The Power of Underestimation: A Short Story
So, last night I was talking with one of my friends about the usefulness of being underestimated, even if it can be irritating. And from that conversation sprang this short story, about two diplomats. Though, obviously, this is not even close to a realistic example.
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Claude Winters smiled slightly as they walked into the meeting room. To anyone who knew them, that smile would have screamed danger and encouraged the viewer to either beg forgiveness immediately or walk very, very quickly away. Unfortunately for the other diplomats in the room, only one knew Claude very well.
As they took their seat, Nemo Beauchamps was hard-pressed to keep their amusement from showing as Ambassador Winters walked in, the same little smile still on the American’s face. Nemo had known the small, stylishly dressed career foreign officer since middle school, though the two diplomats usually interacted from opposite sides of the table these days. Nemo’s disgust with United States of America had led them to flee as soon as possible after finishing their schooling. By this point, now in their early 40s, Nemo had reached the position of Ambassador to Iran for their adopted country, Germany, while Winters was the American ambassador, the US finally beginning to clean up its act internationally after the fiasco in the late ‘10s.
Normally the two associated mostly at parties and other such gatherings, or visited each other at their houses in Germany and Iceland, respectively. However, this meeting was different. While the situation in the Middle East had cooled down a great deal after the ‘world powers’ decided to back down except for UN-sanctioned assistance, Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians was still creating unrest. Iran, known for its power, progress, and cool-headedness, had suggested a negotiation between the two groups, with several ambassadors from other countries there to offer advice and oversee the proceedings. Most of the powerful countries—China, Russia, Germany, the UK, and the US—insisted on their ambassadors to Iran attending, and the UN sent the current Secretary-General.
The negotiation was expected to be challenging and full of hostility, considering the long, unpleasant history between Palestinians and Israelis that reached back past the Second World War.
The intention with having so many diplomats at this fraught negotiation was intended to keep the peace and ease the negotiations. Unfortunately, as both Winters and Beauchamps knew, the personalities of most of those involved would do exactly the opposite. Hence the smile on Winters’ face. The diminutive ambassador loved to cut through that type of political fluff to get to the point, often shocking and overwhelming the other officials there. It didn’t matter how many times they did it, the lesson never sank in. It was as if being small, unassuming, friendly, and feminine in appearance clouded the memories of those the 43-year-old outmaneuvered. In fact, the only people besides Beauchamps who probably had an idea of what was going to happen were the Iranian officials with whom the brown-haired ambassador regularly interacted with. They were shooting nervous looks at Winters as they took a seat beside Beauchamps. The young ambassador’s smile widened as they turned to Beauchamps, becoming less amused than delighted.
“Nemo, old friend, how are you? It’s good to be sitting on the same side of the table this time, isn’t it?” Winters asked their childhood friend. Nemo grinned back, shocking those who didn’t know about the connection between the two, and were used to the German ambassador acting rather taciturn and sober.
“Quite well, Claude. Though I’d be better if you didn’t bring your young creatures around so much. Indeed, it is. This promises to be incredibly amusing, as long as you stick true to form,” Nemo responded quietly, eliciting a chuckle from Claude at the reference to their small horde of children, who said,
“Oh, come on, you know you love them. You were only frightened when they were babies. Now that Del’s ten I find your claim hard to believe. Though I wish you had continued to keep the weapons in safer places. And as to your last comment, do you really think I won’t?” Now it was Nemo’s turn to chuckle. But, by that point, the last of the dignitaries had trickled in, so they didn’t respond. There was a short silence held by all the various diplomats and politicians as the important religious clerics of Iran, Israel, and the Palestinians each said a prayer for the negotiations to go quickly, and well. Many of the diplomats, including Claude, each added a silent prayer of the same as well.
Then the crush began. It was quickly clear that Russia and China were throwing their weight behind the Palestinians, while the UK supported Israel. Nemo was representing Germany in the middle ground. The Iranian officials were tending to be leaning towards the Palestinians, though they left most of the negotiating to the others. The support, and division of the major powers could have turned the whole thing into a pointless shouting match, but Germany’s calming influence turned it into a more well-mannered, though at a certain point, equally pointless limbo. That was when Claude stepped in, smiling calmly in a way that made everyone but Nemo shiver. Never raising their voice, the American diplomat called to attention the places where the two groups’ stubbornness was merely self-important posturing, and quietly offering alternatives that would retain the pride of not just the Palestinians and Israelis but also their supporters.
By the end of the seven-hour negotiation, the Palestinians and Israelis had managed to negotiate a deal that rivaled the first two-state negotiation in its favorable terms, but was more likely to go over well to their countrymen. Both of the envoys from the two groups shot Claude slightly flabbergasted and impressed looks that accurately conveyed their wishes to never oppose them on a sensitive issue. Claude merely smiled serenely at them, brown eyes dancing with satisfaction and amusement.
As the diplomats and dignitaries left the meeting room for a much-anticipated evening meal, Claude took Nemo’s offered arm, the two smiling with shared amusement.
“Well done, as always, Claude,” Nemo said quietly. Claude shook their head, slightly, saying,
“Thanks, but what do you bet they’ll promptly forget until next time?” Nemo’s mouth twitched as they answered,
“We both know the answer to that. But I know you love it. It makes you more effective—they don’t know you’ve surrounded them until it’s too late.” Their best friend’s comment made Claude laugh in their distinctive way that turned heads with its heartfelt sound.
“You know me too well, old friend. I still say that next time it’s your turn. You need to keep your own skills sharp, after all,” Claude responded. Nemo’s own answer was merely another twitch of their mouth, and with that, the two best friends, who looked more like siblings than not, though they shared no blood relation, went to eat and continue outmaneuvering those who continually underestimated both of them.
They were boons to their countries and sources of confusion and wary respect by their allies and opponents. After all, the weapon of underestimation provides a great deal of power.
What do you guys think?
Do you also find being underestimated useful?
What short stories have you been writing?
What do you think of my characters?
Tell me in the comments!