Chapter Eight (cont.)
Charles Cabot, district attorney for the city of Los Angeles paced in the spacious confines of the conference room, alternating between looking at the seconds creep by on his expensive watch and scowling at the legion of his subordinates gathered around the table. Jesse York shook her head in amusement; why did the strutting popinjay think that he needed two dozen ADAs and staff for this meeting? Does he really believe that he can intimidate the man—the admiral and prince-consort—on which they were waiting? Threaten him—a person with full diplomatic immunity—with the displeasure of the law?
She looked down at her hands folded in her lap to hide the smile—the grin—that threatened to appear on her face, and then she forced it back down deep inside and composed her face once more into assuming a faintly bored look. The Deputy Assistant Chief of Operations (South-west District) for the Deputy Under-secretary of Diplomatic Affairs for the United States Department of State had been awakened by several urgent telephone calls early this morning; well before daylight, in fact. Beginning with the mayor of LA, then the chief of staff for the Governor of California, then the Governor himself, then her immediate supervisor and the Deputy Under-secretary himself, followed by the actual Under-secretary, and then—last, but not least—the Chief of Staff for the Secretary of State, the calls had all made clear that she was to be directly responsible to prevent any additional international incidents from occurring as a result of this conference. Lovely. And so, she was here—on her day off, no less—to try and put the lid back on a kettle that had already overflowed.
The double doors at the far end of the room opened, and two of the Praetorians assigned to the Admiral by his wife entered. Neither wore the full body armor, but each was armed, and their cold gaze quickly examined the occupants and surroundings. Each stepped to one side of the door, and the senior of the two whispered into the device he wore clipped to his ear. Two more guards entered, followed by the Admiral and the final two members of his security detail.
“Good morning,” Jason said cheerfully as he approached the single empty seat at one end of the long table. “I believe that you requested this meeting, Mister Cabot; how may I be of assistance?”
The tall lanky attorney placed his hands upon the table and leaned forward. “You can turn over the bastards that threatened Judge Beam and her husband. Now.”
“And which bastards, exactly, are you referring to, counselor?”
“Your men who invaded her home, held her and her husband hostage, threatened their lives, and attempted to influence her rulings on behalf of the defendant in the Yarrow trial.”
Jason frowned, and turned in his seat towards one of the Praetorians. “David, do we have any bastards under our command that fit the counselor’s description?”
“Hundreds, my Lord,” the guard replied. “There are many in the Fleet, Corps, and Legion, not to mention the Praetorians, who have take exception to Centurion Yarrow’s treatment at the hands of this native witch hunt. Although, I must say, Warlord, I have no direct knowledge of which of our esteemed bastards took it upon themselves to persuade the local magistrate to treat our servicemen with the respect they have earned. Which is a pity; I would like to shake their hands, buy them a drink, and compliment them on a job well done.”
Jason nodded solemnly and turned back towards the DA. “Perhaps you could be a bit more specific, then Mister Cabot? Have you, by any chance, something more exact in their description? Height or weight; hair, skin, or eye coloration; visible tattoos or body art, perhaps? Anything that will aid us in discovering which of my bastards you want?”
“You think this is humorous, Admiral?”
“No, Mister Cabot, I do not. One of my men is on trial, a trial in which the charges are patently ridiculous, and then the presiding judge and the prosecuting attorney seek to denigrate his decades of service to the Empire of Humanity. No, Mister Cabot, I find nothing about that even remotely humorous.”
“Your people threatened a judge, Admiral Chandler! And I intend to see that they are brought to justice for that crime.”
“Really? And how, exactly, Mister Cabot, do you propose doing that?”
“I want you to hand over every last member of your command whose whereabouts were unaccounted for during the time Judge Beam was held prisoner. We will interrogate those suspects and find the truth.”
Jason’s eyes narrowed and he leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table. “Are you formally accusing men under my command of this crime, then? And making an official request Imperial aid and assistance in this matter?”
“You’re damn right . . .”
“NO!” Jesse said sharply as she stood. “No one here is formally accusing anyone of the violation of Imperial law, Admiral Chandler; what we are requesting is that you allow us to interview the men under your command to determine what—if anything—they know of this matter.”
Cabot bristled at the interruption. “Miss York, I am quite capable of speaking for myself in this matter . . .”
“And you do not have the brains God gave a toad, Mister Cabot. As I told you, repeatedly, before this meeting, a formal accusation against an Imperial subject or citizen—made to an Imperial authority—requires, under their laws, a formal Imperial investigation. A false accusation, against any individual so accused, is, in and of itself, considered to be a high crime, a felony.”
Jason smiled. “So good to know, Miss York, that at least some people in this day and age have actually read our charter and criminal codes.”
She nodded at the Admiral. “The men we wish to question are not suspects, Admiral Chandler, but may be material witnesses to a crime; a crime that we are currently not accusing any member of your command with.”
“I see, Miss York. Request denied. Will there be anything else?”
Cabot bolted upright, his face an angry shade of crimson. He opened his mouth to speak, when he was interrupted yet again.
“SIT DOWN, Mister Cabot,” Jesse snapped. She stood facing him, her gaze locked on his, until the DA finally sank back into his chair.
“It is a reasonable request, Admiral Chandler; why is it being denied?”
“Reasonable? I have more than seventy-six thousand men and women under my command. It is likely that between five and ten thousand will meet the criteria you have established; no, Miss York, your request is not reasonable. And it is still denied.”
“I can have you arrested on obstruction of justice,” Cabot spat, and Jesse winced.
“Can you? Can you really, Mister Cabot?” Jason replied with a chuckle. “I have full and complete diplomatic immunity, remember? Miss York can recommend that the immunity be revoked and I declared as Persona Non Grata, and then asked to leave US soil, but you cannot and will not detain me for any crime. I, on the other hand, could order my guards to gut your sorry ass and in that case, you would be very, very dead. And none of you could do a damn thing about that, other than politely ask me to leave and not set foot on US soil again.”
He turned his attention back to Jesse. “Are we done making threats, now, madame?”
“I believe so, Admiral.”
“In that case, I suggest that we come to some agreement on how best to proceed.”
Jesse drew in a deep breath. “And what is your proposal, Admiral Chandler?”
“The city of Los Angeles and the state of California will quietly drop all charges pending against Saul Yarrow and release him into my custody. He will depart the state on the first Imperial shuttle bound for Vancouver, never return to the state of California, and we will both attempt to forget this incident ever occurred.”
“You are insane if you think that we will just drop this because you ask us nicely,” Cabot snarled. “Your man Yarrow is going away for life, Mister Chandler; I will see to it myself that he serves hard time.”
Jason frowned as he turned his attention to Charles Cabot. “My mental condition is not now, nor shall it ever be, a matter of your concern, Mister Cabot. And if you truly believe that I am going to stand by and let you or anyone else take out his displeasure with me and the Imperial government on the person of one of my people, you are sadly mistaken.”
“Am I, Mister Chandler,” Cabot snorted in derision. “There you sit, as impotent as an old man in your ability to change our decision to prosecute your precious murderer. And to paraphrase you from just a few moments ago, there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop it.”
Jesse winced, but to her surprise she heard first a snort, then a series of chuckles, and finally full-blown laughter emerge from the Imperial side of the table. “Something amuses you, Admiral Chandler?” she asked.
“Oh, thank you for that Mister Cabot,” Jason said as he took a proffered handkerchief from one of his guards and wiped the wetness from his cheeks and eyes. “It has been a while since I had that good of a laugh.”
Cabot cast a speculative gaze at Jesse, who shrugged slightly in reply.
“You see, Miss York, Mister Cabot, this is not our first rodeo, not by far. In my time, the Empire of Humanity consists of more than three hundred inhabited star systems, and twice that number of empty ones; or dead ones, in the case of the once-and-future Ordan-Kraal worlds. Not all of those systems were originally settled by Man, you understand; and even those that were, a significant portion changed allegiance to the Commonwealth centuries ago—and have subsequently been reclaimed and restored to the status of Imperial territory. One of the duties of an Imperial Fleet officer, especially an officer commanding an Imperial Battle Squadron, is to enforce the will and law of Caesar on distant colonies that often have vastly different legal, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. How we do that is quite often left to our own judgment, because the Caesars—past, present, and future—have realized that every situation calls for a unique solution. Although governments love one-size-fits-all plans, the universe is not so simplistic; neither is humanity or any other sentient life-form. Accordingly, Caesar has always given the officers of his or her Fleet enough autonomy to deal with and settle local problems before they become Imperial problems.”
“The Fleet deals with indigenous local governments that have been given limited autonomy under Imperial jurisdiction virtually every single day. Much, in fact, as your own state of California features limited autonomy under the auspices of the U.S. federal government. We deal with tyrants and republics and kings and queens and communes and every other conceivable form of government each and every day that the Fleet has existed, Mister Cabot. And we get them to toe the line. Oh, not always through force or the threat of force—although that does help in certain circumstances—but through the use of other resources as well. You see, Mister Cabot, we are all only human; well, except for alien species residing on Imperial worlds, of course. But none of us are perfect; we are all flawed in some way. Sometimes, it may only be a small flaw on an otherwise stellar character; other times, it may take perseverance and diligence to find any redeeming quality in an individual motivated almost solely by vice.”
“Most of us, however, are somewhere in between; far from perfect, but also far from horrific. The Empire and its officers understand that, Mister Cabot; it is drummed into our skulls from Day One at the academy. Do you know why?”
The prosecutor frowned as he shook his head, unsure of where the discussion was heading.
“It is simple enough, counselor. Those flaws that everyone has; the traits that make us imperfect humans, those flaws can be exploited to gain the advantage for the Empire. Now, we officers of the Fleet would never violate the guaranteed rights of an Imperial citizen in such a manner, but indigenous autonomous governing bodies are only subjects and residents, by definition. Or, in the case of the state of California and the city of Los Angeles, not even that. You are a foreign power, and no such restriction exists on our operations here.”
Jason held out his hand and one of guards reached inside his jacket and withdrew an envelope, which he then deposited in the Admiral’s hand. The Prince-Consort leaned forward and slid the heavy parchment package across the table; it glided across to a gentle stop just in front of Charles Cabot.
“I think that you will find the governor of your fine state is not immune to such character flaws and imperfections, Mister Cabot. Those documents bear her signature and the state seal, and grant a complete and total pardon to one Saul Yarrow for any and all crimes committed prior to this day in the jurisdiction of the sovereign state of California. Feel free to examine the papers at your leisure—I have a complete second copy. Furthermore, Mister Colbert has in his possession a third copy; one that he is presenting to the officials and guards of the county jail at this very instant. Centurion Yarrow will walk free, Mister Cabot,” and Jason’s face cracked into a grin, “and there is nothing at all you can do to stop it. Not a damned thing, in fact.”
Charles Cabot went white as he tore the envelope open, extracted the folded documents, and began to scan them. He quickly flipped through page after page, and then went back and reread sections in detail. Finally, he laid the papers on the table and sat back in his chair.
“What did you offer her? To make her sell me out? Sell the people out?”
Jason laughed. “That would be telling, counselor. Suffice it to say it was neither envy nor greed nor gluttony nor sloth nor wrath that made her susceptible to our proposal. I’ll leave you the remaining two of the Deadly Sins to choose between—but in case your religious education was neglected in favor of the law, I’ll just let you know the final two are lust and pride.”
“I can move to have her impeached for corruption.”
“Why, yes, yes you can. And the Empire will be glad to assist you in that regard; corrupt individuals are such a blight upon civilized governments after all. But the pardon she granted, Mister Cabot; that document remains valid, even if she is impeached. No?”
“It does,” he answered sourly.
“Well, then,” the admiral responded with a smile as he stood, “it would appear that my work here is done. If you would excuse me, I believe that I have an officer to retrieve from your custody. Mister Cabot, this has been such a pleasure; really, we must do this again soon. Next time, perhaps, we can arrange for a similar event on Imperial soil; such an experience would be enlightening for you. Good day, Miss York.”
Jason turned on his heel and left the conference room, trailed by his guards.
“York, we can still stop this; contact the US Attorney’s office and have them assume federal control of the Yarrow case . . . we’ll call the homicides in lockup a hate-crime and they can . . .”
“Charlie,” Jesse said softly, “it’s over, Charlie. Let it go. Just . . . let it go.”