1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 45
Just like Dorrie was gone, and Gloria too.
Joe Tillman stood in the middle of the great open hall of the edifice, alone in a crowd. He wondered to himself what the hell he was doing there.
“Waiting for the train, Joey?”
He spun around to see his brother Frank standing a few feet away, his hat in his hand.
“What are you doing here?”
“Same as you, I expect.”
Frank walked over and took his brother’s hand. “Quite a building they put up here, Joe. Not quite the U.S. Capitol, but it’s still pretty grand.”
Joe didn’t have any answer to that, but said again, “what are you doing here?”
“Like I said, Joey. Same as you.”
“When Rebecca Stearns sends you a letter and tells you she wants to meet with you in her office, you come runnin’. I certainly wasn’t going to argue.”
“Huh. She asked for me too.”
“Clarence told me. I was off in Saalfeld doing that offsite job, and when I got back he told me you’d left for Magdeburg. When I got home Lana had a letter for me. Clarence near hit the roof when I told him I was coming up here too. ‘Has the woman gone plumb crazy?'” It was a pretty fair impression of Clarence Dobbs, and they both laughed.
“Maybe she has.”
“Gone plumb crazy.” Joe looked around. “Both of us have an audience with the wife of the so-called Prince of Germany. Damn. Do you think she’s going to want to see us together, or . . .”
“I don’t know, Joey. Maybe we should go ask her.”
“Lead the way,” Joe said, gesturing toward the long hall of offices ahead.
The wife of the Prince of Germany, as Joe Tillman had called her — but not to her face — was more gracious and pleasant than he could have expected. He and his brother had stood in the outer office while her secretary checked whether she was busy, and then beckoned them to come in.
Rebecca Abrabanel had married Mike Stearns not long after the Ring of Fire, and now was almost as recognizable a public figure as her husband. She had been in the middle of all of the recent political intrigue — stuff that happened way above Joe and Frank’s pay grades — but she still seemed genuinely excited to see them. She led them into her inner office, which was crowded and small, but very organized — everything in its place, Joe thought, and lots of places. They sat in two straight chairs facing the desk, and she armed each of them with a sturdy coffee-mug bearing the USE flag before sitting in her comfortable chair behind it.
“Thank you for responding so promptly,” she said. “I suppose you’re wondering what this is all about.”
Joe didn’t answer; Frank smiled and said, “Yes, Ma’am, we were a little curious.”
“And you should be. Do you read the newspapers regularly?”
“Is this some sort of test?” Joe finally blurted out. Frank looked at him, wondering how to follow that up.
“He didn’t mean anything by that,” Frank managed. “No offense.”
“None taken. No, Mr. Tillman, this is not a test, but rather an invitation. I’d like the two of you to be a part of a . . . delegation.”
“A what, now?”
“A delegation. I have been asked to travel on behalf of the government of the USE, to represent it at a rather significant event. The crowning of a new king.”
“The king of France,” Joe Tillman said. “Gaston.”
“You do read the papers.”
“I keep up,” he said. “The old king was killed, right? Some sort of ambush. And his brother is going to take his place.”
“That’s right. He is to be crowned in Reims on the twenty-first of May. I will be accompanied by Colonel Hand, who will represent his cousin the Emperor, and who will present diplomatic credentials to King Gaston as our permanent representative. I am taking some of my staff with me, and I’d like to have the two of you along as well.”
“You would,” Joe said. “For what? Do you need some plumbing done at the consulate? There must be Frenchmen you could hire for that.”
Joe held his hand up. “No, this is important, Frank. Mrs. Stearns has decided that two pipefitters from Grantville are going to be a part of some diplomatic delegation so we can watch a king be crowned. All I can think is: why? And I bet I know the answer.”
Rebecca sat patiently as the two brothers stared each other down. Frank looked uncomfortable — he didn’t seem to like the idea that his brother was speaking so bluntly. Joe was more defiant.
“I think we should let the lady tell us,” Frank said.
“No,” Rebecca Stearns said. “Please, Mr. Tillman.” They both looked at her. “I’m sorry. Mr. Joe Tillman. Tell me why you think I’ve invited two pipefitters to travel with me.”
“It’s about Terrye Jo.”
“Yes,” Rebecca said, leaning forward. “That’s right. It’s about your daughter. For the past several months she has been working for the duke of Savoy and for the king-designate of France. There are things she knows that may be of vital importance.”
“Things she might tell her Dad that she won’t tell a government minister.”
“Just so,” Rebecca said.
“Well,” Joe said, “I hate to be the person to break it to you, ma’am, but my daughter and I aren’t exactly on speaking terms right now. I had to bury her aunt and her mother while she was working hard for this duke. I don’t think she’ll be curling up on my lap and telling me secrets.”
“You do. So . . .” Joe looked at Frank and then back at Rebecca, who didn’t seem too surprised at Joe’s answer. “So I still don’t see what’s the point.”
“You act as if you haven’t communicated with her at all since she left Grantville, Mr. Tillman. She came home after her tour of duty, before she went with the team that installed Duke Victor Amadeus’ radio tower, and hasn’t been home since — but you’ve received letters from her.”
Joe’s face reddened. “How the hell do you know that? Did you open ’em too and read what she said?”
“No. Of course not. But we do know that letters to you arrived in the Grantville post office. Savoy is a . . . place of interest for the USE at the moment, due to the duke’s relationship with Monsieur Gaston. So any correspondence with anyone in Savoy is of interest to the government.”
“So I got a few letters from Terrye Jo. All right. I confess. That doesn’t mean we’re talking.”
Rebecca leaned back again and looked away. “Mr. Tillman,” she said, without looking directly at him. “Do you know how Michael and I met?”
“What does that –”
“Better answer the lady’s question, Joey,” Frank Tillman said. Joe looked at his brother, who was smiling very slightly, as if he saw where this was going.
“He brought you into town the day of the Ring of Fire,” Joe said. “You and your father.”
“That’s correct,” Rebecca said. “He rescued us from a band of mercenaries. My father was afraid for my life — and for my honour, but Michael and his friends treated us courteously and respectfully. Both of us. My father’s heart was failing, but Doctor Nichols saved his life. Your people saved both of our lives.
“Fathers and daughters never truly stop talking to each other, Mr. Tillman,” she said, turning back to face him. “Sometimes words fail, but the conversation persists. If you believe otherwise, then you are deceiving yourself. I offer you the opportunity to reunite with your daughter; I have my own motives, yes, but I do hope that your own self-interest will motivate you to agree.”
Joe nodded, his anger draining out of him, replaced with an expression of sadness.
“What about me?” Frank said. “Why am I here?”
Rebecca smiled. “In case my arguments aren’t strong enough, sir, I am counting on you to convince your brother that this is a good idea.”