out there with all those snakes, at his age.
Tsibola settles back in his chair, debating the nap. He did promise Bernice.
Bernice comes into the office.
Bernice: How's it going, Ruthven? Your last visitor left with a smile on his face, but moving at some speed.
Tsibola: It was quite a story, involving some lackluster husbands and their runaway wives.
Bernice: Oh, dear.
Tsibola: It's not at all clear what the fellows want me to do on their behalf.
Bernice: I hope they don't expect you to hunt them down and bring them home, do they?
Bernice is being facetious.
Tsibola: If so, they'll be disappointed. I'm a bit old for that sort of work.
Bernice checks her husband for signs of fatigue. He's been doing quite well lately, but the trip was very tiring.
Tsibola: I thought I'd see whether young Saag Doyle would be willing to look into it. If nothing else, it sounds like too good a story not to know the ending.
Tsibola knows that Look.
Tsibola: Bernice, I promise you, I'll lie down in a moment.
Bernice nods, knowing how long a moment can get to be, but accepting the promise.
Rundle storms into the office, shaking off the much smaller Maklinn as a dog might shake off a kitten.
Rundle: Ruthven, I need a word.
Tsibola: Rundle! What brings you here so precipitously?
Bernice thinks the last thing her husband needs is another session with the despicable Rundle.
Tsibola: Are you looking for information on where the skeletons are buried?
Rundle gives Bernice a significant glance. He has little use for women at the best of times, and this is not the best of times.
Rundle: Alone, Ruthven.
Rundle wields his former colleague's first name as if it were a club.
Tsibola: Bernice has never given me cause to doubt her discretion, Rundle.
Tsibola doesn't want his own wheelbarrow disappearing, after all.
Rundle: This is man to man.
Tsibola: That embarrassing? Oh, well. Bernice, do you mind terribly?
Rundle glares at Tsibola.
Bernice: If you like, Ruthven.
Tsibola: Thank you, my dear. We'll only be a moment.
Bernice leaves, giving Rundle a parting Look. It had better not be more than a moment, and it had better not leave Ruthven incensed or ill.
Rundle closes the door firmly behind the Ambassador's wife. He remains standing, the better to loom over Tsibola.
Rundle: I need you to curb one of your employees, Ruthven.
Tsibola: Really? Has Maklinn been a bit overeager, then?
Rundle shakes his head, dismissing the office flunkey.
Rundle: One of your Sime employees.
Tsibola: My Sime employees? Most of them are very low-level. What is your interest in this employee?
Rundle: You may recall my visit to the other side of the border a few weeks ago?
Rundle doesn't really make it a question.
Tsibola: Private business, you said.
Rundle: One of your embassy employees was my... is my... son.
Rundle spits out that last word as if it were an obscenity.
Tsibola: If it distresses you so much, why do you acknowledge the connection? No one would blame you if you didn't, after all.
Rundle: Through a fluke, he is legally in possession of something that should have been mine. Something I need. And he's holding me over a barrel for it.
Rundle grits this out as if he hates making the admission. He glares at Tsibola, daring him to make something of it.
Tsibola: If he's legally in possession of it, I'd advise you to consider cooperating with any reasonable demands.
Rundle: One of his demands was that my daughters take changeover classes, and that I show him certificates of completion.
Rundle: Thanks to a conspiracy of women, one of the girls is now refusing to attend.
Tsibola: Really? I'd think you could take care of that without my help, anyway.
Rundle: Have you ever tried to control a pre-teenage girl? One who knows how to use public exposure as a threat?
Rundle's face has turned bright red.
Rundle: The boy -- his name is Clarence, but he calls himself Randayl now -- must be made to see reason. I don't think the boy would want me to use my... usual methods... to force his sister's compliance. And those are all that remain to me.
Tsibola: Have you asked young Randayl to write to his sister? He might be able to reason with her where you could not. And if she still refuses... hmm, you could always threaten to send her to visit her brother.
Rundle: He refuses to believe that I have given it a good faith effort. But...
Rundle picks up a paperweight from Tsibola's desk and tosses it from hand to hand, considering.
Rundle: Your suggestion has merit.
Tsibola: Glad to be of service. Have you anything else you want to discuss with me?
Rundle sets down the paperweight with a thump. His lips curve up in something that passes, for him, as a smile.
Rundle: I've brought you a present. I wouldn't usually read this sort of rag, but I think you might find this amusing.
Rundle pulls a folded newspaper from inside his jacket, and opens it to show Pollovic's face on the front page above the fold.
Rundle turns and leaves the office, letting the door slam behind him.
Tsibola glances at the caption with ~~ disinterest ~~, then his eyes widen.
Tsibola: Oh, dear.
Bernice comes back in, wondering what that was about.
Tsibola: Yes, Bernice. I am ready to relax a bit. Even if Rundle was more of a chuckle than usual. Apparently, young Randayl has managed to stand up to him, and he's bewildered about how to proceed.
Bernice: Good for Randayl. Serves Rundle right, the bully.
Bernice has heard part of the story from Saag.
Tsibola: Indeed. And now one of his daughters is bent on following her brother's example.
Bernice: A rebellion in the Rundle family. Couldn't happen to a nastier man.
Tsibola: Yes. And the best part of it is, I no longer need his services, such as they are. So I'm free to indulge in schadenfreude with a clear conscience.
Bernice: Excellent! Let's enjoy it together.
Tsibola reaches out to take Bernice's hand for a squeeze.
Bernice squeezes back and smiles.
Maklinn knocks and enters, clutching a newspaper.
Maklinn: Sir, I'm sorry about Senator Rundle. I tried to stop him, but...
Tsibola: Rundle is a force of nature, Maklinn.
Maklinn sees the couple holding hands and starts to back out of the room.
Maklinn: Sorry, sir. Ma'am. I'll save this for later.
Tsibola: It's all right. Is it anything to do with this?
Tsibola holds up the tabloid Rundle left behind.
Maklinn holds up a copy of the same scandal sheet.
Maklinn: Yes, sir.
Bernice: What is it?
Tsibola: Apparently, Senator Pollovic has managed to embroil himself in yet another scandal.
Bernice shakes her head in wonder.
Bernice: That man... poor Eulalia. Now what?
Maklinn reads off the headline.
Maklinn: "Wedding Night Nightmare"... reading between the lines, sir, it appears the Senator tried to take a child in changeover to the Sime Center, and that everything went wrong.
Tsibola: Oh, dear. Was he injured?
Bernice wonders if anyone... died.
Maklinn: "Bandaged and heavily drugged," according to this.
Tsibola shakes his head.
Tsibola: The man never did have any common sense.
Maklinn: But they've made him out to be either a dupe or a traitor. Or possibly both at once. And a horse-thief.
Tsibola: First a wheelbarrow, now a horse thief? I leave town, and suddenly a crime wave strikes.
Bernice laughs, pleased at how Ruthven can take all this so lightly.
Maklinn blinks at his boss, not sure of whether he should laugh or not.
Maklinn: This will have repercussions, sir.
Maklinn points to the newspaper.
Tsibola: Of course it will. Pollovic will lose influence as people wonder if he's gone totally nuts. That's an outcome I can live with.
Maklinn: It's a shame, sir. I remember when he was such a bright young man. And his father... I worked for his father a while, when I was in the Senate labor pool. A great man.
Bernice: He's certainly not the man his father was.
Tsibola: Yes. He's sorely missed.
Maklinn bows his head in silent agreement.
Bernice: His father had sense, and dignity, and purpose.
Tsibola: His son only has the last.
Bernice: He got this bee in his bonnet about Simes and Nivet last summer and he's been making a fool of himself ever since. I'd think he'd be driving more people away from his views than toward them with his act.
Tsibola: There is that.
Maklinn: And there's an election coming.
Bernice: Who do you think might oppose him in his district, Ruthven?
Tsibola: I don't know of anyone offhand -- the Pollovics have held that seat for generations. However, I expect the liberals can find somebody, if Brenn has lost support.
Bernice: I'm thinking our own side -- well, our own former side, now that we're diplomatic and apolitical -- might have a chance to get in.
Maklinn: The conservative was Tolliver last cycle, but he was just a sacrifice candidate.
Tsibola: I'll give it some thought, Bernice. If there's a good prospect to be found, it might be worth trying.
Bernice: Well, he can't coast on inertia and his father's reputation forever, especially if he's going to continue to appear in the tabloids like this.
Bernice looks at the photo of Pollovic's bruised face and shakes her head.
Tsibola: No, he can't. And that gives us a chance.