For All Nails #51M: Victoria's Secret (Part 13)
by Jonathan Edestein
Ambassador the Honourable John Gilmore hated formal dinners. That was an unfortunate trait in a diplomat, and one he hid well, but it was a strong one nevertheless. He hated the inane chatter, the formulaic speeches, the vulcanized beef; FN1 whenever he could, he preferred to turn down invitations to functions and conduct diplomatic business over intimate gatherings at the embassy.
When an invitation came from the Prime Minister of Victoria and the British High Commissioner, though, he could hardly refuse. And refusal was doubly impossible when the invitation came from both of them -- so he had screwed up his courage and gone.
Of course, Gilmore's courage was nothing compared to Patten's in his choice of venue. Carrollton wasn't his territory, and the members of the Victorian-British Friendship Society weren't his friends. The Victoria United Party had been the pro-German party since the war, and many of those in this room still considered Patten a traitor. FN2 Gilmore was sure there wasn't a man in the room, other than Patten himself, who had voted for the Victoria United Party in the last election, and he was sure that most of the jokes they shared about Patten at their clubs were vicious.
Patten rose gamely to the occasion, enduring the murmured insults during dinner and waiting his turn at the podium. He drew surprisingly few catcalls when he finally stood up to speak, probably because of the warm introduction he received from Lord Carrington. Whatever they might think of Patten, the members of the Friendship Society weren't about to insult the British ambassador by heckling someone he had praised -- and many of them, no doubt, were genuinely curious as to why Lord Carrington had found him worthy of such an accolade.
"Gentlemen," began Patten -- there were no ladies in the room -- "I know that many of you are surprised to see me here. I'm sure, in fact, that many of you care neither for me nor for my party. And I'm not here to apologize for any of the necessary things I may have done during or after the war." He means taking part in the German occupation government, Gilmore realized, and waited for the storm.
But Patten soldiered on. "Many of you -- all of you, in fact -- believe I should not have done these things. It may well be that time will prove you right. However, I emphasize -- and in this I have never lied to you, nor to anyone else -- that I did these things because I believed they were in the interests of our great nation. I can say, without fear of contradiction, that my entire public life has been guided by these interests. And these interests, gentlemen, are what brings me here today.
"Gentlemen, for the past thirty years, the State of Victoria has been an associate and ally of Germany - but we have never forgotten that our heritage is English, and that all things that make us civilized come from England. FN3 It is my belief, and has always been my belief, that Victoria should renew its ties to the mother country, and, with the help of my good friend Lord Carrington, that belief is about to become reality. If the Victoria United Party is returned to power in one week's time, the State of Victoria will apply for associate membership in the United Empire -- and I have been authorized by Lord Carrington to say that the United Empire will accept."
Very rarely in his diplomatic career had Ambassador Gilmore encountered the truly unexpected. This was one of those times. He had known from Carrington's hints that something was in the offing, but he hadn't imagined that it would be anything more than trade agreements or shifting alliances. The National Renewal government in Britain considered the Victorians to be a sorry lot of racialists -- but they evidently liked the idea of a British diplomatic coup at Germany's expense more than they disliked Richard Patten.
Gilmore listened in stunned silence as Patten explained what the terms of associate membership would be -- free trade and travel, preferential immigration, basing rights for British troops, recognition of the British monarch as head of state. If that's what associate membership is, then North America is an associate as well. Thank God the British have had better sense than to call us that... FN4
A moment later, the Prime Minister finished his speech, and the members of the Friendship Society responded by doing what many of them had never believed they would do -- honoring him with a standing ovation. Many of them looked thoughtful as they adjourned to the bar, Gilmore not least among them.
- Nairobi, Victoria
- 12 May 1973
Ever since Antonio and María Marques had emigrated to Victoria, they had attended a Catholic church a few blocks from their West Nairobi flat. This week, however, Antonio had decided that such a church was not commensurate with his newfound importance. So, instead of walking to church, they took a streetcar to a middle-class Nairobi neighborhood and made their way to an address that had been given to him by one of his fellow Conservative Party workers.
María pulled up sharply as they approached the door. "It's Church of England!" she whispered. FN5
Antonio looked around, making sure nobody had heard. "Of course it is. That's where the important people go. And besides," he added, "they're almost Catholic."
María, whose faith was somewhat more genuine than her husband's, wasn't entirely convinced, but Antonio drew her in the door before she had time for further protest. Whatever else she wanted to say would have to wait, as her husband was pulled away by party comrades and introduced around.
Antonio enjoyed being a great man at the church. At their old church, he had been worth as much as he could put in the collection plate -- which, most Sundays, wasn't a great deal. The priest was even worse, some idiot with a foreign education who kept nattering on about the need to reconcile with the blacks. Here, his friends from the party hall pressed refreshments on him and told him that he ought to run for office in four years, and the priest reassured his congregation that everything they believed was true.
He was even able to put more money in the plate. A month ago, a pound had been a day's wage at the construction site. Now, Antonio could reach into his suit and donate a crisp pound note to the congregation, and not feel the worse for it. It was just like Michael Ruffin had said at his first party meeting -- even an immigrant like Antonio could realize his dreams in Victoria.
In the meantime, María sat beside him and wondered about the state of her soul.
- Magistrates' Court
- Nyeri, Victoria
- 14 May 1973
"Petition for hearing," the bailiff said. "Number 73-682, State of Victoria on relation of Letitia Ntimana against Warden, Nyeri Detention Camp."
Magistrate Clement Chomsky surveyed the courtroom with distaste. "I assume you are the counsel for the relator?"
"I am, your Honor," answered Victoria Madoka.
"Then can you explain the presence of those three pickaninnies in the gallery?" FN6
"Your Honor, those children are the relator's daughters and son. I was hoping that, if my client were produced in court today, they might have the opportunity to visit with her for a short time. They haven't seen her in more than a month."
"Counselor, I can assure you that there will be no need for the relator to appear today -- this case hardly warrants putting the Public Prosecutor's office to such inconvenience. And I remind you that this is a courtroom, that decorum is supposed to prevail here, and that I will not have these proceedings disrupted by the antics of half-grown savages. I order you to remove them at once."
"Yes, your Honor." Victoria took three steps to the bar that separated the courtroom well from the gallery, and whispered to the Ntimana children to sit on a bench outside.
"I'm surprised you have the gall to show up here yourself," the judge continued. "I may be old-fashioned, but I don't believe that a convicted felon's place is at the counsel table."
"Thus far, your Honor, I'm not in gaol and I still have my law license. I intend to continue doing my job as long as both these conditions obtain."
"If it were up to me, neither of them would -- and I still have the power to decide who may practice in my court. Why don't you tell me, Counselor, why I should listen to you at all?"
"Your Honor, no court in Victoria has ever denied a licensed attorney permission to appear, but I'm more than willing to let the Appellate Division decide if you can be the first. If you like, we can call them now -- I believe they're in session today, and this certainly seems like a circumstance under which an emergency ruling would be justified."
"That won't be necessary, Victoria," said the judge heavily. "I find it reprehensible that you are here rather than in prison, but since you appear to lack anything resembling shame, you may carry on with your argument."
I've had better opening lines, Madoka reflected. "Your Honor, my client has been held in violation of the Pretrial Detentions Act for more than a month. Thus far, the Public Prosecutor's office has not charged her with any crime; in fact, until the Guardian brought the matter to the public's attention, they didn't even acknowledge that she was being held..."
"Counselor, it's hardly fair to require the Public Prosecutor to observe all the niceties during a public emergency..."
"Your Honor," interrupted the prosecutor, "I think we can make much of this argument moot. The Government has decided to charge the relator with sedition, petty treason, conspiracy against public order and membership in a banned organization, and we intend to arraign her as soon as practicable."
Madoka's face betrayed her surprise as she looked at the prosecutor. Why is he making concessions when the judge is obviously going to rule his way? I'd have a good chance in the Appellate Division, certainly, but why isn't he making me go there? Most prosecutors would.
It must be the election. Thanks to the Guardian, the public knew who Letitia Ntimana was and that she had been tortured. Evidently, the Public Prosecutor's office didn't want to risk any more headlines on election morning. Some of her more militant acquaintances would withdraw the petition for exactly this reason -- the longer Letitia was in the hands of the torturers at Nyeri prison, the greater the disadvantage to the ruling coalition. Victoria's ethics, though, would not allow such things; Letitia was a client and a friend, and her life and freedom were not things to be sacrificed in the name of an abstraction.
On the other hand, Madoka was willing to press her advantage. "Your Honor, since the crimes with which my client is charged were allegedly committed in Nairobi, I would ask that the prosecutor consent to her being transferred to Nairobi Central Prison and arraigned in the magistrate's court for Nairobi district."
The prosecutor cut off the judge's comment. "That seems sensible to me, your Honor. My office will make the necessary arrangements within twenty-four hours."
If he keeps his word, Victoria thought, Letitia's children will be able to visit her tomorrow, and she'll be in a place where I can keep an eye on her. Madoka's client wasn't free, but she still felt as if she'd won.
Forward to FAN #51N: Victoria's Secret (Part 14).
Forward to 15 May 1973: Rocket Science.
Return to For All Nails.