THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN CONNECTION – snippet 5:
Chapter 3: The Elf
Grantville, State of Thuringia-Franconia
Noelle Murphy—Noelle Stull, now, having just changed her name legally—finished her report, and leaned back in her chair. Sitting at the desk in his office, Tony Adducci did the same. He looked to Carol Unruh, sitting in another chair facing the desk, at a diagonal from Noelle.
“Seems pretty complete to me, Carol. I’m not a lawyer, of course.”
Noelle had to keep herself from smiling. “Not a lawyer” was putting it mildly. In point of fact, Tony Adducci’s formal education extended to a high school diploma and two years at Fairmont State, from which he’d left to get a job in the mines without even picking up an AA degree. The main reason he’d been selected to be the Secretary of the Treasury for the New United States, not long after the Ring of Fire, was because he’d helped Frank Jackson keep the books for Mike Stearns’ UMWA local. In those days—as was still the case, more often than not—Mike selected his administrators primarily because he thought they were solid men he could rely on, pedigrees and credentials be damned. And, in the case of posts like Tony’s, knew that they were honest.
Noelle’s suppressed smile would have been simply one of amusement, however, not derision. When all was said and done, Mike’s crude method had worked pretty well. It had given the new government he’d been forced to set up in the midst of crisis and chaos a great deal of solidity and unity, however rough the edges might have been, and he’d simply shrugged off charges of “UMWA favoritism.”
As the years had past since the Ring of Fire, a number of those initial appointees had been gently eased out, when it turned out they simply weren’t up to the job. But Tony had kept his post through all of the transformations—from the NUS as an independent principality, to its later status as a semi-independent principality within the Confederated Principalities of Europe, to its current (and hopefully final) manifestation as one of the provinces within the federal United States of Europe. Ed Piazza, who’d replaced Mike as the President of the SoTF after Mike became the Prime Minister of the USE and moved to Magdeburg, was no more inclined to replace Adducci than Stearns had been. He was capable, honest, and made up for his own lack of training by knowing how to use the skills of subordinates or associates who did have it.
Such as Carol Unruh, in fact, Ron Koch’s wife although she’d kept her own name. Carol was the Assistant Director of the Department of Economic Resources, one of the branches of the Treasury Department. Her academic background might have been on the skimpy side for an equivalent position in the universe they’d come from. But by post-RoF Grantville standards, she was highly educated. She had a BA in mathematics and statistics and had taken graduate courses in the same subjects. She'd squeezed in the graduate courses on a part-time basis while she was bringing up her two children, but she'd always planned to go back full-time and finish her doctoral program once the kids were out of the house and she could really concentrate. Nobody much doubted she would have, either, except that the Ring of Fire had put paid to those plans as well as many others. Still, she was qualified enough to have been accepted as the University of Jena’s instructor in statistics, whose male faculty was normally hostile to the idea of women teaching at the university level, outside of medicine and a few other special subjects.
“Oh, it’s plenty good enough to put Horace Bolender behind bars,” she said.
“Keep him behind bars,” Tony growled. “Noelle and Eddie already got that much accomplished. The fucking bastard.”
“He hasn’t been convicted yet, Tony,” Carol pointed out. “In fact, I think he’s even going to manage to raise the bail money.”
Again, Noelle had to fight to keep from smiling. Not at Tony’s praise but at Carol’s reaction. Unruh had the sort of prissy sense of duty that compelled her to add the caution—given that, in cold-blooded personal terms, she stood to benefit the most if Horace Bolender got convicted. Her title of “Assistant” Director was something of a formality these days. Bolender had been the Director of the Department of Economic Resources, until Carol’s suspicions and the investigative work by Noelle and Eddie Junker that those suspicions engendered had turned up plenty of evidence that the man had been using his post to feather his own nest.
Now, Carol was actually running the department, and everyone expected that it wouldn’t be long before President Piazza made her the official director. Where a different sort of person in her position might have been pushing for a conviction, Unruh was being meticulously fair-minded and scrupulous.
That spoke well of her, of course, but Noelle still thought it was silly. She and Eddie had nailed the bastard, sure enough. It hadn’t even been all that hard, once they started digging. Like untold thousands of officials before him, Bolender had been sloppy about his demands for kickbacks before he assigned contracts. That was due more to arrogance than actual stupidity, probably, but the end result was no different. It was easy for an up-time official to get careless on the subject of bribes, since most down-timers took bribing officials to be a routine cost of business.
He’d get a long, hard sentence, too. Bolender was not the first up-timer to have been caught breaking the law, but he was far and away the most prominent. Judge Tito was well known for his lack of leniency toward up-timers, because he was bound and determined to prove to the citizens of the SoTF—which had one million people in it all told—that the tiny percentage of them who were of American origin weren’t going to be getting any special treatment or favors from the law.
Tony looked back at Noelle. “What else looks to be turning up? Besides Bolender and the Cunninghams and Norman Bell, I mean.”
“Nothing definite, yet. But Eddie and I are still digging. We don’t think we rooted it all out, by any means. We’re almost certain that Stan Myers’ tip regarding Mickey Simmons is a good one.”
“How about Myers himself?” asked Carol. “It wouldn’t be the first time a crook tried to deflect suspicion by fingering somebody else.”
Noelle shook her head. “Eddie and I don’t think Stan’s dirty. For one thing, because we just don’t. Beyond that, Stan’s in charge of the fire department’s training program. He simply doesn’t have access to the kind of temptation to ask kickbacks that somebody like Bolender did. He’s got a hard enough time, as it is, getting volunteers for the fire department, given all the other economic opportunities around.”
Tony chuckled. “True enough. I can remember my dad complaining when he had to pass the dispatcher a five dollar bill to get work out of his union’s hiring hall. Which was not the UMWA,” he added self-righteously. “But those jobs paid well, so he thought it was worth the baksheesh. Most of the fire department posts are volunteer. Don’t pay anything more than expenses.”
Carol nodded. “I was just raising the possibility. I like Stan, myself, and I’ve never gotten any sense he was crooked. Mickey Simmons, though…” She made a face. “Well, I should keep personalities out of it, I suppose.”
“He’s a prick,” stated Adducci. “He’s always been a prick. Why the hell it took Lorraine so long to give him the heave-ho, was always a mystery to me.” He straightened up in his chair. “Just for the record. But I agree we should keep personalities out of it. There is such a thing as an honest assho—uh, butthead, here and there. But I won’t be surprised at all if Mickey turns out not to be one of them.”
He mused for a moment, apparently lost in remembrances of things past. “He really is a Grade A prick. But let’s move on to the rest. How about the down-timers, Carol? Any decision yet from the Attorney General?”
“I just talked to Christoph yesterday. He feels in an awkward position, given that he’d a down-timer himself, so he stressed that he’d defer to your judgment on the matter. Still, he thinks it would be a mistake to press charges against any of the down-timers, if their only involvement was having their arm twisted into paying the kickbacks. I’m inclined to agree.”
Adducci grunted. “Yeah, so am I. Not that seventeenth century Germans haven’t got at least as fine-tuned a sense of lawyering as any West Virginian ever did. They knew damn good and well they were breaking the law too. Still, you have to make allowances for the chaos caused by fifteen years of war half-wrecking the Germanies. People slide into bad habits in situations like that. For us to run around hammering everybody probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Still, this is it, folks. You also gotta watch out for being paternalistic about these things. Down-timers ain’t children. Once these cases break and we start putting people in prison, let’s make sure the message gets out to every businessman in the province who’s thinking of cutting a deal beneath the table. Do it again, and we’ll bust you, sure and certain.”
Noelle thought their attitude was probably the right one to take, though she was even more inclined than they were not to err on the side of paternalistic tolerance. It’s just their traditional ways, baloney. Her partner Eddie Junker was a down-timer, and he’d never had any trouble recognizing that paying a kickback was just as illegal, if not perhaps as personally reprehensible, as demanding it in the first place.
That said, she was a little relieved. Her relations with Eddie had gotten awkward lately, and she was pretty sure she knew the reason. Now, with this decision having been made, she could see her way clear to straightening it out.
Adducci raised an admonishing finger. “But! That only applies to down-timers whose involvement was simply paying the kickback. Any of them who got more, what you might call enthusiastic and enterprising about the business, we’ll go after them just like we are the up-timers.”
For the third time in half an hour, Noelle had to fight to keep a smile from her face. That wouldn’t be a problem for her, at least. Claus Junker might have been willing enough in the enthusiasm department, but when it came to “enterprise” it was just a fact that Eddie’s father was a hopeless nincompoop. He bore about as much resemblance to a criminal mastermind as…
She tried to think of anyone she knew who could possibly be as inept as Claus Junker at the art of “making a deal.” The only person she could come up with was her own mother.
She must have choked, or something.
“What’s so funny, Noelle?” asked Carol.
“Ah… nothing. Just an idle thought.”