Short Stories

The Request

«If there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that Robert would have repudiated all of them. There was not a single person that he trusted while he was alive and that was for a good reason.» She stood up and sat over the sofa-stool, right next to the man as she griped her finger like a multi-hook lock and continued.

«At least he didn’t have to face the people he worked with every single day, plunging like animals to capitalize on everything he created and see what they were really made of. These hideous people… nobody could anticipate their reaction once they got their chance to move unhinged.»

The redhead woman was livid. She had dark orange hair, that was curling in big furrows on the top of her head, and big green eyes that were exuding a sense of warmth and exasperated loneliness at the same time. Her silk, multihued shirt was ripped open in the top, revealing a circular golden medallion, and her brown skirt was laying thick and robust, above her naked slick feet that felt like wax-candles that the light was coming from the inside.

The man beside her nodded in a minimal way and gazed with an impersonal face-mask that was as neutral as a doll. Bruce was a well-known laconic, a man that would say less than he knew and speak more with his actions, he had made a name for his direct attitude and the blatant remarks he would make without any hint of restriction. He sat back cross-legged in his position, comfortable as he squinted behind the straight thin hair that was falling on his face and he waited patiently for the woman to elaborate on her thoughts.

«It’s a shame really. Robert was such a benign and polite man that everybody thought he could take advantage of him. They took his kindness for weakness and that was always their biggest mistake. »

She turned back to the man with a sardonic smile as she held the drink loosely in her hand.

«Everybody thought Robert didn’t really pay attention to others. That he never cared to inspect his subordinates or bat an eye on the myriad vampires that were after his blood». «They were mistaken. Robert could see through them as if he was glancing through transparent glass».

Her feet tantalized as she waved slightly her drink to make the point.

«When they first came to buy ‘Linear’, 10 years ago everybody carried the confidence of a superstar. They thought they reeled him in, into their whims as if he was some kind of a pushover they could do whatever they want to.» She cleaned the right side of her lip with her ring finger as she paused. «You should see their faces when he declined their offer and shattered their millions like a piece of garbage he couldn’t care less. Nobody really understood Robert for who he was and especially.. those that were the closest to him.»

The man continued staring at her as if he was in a theater watching a show he could not take his eyes away. The woman picked up a cigarette and lighted it up as she let the muscles on her shoulders relax.

«Robert was a man of honor. Like you are,» she pointed, «That’s why he liked you so much. He was always righteous and just and he would strive to keep his…how you guys call it?», «honor» she exclaimed with a triumph movement of the hand as Bruce leaned forward to her, «isn’t that what you guys like to strive for so passionately?».

«Miss Morrison,» began Bruce,

«Kate, you can call me Kate..»

«Sure, Kate, your husband was an exceptional man. And I can only feel blessed to have been close to him for so long. There are not many men like him left in the world today, unfortunately..»

«And if there were they would have probably been eaten by the predators,» she said as she sipped from her drink. She glanced reluctantly at him as she nodded to herself and leaned the glass over the table.

«So, about the reason, I called you today. Bruce, there are certain things that have been going on and unfortunately, I’m too weak to deal with them all on my own. One person cannot change the course of the river. But combine a couple of them that have a certain skill and trust with each other and… we could turn the tables upside down. Don’t forget we are dealing with very mischievous people here, the kind that no one would really like to have to mess with unless he had to,»

She exhaled the smoke forcefully.

«Please,» replied Bruce. I promise I will do anything in my power to be helpful.»

Kate continued.

«A few weeks ago Ethan and some of the board members visited me right here at home. They came with their suits and ties and claimed they wanted to pay tribute to Robert and all the amazing contribution he had made to the world through the years. I was shocked and pleased at the same time. All these people gathered here just to share their grief with me,» she shook her head as she stood up and turned her back to Bruce who continued observing her unbothered.

«Or so I thought. These gentlemen had nothing of the noble and formidable feelings I had in mind for them. Their motives were different, and I only realized it much later when it was already too late,»

Bruce remained motionless as Kate wandered casually around the room with one arm glued around her waist.

«Robert used to have some of his most important documents in a little safe in his home-office that nobody was supposed to know how to open except him. I’m not sure if I can transfer to you the significance of those papers but let’s just say, people would pay a lot to get their hands on them,»

«Were they related to the company?» Bruce asked.

«Partly, yes. Some of them contained detailed plans about his next steps. Information about important clients, people he knew, conversations with high-profilers. Things that were supposed to remain private.»

Bruce nodded.

«Trust me my dear if there was any chance for the company to thrive it wouldn’t be out of luck. Robert had made sure to take care of every little detail just to guarantee its progression. Threats they were facing, dangers, future plans were all in there. Together with other valuable information.» she uttered as she let the word fuse into the air. «Facts that nobody really knew or could get his hands on unless it was for Robert who worked so hard for it. Very few could achieve what he did,»

«Robert was a very meticulous man,»

«He was,». She spun her head to him with a chilling calmness. «But this part is not the one that concerns me really.»

«It’s not?»

Her eyes widened as her face dropped. She continued with a discrete reluctance.

«You see, Bruce, this safe contained more than professional documents. I’m afraid some of the things inside the safe were of… personal nature,». She checked on him for any sign of reaction but resumed once she detected none of it.

«For all the hard work and discipline Robert exhibited, let’s just say he also had some non-conventional preferences. This material is highly sensitive and I’m sure you can understand how dangerous it can be in the wrong hands.»

Bruce leaned his head slightly as he gripped his hands together.

«What kind of material are we talking about here? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.»

«Not an issue.» She cut sharply. «It was mostly pictures and videos, of him with other women,»

«Had you seen this material, yourself?» he inquired.

«I may,» she replied indifferently.

«You may?»

«Listen Bruce. What is important to understand here is that this material gives the power to Ethan and the board members, to act on it. What they are after is not what Robert had in his mind or his plans with the company. They want full control of ‘Linear’, and now that they possess all this, I’m afraid they are going to use it as leverage.»

«And you are positive that it was them who actually stole all this? Couldn’t it be anyone else that might have access to Robert’s safe? Maybe friends or other family members?»

Kate smiled mildly.

«If there was someone else I would know about it. Trust me, I knew my husband better than anyone else. There is only one person in the world that could plan something like that and that is no one else than Ethan. The current vice president and the man that was the closest to Robert while he was alive.» She raised up again and turned her back on him. «We are dealing with a very malevolent person here Bruce. You should never underestimate him or take his abilities lightly.»

«Of course not,» assured Bruce. «But based on my knowledge, Ethan has actually a very small portion in the company holdings. Selling the company would be more unprosperous for him than actually keeping it.»

«You see that’s what Ethan wants everyone to think.»

She shook her head in disbelief.

«This guy is so cunning…he has made arrangements with other board members to share their profits once the operation is done, while he keeps his sharing low purposefully. As a matter of fact, he had many chances to increase it if he would like to but he doesn’t. And he won’t, just for this reason..»

«I see,»

Bruce seemed contemplative as he soothed his chin with his fingers. He darted a couple of quick glances at Kate who waited patiently to take his time.

«Kate, I hope you understand that what you are asking of me, is not a simple matter at all. It will take a long time and preparation before we are in a position to do anything and even then there are chances that these documents may have been transferred or been duplicated in some way.»

«I understand.» declared Kate. Bruce took a big breath and clenched his fists.

«Robert was like a father to me. He took me in when I had no money in my pocket and had nowhere else to turn for help. As you may know, I owe this man a lot and I could never allow something bad to happen to the company or his reputation». «I will help you,» he declared, «And assuming the documents are still with Ethan I will get everything back. But I’m going to need your full cooperation for it,»

Kate blocked the smile on her face as she let him continue.

«I hope you understand there can be no secrets or speculations in relation to this. You will have to agree in giving me all the necessary information even if it is..uncomfortable,»

«You can have anything,» asserted Kate strictly. «Anything you want.»

Bruce took a little pen and a block out of his pocket and marked something as Kate observed him.

«So for one thing, based on your sayings, you did have access to the safe yourself. Is that correct?»

«You can assume I had,»

«I can assume?» he asked picking a serious look at her.

«I did,»

He scribbled something down as he continued.

«You mentioned earlier that Ethan was the only person that knew about the safe or could achieve an act like that. What was your relationship with Ethan exactly?»

Kate stumbled back for an instant.

«He was a coworker in the company. We had a standard working relationship like everyone else,»

«So your relationship was strictly professional?» asked Bruce.

«That is correct,»

«Then how do you know that he was the only man that could penetrate your husband’s office?» he asked observing her reaction.

Kate exhaled some smoke as she delayed her answer.

«Kate, I need you to understand the seriousness of this. Any misinformation could create a huge danger and I’m not willing to participate unless you are ready to tell me the truth,»

«OK, OK» she pleaded. «There was something like a fling a long time ago, between us. I guess that’s the reason he is so confident to take matters in his hands like that.»

«A fling?» he asked bewildered. Kate nodded sardonically.

«Nothing serious really. It lasted for a few months.»

«Did Robert know about this?»

Kate’s face dropped in surprise at the question.

«Bruce, I don’t think this information…»

«Miss Morrison..sorry I mean Kate, I need you to realize this is crucial information if I am to work on a case like this. Plus I can assure you that anything that is shared here between us is going to be highly confidential.»

Kate nodded.

«He did,»

«Was he angry? Did he respond in any particular way when he learned about it? How did he take it?»

«Same as everything else. Like a fact he simply had to acknowledge, you know how cerebral Robert was.». «What difference does it make?» she asked with the cigarette in front of her face.

Bruce took his time for a few minutes. He seemed uncertain and skeptical about something and reiterated some of the previously established facts with Kate who obliged him in all his questions with slim-cut answers that were straight to the point. After a while, he stood up for the first time and wandered in the room reflectively with his arms behind his back as he let his feet dangle in front of him like big tree branches.

«There is still something I don’t understand,» he exclaimed with a soft voice. «As it happens to know, I’m very close with everyone in the company and I know for a fact that most people would never accept to partner with anyone who wished to harm the company or Robert in any way. You claim that Ethan would have allies when in fact he would never get enough support to pass an act like that. All he would achieve was to damage his own reputation and be extradited from his business circle for good,»

«But you don’t understand Bruce,» uttered Kate exasperatedly. «He is a really cunning man who has the ability to take what he wants and he will show his carts when the time is right,»

«I’m afraid I cannot agree with you on this one,» replied Bruce calmly. «Even if he had the ability to strike a deal with others and increase his profit as you say he wouldn’t have any reason to impeach the safe and grab the documents for this purpose.»

«I don’t understand what you mean Mr. Barrett,»

«Let me elaborate then,» he exclaimed, «from what I know as of now you are holding the biggest portion of the company holdings with 51% of shares in your name. Am I correct?»

«You are,»

«If he was to blackmail you by giving you such a large amount of money -which should be in the range of a few hundred million in that case- then this doesn’t seem like a very strong punishment now, does it? More so, Miss Morrisson, it seems to me that you would have the biggest incentive to actually sell the company and Ethan would be the most eager to stop you». Kate remained stunt.

«So if my reasoning is correct, it was you that desired to proceed with the liquidation and probably Ethan knew about this and tried to stop you from doing it. If my guess is correct Ethan gathered documents that prove the case and is planning to use them to forewarn the others. Am I correct?»

His face brightened with a little grin that was impossible to withhold.

«I would like you to leave now sir,» said Kate with a terrified face. «Thank you for your time, but you can go,» she repeated and Bruce gave a little node as he plunged his notebook in his jacket and departed with slow, ponderous steps…