Eventually, only Marcus, Byron and Dorian remained. When the room was still from the departure of the last executive, Dorian finally turned around with his hands up.
Byron erupted to his feet. His chair flew back and clattered to the ground a few feet away.
Byron stopped Dorian with a pointed finger, every inch of his small body quivering with rage. Marcus was still staring at his cousin when he felt a heat from his side. He turned and noticed Byron’s glare on him, frowning but only for a second. The dots weren’t hard to connect. Byron blamed him for falling under the sway of Dorian. Marcus was going to defend himself but a finger from Byron’s other hand halted him in his tracks. The disappointment in Byron’s face made a lump form at the base of Marcus’ neck.
Marcus liked the old man. He’d come to look up to Byron in the time that they’d worked together. The man was a genius in his field but he still remained authentic in who he was. Even as he ascended to the heights of corporate power, he maintained his genuine self. In the corporate world of Iota, such a combination of traits was supposed to be impossible. Authenticity made Byron a mad man in this corporate world. An outcast to be derided, openly by equals and quietly by subordinates. Yet the old man took it all in stride. He didn’t let anyone or anything change who he was and still maintained a high level of efficacy for his company. How could Marcus not admire a man like that?
Byron took a few deep breaths, hands extended towards the both of them, before he walked out of the board room. Marcus inhaled to call Byron back, but Dorian cleared his throat. Marcus didn’t need to turn around to know the look he was getting. Spyros family lesson - never speak to a man’s back. Marcus waited until he heard the elevator doors close before he jumped to his feet.
“A TAKEOVER?” Marcus shouted. “YOU COULDN’T TELL ME THIS WAS FOR A TAKEOVER?”
Dorian sat down, rubbing his shoulders and the back of his neck. “Did you really think it was anything else?” he asked.
Marcus frowned, cocking his head as he tried to process what he just heard. “Did you just ask me if I believed that the investigation which was introduced to me by the Commissioner of Police was a real investigation?” he asked. “Was I really supposed to believe something else?”
Dorian opened his mouth but seemed to rethink what he was going to say and just sighed. Marcus looked at his cousin from his toes to the top of his head.
“So the whole thing in the basement of the Police Headquarters was…” Marcus began.
“…a real operation being ran out of the Police Headquarters,” Dorian finished. “Only the backing was... slightly different.”
“How is that even possible?” Marcus asked. “The Commissioner himself led me there. How wasn’t he the one backing us?”
“Commissioner Knight is one of the best Police Commissioners we’ve had in years,” Dorian said. “He’s upstanding in his duties while understanding the necessity of keeping the proverbial gears-”
“He’s a good cop but he takes orders from outside the chain of command,” Marcus interrupted.
“Oh good, you do remember your last name,” Dorian said. Marcus flinched, recognizing the tone of what was about to come. “Were you really about to speak to that man’s back? Our ancestors weep at the thought of one of their sons…”
Marcus’ lips tightened but he said nothing and waited for Dorian to finish the self-righteous tirade. He forgot how prickly his family was over the conduct and reputation of their members. Even Uncle Cato could be like this at times. Going on and on about how our eyes have seen this and that, defeated them, conquered there, felled him, exploits Marcus could care less about. One time Uncle Cato started naming the ancient kings of Minos for whatever reason as though Marcus cared about or even liked history.
“…eyes have seen legions fall and the creation of a unified Iota two times over!” Dorian rolled on. “We are Spawns of the Invincible! We do not speak to the backs of men!”
Marcus blinked, a blank face shuttering his emotions.
“There it is,” Dorian said sounding satisfied.
“Why didn’t you just tell me?” Marcus asked sitting back down. “Do you really think I would’ve sabotaged a chance to help the family?”
“It’s not that,” Dorian said. “It’s that I don’t trust anyone until they show me they can be trusted.”
“No one,” Dorian said harshly.
Marcus felt more than heard the hatred in Dorian’s voice and the skin on the back of his neck prickled in response. “If you trust me then tell me what I was in all this,” he said.
“Bait,” Dorian answered. “For Byron.”
“That doesn’t even make any...” Marcus trailed off as he thought. “...that damn yacht.”
“His ex-wife’s new husband built the yacht,” Dorian said. “The yacht was a gift to Angelica and when the guy declared bankruptcy, it had to go. When Byron found out, he told Angelica that he was going to buy that yacht and dagger women in it until he died. When I learned that, I knew I had him but I would lose him at the same time.”
“What did Byron do when you bought it?” Marcus asked, genuinely curious.
“Basically what you saw that day with tablet,” Dorian answered. “He swung at me as soon as I placed the bid but...I mean you’ve seen the man. You can imagine the lack of harm his punch did. That incident only fed the rumors of insanity...to be honest it kind of confirmed them in the eyes of the public. Byron cut off all communication with me after that.”
“So you needed me to play the go between and make the offer on your behalf because he wouldn’t give you the time of day,” Marcus said. “Didn’t want to make it so obvious that you were ‘greasing the proverbial gears.’”
Dorian nodded. “Nicely put together,” he said. “It doesn’t do you any good but you figured that out faster than most.”
“You got him to explain the situation too,” Marcus said thinking back to that day weeks ago. “Divine’s left sack! You even got me to make the offer like it was my idea! I was a damn honeypot!”
Dorian sighed. “If that’s how you want to put it,” he said sounding tired.
“And you’re proud of pimping out your family?” Marcus asked.
“At least you didn’t have to suck any dick!” Dorian snapped. “At least then your jaw would be too tired to keep that mouth of yours going. Everlasting above!”
Marcus felt like he was just slapped. Where did that come from?
“Cousin, listen,” Dorian said calming down. “You’re all set to become the new Senior Vice President of Mergers and Acquisitions at the Lions Club. Welcome to the family business.”
“Are you sure you want someone you can’t trust running such a crucial section of the almighty Lions Club?” Marcus asked, still feeling the sting from his cousin’s barb.
“Marcus, you’re in, relax.” Dorian said closing his eyes and leaning back in his seat. “Cato campaigned hard for you and you’ve checked every box he made. What do they say in Old Town? ‘Icecubes, my guy. We’re thirty-three, sixty-six and one. Don’t let that driveshaft tongue get you wrecked.’”
Marcus glared at his cousin, but what could he do? The ink was dry and Dorian would now be cemented as the wealthiest Commissioner in the history of the ITG. There would be a purge and liquidation of Nelson Trading’s assets. Anyone who knew anything about how all this happened would see retirement accounts filled and college loans paid off for a few generations. Disgruntled employees would be ostracized into impotence or outright killed, though that rarely happened in the new decade. The wheel would roll on and Dorian would be on top, flashing that pretentious smile of his. He won.
Marcus just turned around and walked away. He kept walking until he was out of the building, hailing a cab in front of the Nelson Trading building as loud as any tourist. One of the green sedans began slowing down when something cold and hard settled against the small of Marcus’ back. His shirt was grabbed through his jacket and he immediately tensed up.
“Move,” A familiar voice said as the cab sped off.
“Ser Nathan?” Marcus asked, trying to turn around.
Ser Nathan kept Marcus facing forward with an elbow to his shoulder and jammed the gun deeper into his back.
“Move!” Ser Nathan snarled.
Marcus flinched but obeyed without saying anything else. He was guided into a cramped alley nearby. The red brick alley was littered with garbage and stray animals, the ground damp from a moisture too thick to be water. Ser Nathan led Marcus deep into the alley and opened an old rusty storm drain, hinges crying out as he swung the door open. The drain looked just big enough to fit a body. He let Marcus go and began backing away slowly with the gun leveled in front of him.
Ser Nathan transformed completely since the objectives meeting that morning. Whereas this morning, Ser Nathaniel Gregory Nelson the fourth was calm and under control as his company was swallowed whole, this man now didn’t even understand the concept of control. His jacket was missing and his black tie hung askew from his neck, his breath coming in rapid ragged gasps as sweat made a joke out of his gray hair. Ser Nathan’s face was streaked with pink-tinged sweat from his hair gel, the color popping on his pale face and giving the broken man a feral appearance.
“What are you doing, Ser Nathan?” Marcus asked, managing to keep his heart rate down as he turned around.
“But I’m not Ser Nathan anymore, now am I?” Ser Nathan asked. “I’m just regular old Nathan Nelson, soon to be dead man!”
“You’re safe,” Marcus said reassuring the broken man. “My cousin said you might die only if you didn’t sign the papers. You signed them. You’re safe.”
Nathan’s sweaty face scrunched as he stared at Marcus with wild eyes. “You think that was actually true?” he asked. “Did you ever once hear your cousin explicitly say that he wouldn’t kill me if I signed? Directly promise me my life for signing that paper? In any way?”
Marcus opened his mouth but paused as he went over what he remembered of the takeover a little while ago. He remained silent. He was struggling with the thought of lying to a dead man.
“EXACTLY!” Nathan shouted.
“Then why did you sign the contract?” Marcus asked.
“WHAT ELSE WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO?” Nathan roared. “THE ENTIRE TABLE WAS AGAINST ME!”
Marcus wanted to say something but what was there to say? The man was right. Marcus hoped Dorian wouldn’t kill Nathan but this man was too great a liability. After that display this morning, Marcus wouldn’t put killing past his illustrious cousin.
“So then why come after me?” Marcus asked. “Dorian was the one who did this. Not me.”
“You’re the one who let him in!” Nathan shouted. “I should’ve listened to my father and stayed away from all you Spyros and Minoans. Four generations we Nelsons stayed away and we flourished. Four measly months of having a Spyros in my company and I’m ruined! You all really are a curse on humanity!”
“But you’re the one who brought me in!” Marcus said, seeing people walking by alley’s entrance and praying the Divine had one of them look in his direction and call the cops. Might as well pray to piss gold in a city like Damokles.
“I did…” Nathan said in a too quiet voice. “I wanted to spit in the eye of the Lord of Perdition but it turns out the whole thing was a trap. I knew about that fucking yacht but I also knew Byron despised your cousin almost as much as your dear old uncle….”
“What?” Marcus asked, heart thumping in surprise. “My uncle doesn’t hate Dorian. What are you talking about?”
But Marcus’ words fell on deaf ears. The former CEO broke down into rambling like a madman. He went on for a solid two minutes about how he should have seen the obvious trap laid by Dorian and scolding himself for his greed. Scolding his desperate attempt for a feather in his cap that not even his father could get. His arrogance for thinking he could spit in the eye of the Lord of Perdition. He went through cycles of anger, fear and then sorrow until a cat knocked over a bottle. At the sound, his attention was brought into the present once more.
Nathaniel Gregory Nelson the fourth looked up at Marcus and then down to the gun before he cocked back the hammer of his old style pistol. The barrel was aimed at Marcus’ chest and all Marcus could do was close his eyes and wait for the impact. This wasn’t how he wanted to go out. He was scared enough to piss himself but he was a Spyros. For all that his family has done, and the things they are apparently still doing, that was still his family. He would not disrespect his father and his ancestors by dying like a coward.
When Marcus heard the metallic twinge of the spring in the gun, a sudden gust nearly knocked him over. Nathan erupt into cries of agony and that snapped Marcus’ eyes open as the winds swirled around him. Fascination kept those eyes open.
Nathan was standing in front of Marcus clutching the wrist of the hand holding the gun. The gun was in the process of melting like ice on a sidewalk during summer. The now formless metal was bright yellow and dripped globs onto the concrete. Nathan’s hand sizzled as the super-heated barrel draped over his knuckles, covering more and more of his hand in an agonizingly slow advance. After a few excruciating seconds, Nathan fell to his knees, crying and whimpering in pain as he cradled his ruined hand.
Marcus was stunned and still trying to understand what happened when the Crusader landed in front of him. The pavement cracked under the superhero’s boots, but the man was moving before his cape had even settled. When he got to Marcus, he immediately began running his hands over Marcus like a new mother who just found her child playing with a snake. Eventually, he held Marcus’ head in his hands and looked into his eyes as though checking for a concussion and Marcus noticed the man’s eyes were golden. That forgotten and suppressed errant thought just became real. There was no longer any doubting. Now Marcus just needed to get proof.
Something tickled Marcus’ ears and he looked away from the Crusader’s examination. Something changed but he couldn’t see any differences. He began listening for differences but there wasn’t anything there. People and cars still cruised by and-
Nathan’s still smoking hand cracked the Crusader across the jaw from behind. The Crusader’s head snapped to the side from the force of the blow but he did nothing else. For a second, no one moved as the Crusader listed, Marcus’ head still in his hands. Nathan seemed to be just as curious as Marcus because the man didn’t pull his arm back. An explosion of flames erupted in the space between the Crusader and Nathan. The former CEO went flying across the alley to smash into the brick wall with a squelch. Nathan remained on the wall for a minute before he slowly slid to the ground, leaving a trail of blood in his wake.
“I need to remember that I’m not invincible.” the Crusader said in that too deep voice.
Marcus could only stare at the blood dribbling from the Crusader’s chin in silence. Then he finally reacted and pulled out a napkin from one of his vest pockets. The Crusader took the napkin with a grateful nod and he pressed the thin white square against his chin. While he stood there, the superhero pressed a button on his belt and he turned to leave, hands beginning to light up.
“What was that?” Marcus asked before the superhero took his third step.
“I sent in a police call,” the Crusader said without turning around.
“But aren’t the police…trying to arrest you or something?” Marcus asked.
The Crusader nodded. “They’re chasing me but they still need to be the ones to handle this,” he said. “I’ve done all I can. We’re in the Financial District so they’ll be here soon. You should stay and give them your statement.”
Marcus nodded and the Crusader gave a single nod before the in the palms of his hands grew bright. Flames began sprouting from his hands and feet, lifting the superhero into the air. His ascent was slow at first but he picked up speed as he gained altitude. Looking up at the white bodysuit something came over Marcus just before the man got too far away.
It was small and quickly covered but Marcus saw it. He saw the hesitation.