“Doctor Chelan,” Whitecloth managed, “We are of course honored by your attending this hearing. Why, thought, are we sharing this room with your august presence?”
“As it happens,” Chelan said, “you subpoenaed me. Rather, you summoned whoever was in charge of Bulger for the debtors in possession, that being me. I’m Director of Operations, Miss Bell here is Boss of the Yard, and Mrs. Broadhurst is our lead counsel.”
“I see,” Broadcloth answered unctuously. “Are you bringing more people?” he asked.
“This seems to be enough,” Chelan answered. “But you must be a very busy man, so I am not offended if you open the hearing immediately.”
Whitecloth picked up a large silver handbell from his desk, rang it repeatedly, and then considered that the witness seemed to have taken charge of the hearing, which was very definitely not what he wanted. It would not, he thought, advance his Presidential campaign. Through two side doors, a half dozen Senators and Lords, all dressed in their respective national costumes, entered and took their seats. They’d been outside gossiping, he thought, waiting for the next set of witnesses.
“Give ears! Give ears! As we are now here, I call the Committee to order,” Whitecloth said. “This is a public meeting, so I greet first the members of the press and through them the people of our Republics and Kingdoms. I also greet our witnesses from the Debtors in Possession of Bulger Yards.”
“As do we all.” Senator Elektra de Witt, speaking for the Minority, added. As a good Scottish lady, she wore a brilliant scarlet tartan dress; she’d limited her jewelry to a large golden pin and earings, each in the form of a thistle.
“We are all busy people,” Whitecloth said. “I should thank the three of you for responding quickly and cooperatively to our summons. However, the committee has agreed on a series of opening questions, which we will follow. Primus, the New New York Gazette has circulated an analysis claiming that for the last several years Bulger has been delivering under half of its anticipated supply of nickel-iron, an outcome that has begun to disrupt industrial production across our Republic, and by creating this artificial shortage a highly improper misuse of Bulger’s space fractional monopoly for financial gain.” Whitecloth launched into an extended description of Anglic Union antitrust laws. “Why are you continuing this policy?”
Bell nodded at Chelan. “Without agreeing that there was such a policy,” Chelan said, “or that it was improper, we aren’t doing what the Gazette claimed. I would also not agree with the claim that we have a space monopoly; our three competitors carry far more nickel-iron than we do.”
“You aren’t continuing it?” de Witt challenged. “Your four freighters each have a capacity in the 65,000 ton range, but you are offering up for bid only 30,000 tons of nickel-iron from your latest shipment. There seems to be a discrepancy here. You are aware of the perjury penalties, aren’t you?”
“I should hope,” Chelan said, “that I am aware of the perjury penalties, which have been the same since this Union was formed. After all, I contributed albeit modestly to writing them.” He paused. Perhaps, he thought, the woman didn’t connect his name with the historical figure. “However, there is not in fact a discrepancy. Thanks to the Space Guard, the Bulger Lines ship Mighty Transporter and its 65,000 ton cargo did arrive. However, 5,000 tons of that was not nickel-iron, it was mixed heavy metals which we are selling at auction. Furthermore, when the debtors in possession came into possession, we determined that there was a client who had contracted and paid for a very substantial amount of nickel-iron, and after negotiations on dates and amounts we are giving that client the material for which they have already paid, without which they might try to seize Bulger Holdings, probably bringing its operations to a halt.”
“And the Gazette estimate on deliveries?” Chelan tried to remember who the new speaker was. The name tag ‘Aston Hughes” did not ring a bell. From his dress he was an Australian, Chelan thought, but more than that did not come to mind.
“Their analysis was largely correct.” Chelan shrugged. “We are still untangling the financial and bank records of the prior owners, so I am not prepared to say whether the Gazette was completely correct in every particular. However, we did find where the missing nickel-iron went, not that learning the answer does us any good, so with the support of the Space Guard we have put a stop to that loss.”
“You said ‘Space Guard’?” de Witt said. “What do they have to do with this?”
“We determined — it will be in this evening’s issue of the Pueblo Illuminator — that unknown parties were diverting our ships to a location behind the Moon, offloading part of their cargoes, and providing the Captain of each of our ships with falsified bills of lading showing that our ships had in fact left Proserpine with the cargo they were unloading in North California. That’s where the missing ore went. The Space Guard intercepted one of our ships, catching the diverters in flagrante delicto, and the diversion has been brought to a halt.”
“There are reports,” Whitecloth grumbled, “that you are selling nickel-iron to parties in the Elizavetsian Confederation. Union citizens around the world are undoubtedly outraged that you are dealing with those barbarians.”