Geoffrey knocked on the door to Flame’s room at the Drunken Pie Inn.
“Go away.” Her voice was muffled.
“It’s me,” he said. “We need to plan your defense.”
“I said, go away.”
“I’ve got your file,” he yelled through the door. “I know what happened on Emura.”
“What the…” Flame swore then stomped to the door and flung it open.
Geoffrey held the file in front of him as he walked in. “Handel was right, wasn’t he? You really messed up back then. Emura nearly went out of business.”
Flame slumped down on the bed. “It’s true. It was the biggest job I’d ever had, and it was a complete disaster.”
Geoffrey shut the door behind him and sat down next to her.
“Maybe it wasn’t a disaster but a learning mistake,” he said. “Ayoob suggested that we look at the other jobs you’ve had since.” He opened the file. “Look, this says that you worked at three other companies after Emura. And there’s no record of anything going wrong. You must have learned from your mistake.”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” she said.
“And you even returned to Emura,” he said. “It says so right here.” He pointed at the page.
“I was working for a traveling circus,” she said. “Doing community outreach. They had an event on Emura.”
“So you successfully worked on Emura on a community project,” he said. “If that’s what you were referring to in your resume, then you didn’t lie.”
“But I wasn’t talking about the circus,” she said. “In fact, I had forgotten all about it until you brought it up just now.”
“You’ve forgotten about it now,” he said. “But when you wrote your resume, maybe that’s what you were thinking about.”
“You’re telling me to lie,” she said.
“No, I’m telling you to be technically accurate,” said Geoffrey. “Ayoob says this will work. He says he’s watched lots of legal dramas. And everybody’s backing you on this. Abigail, Hephziba, the general. We all want you to stay.”
“So, tell me more about that circus…”
“Flame Bunyips, can you please tell this hearing about the circus?” Geoffrey spun around and looked meaningfully at the Duke. “Specifically, the circus that you accompanied to Emura?”
Flame looked around the room. In addition to the Duke and his advisory council, most of the castle staff had also come to watch the hearing, which was bine held in the only room large enough to hold everyone, the castle ballroom and central concourse. The Duke sat behind a podium on the small stage intended for musicians and nodded encouragingly at Flame, who sat in the witness chair next to him.
“I was in charge of community outreach and partnerships,” she said. “The circus travelled from world to world, putting on events. My job was to get there first, and coordinate with local promotional partners. Often, some of the profits would go to local charities, for example.”
“Is it true that the first time you worked on Emura, things didn’t go well?”
“No,” she said. “I trusted the wrong people. I should have been more careful.”
“Did you learn from that?”
“Yes,” she said. “I never fell for those griefers’ scams again.”
“And isn’t that what we should all be doing?” asked Geoffrey. “Learning from our mistakes, then moving on, and becoming more competent, more skilled, better in every way at our professions?” He slapped Ayoob’s file onto the Duke’s podium. “I’d like to enter into evidence a full background report on Flame Bunyips. Everything you need to know is right there.”
Geoffrey turned to the the financier. “Bartram, if you’d ordered a background report when you first hired her, this whole embarrassing situation could have been avoided. I think we all owe Flame an apology. And I rest my case.” He bowed and returned to his seat in the first row of chairs, next to Ayoob.
“You did great,” Ayoob whispered. “You almost sounded like a real lawyer.”
The Duke tapped the podium. “What does the jury think?” he asked.
“It’s pretty clear,” said Abigail. “We owe Flame an apology.”
“I think so, too,” said Hephziba.
“The poor woman has suffered enough,” said the general. “All this fuss over such a trivial and simple misunderstanding. Can we go back to our real work? We still have Heartburgh to defend against enemies, both bandits and Garthramians. Garthramists? Anyway, all those people. They want to see us fighting amongst ourselves and tearing each other apart.”
The Duke looked back at Flame. “Before I give my final verdict, is there anything you’d like to add? Can you assure me that you’ve been completely honest with me, and with the council and everyone else here on Heartburgh?”
Flame looked up at the people seated in the chairs directly in front of the stage, and at the people standing behind and around them. All the castle servants were there, as well as off-duty troops and random town residents who’d wandered in.
In the front row, Abigail nodded emphatically at her.
“Say yes,” Hephziba mouthed silently.
The general made a hurrying up motion at her.
Ayoob smiled encouragingly.
“I…” she began, then stopped and swallowed.
“Well?” said the Duke.
Abigail nodded even more emphatically, her lips pursed.
“Have you been honest with us?”
“I…” Flame suddenly stood up and grabbed the Duke’s podium. “No, I haven’t,” she said, leaning in toward his face. “The circus was a disaster. The community sponsors I found turned out to be Nazis. They were raising money to secretly clone Hitler. It was all hushed up, and the circus disbanded immediately afterwards. Most of the people who ran it are now on a colony ship headed out to the stars, which is why none of this was in the background report. I messed up again. I trusted the wrong people. I didn’t learn a thing from the first time.”
She sat back down. “I deserve to be fired. Get rid of me. Send me back to Krim City. I won’t blame you.”