Fiction Tuesday – In The Hot Seat (The Darned Conspiracy, Scene 14)

Today’s blog is a section from The Darned Conspiracy, the sequel to my first novel In The Land of the Penny Gnomes

Wadson’s testimony went “ok” in Sills’ opinion. The Governors didn’t push too hard on the nature of his current work in financial crime. Though there were some hints that someone believed they knew what Wadson’s task force was working on. Governor Firetrodder, in particular, wanted to know why The Realm’s foremost expert on forensic accounting wasn’t involved in shutting down piracy–and he didn’t seem satisfied with the wizard’s answers. Still, Wadson managed to not let any new information slip, and that was a “win” as far as the Director was concerned.

And then it was her turn.

The Chairbeing glared down at Sills and commanded, “Stand and raise your right hand, Director.” Sills complied and the Chairbeing continued, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you narrative and under penalty of imprisonment?”

“I do,” Sills responded.

“Fine,” the Chairbeing replied. “You may be seated.”

As Sills settled back down into her seat the Chairbeing was already inviting the first Governor to begin their questions.

“The Chair recognizes Governor Sintelis of Darning.”

Sintelis nodded and then did something which unnerved Sills. He smiled. Not a smile offered by a friend over a shared joke–it was the smile of a predator who’d trapped their prey and was now convinced they were going to eat well.

“Well now, Director Sills, I’m glad you managed to make time to be here today. I suppose you have a lot going on. What with the brown outs and bad pennies all popping up all over the city. Thank you.”

Sills leaned up toward her microphone and replied, “You’re welcome, Governor. It’s a pleasure to be here. And, yes, it has been a very busy day.”

“Yes, and that gets to the point of why we are here, Director. You see, we are very concerned that using Pennies for power isn’t as safe as our Gnomish neighbors like to make us believe. Is it not true, for instance, that the explosion which triggered the need for our present brown outs was caused by a single real penny?”

Sills shifted in her seat, that was not supposed to be public knowledge. And, as it was an active investigation, she would have been under no obligation to pass that information on to the committee.

“I’m sorry, Governor, I can’t comment on an ongoing investigation.”

Sintelis smile widened, “Ah but surely for matters of public safety you could comment on this situation? After all, we are exploring these issues in order to protect the public from misinformation.”

“Governor, I cannot comment publicly on any matter dealing with the investigation without compromising it. I’m sorry but I really can’t answer the question.”

The elf waved a hand. “No matter, I’m sure we all understand what sub-text is there in your refusal to answer.”

“You know what would be nice for a change?” Governor Relish called from across the hall. “If the Governors on this committee would use their time to ask questions for once, instead of pontificating about what they believe they already know!”

The gavel banged. “Governor Relish, you are out of line. Order!”

Sintelis glared at his wizard colleague. “Thank you, Chairbeing. I trust we’ll have no other out of turn insults?”

The Chairbeing nodded. “Yes. Governor Relish, one more outburst like that and I will have you removed from the room. You’re a Governor, act like it!”

Relish nodded with conciliation and replied, “Yes Chairbeing. My apologies.”

“Now, that we have settled that. Governor Sintelis do you have any further questions?”

“Oh yes, I have one. Director, could you please provide the name of the gnome you have placed under protective custody as part of your investigation into our current troubles? We would very much like to call them to testify before this committee.”

A mummer filled the hall, including Sintelis’ allies on the committee. It appeared Sintelis had kept that information even from his friends. Sills was not pleased this information had gotten out, it would make it much more difficult to protect their witness. Once the press got ahold of the news it was going to be next to impossible to keep Sinder Nocks hidden, much less safe.

“Again, Governor, I cannot comment on any part of an ongoing investigation without compromising it.”

“So you won’t provide us a name?”

“Governor, I cannot provide you a name.”

Firetodder clopped his front hooves on the floor. “Contempt! The Director refuses to meet her obligation to this committee and provide us with the information we require to fulfill our mandate!”

The gavel banged again. “Governor Firetodder, I have not accepted outbursts from other Governors on this committee. Nor will I tolerate them from you. May I also remind both you and Governor Sintelis that Director Sills is well within her rights to withhold information from an ongoing investigation. Kindly do not imply otherwise.”

“Apologies, Chairbeing,” the centaur responded. Sintelis nodded acknowledgement but said nothing.

“Well fine,” the elf continued at last. “Can you at least tell me that you are investigating the cause of this recent rash of counterfeiting?”

Sills nodded. “Investigations are ongoing. Yes.”

“And do you have any leads which you are at liberty to share with this committee?”

“Investigations are ongoing.”

“Do you believe another attack on our Penny Supply, either financial or power-based, is immanent?”

“Governor. As I’ve said. Investigations are ongoing.”

Sintelis sighed. “Very well. Chairbeing, as this is questioning the Director is clearly no going to get us anywhere, I yield the remainder of my time.”

“Very well,” the Chairbeing replied. “As we are already running late I move we close proceedings for today and resume tomorrow at our scheduled time. Do I have a motion?”

The hearing was closed without incident, after which Sills collected Wadson and made her way back to her car. Once in the hall Wadson whispered, “Where did Sintelis get his information about a witness? I only know it because you handed me a sealed brief!”

Sills raised a finger to her mouth to warn Wadson to remain silent, but her point was well-taken. If the Governors had information that had been released by her office, the IBI had to have a mole. The two agents made their way back down to the vehicle. Vicegrip opened the door for them, started the car, and drove off. It was only after they left the Board of Governor’s grounds that Sills spoke.

“OK, so Sintelis wanted to let us know that our ‘secret’ moves aren’t so secret. If he doesn’t already know you’re investigating him, I’m guessing he will soon. So what we had there was a threat.”

Wadson nodded. “He wanted to let you know you’re being watched.”

“Yes,” Sills nodded. “But Sintelis also screwed up.”

“Oh? How’s that?”

“In his desire to find out just how much we’d figured out, he let on that there was going to be another attack.”