November 1995 Stark Enterprises, “So-Cal” California, the office of the Chief Operating Officer.
The calm voice was utterly indifferent as it reported that the project had been successfully completed but for Obadiah Stane satisfaction flooded his body and even brought a genuine smile to the cold eyes of that perpetually faux pleasant bearded face. One less troublesome obstacle in his path, big business was all about mitigating risk these days, and it had been an unacceptable risk.
The cost of the solution was minimal compared to the potential future loss involved. Even if he had to hide the funding justification. The Research and Development budget was always a good choice to bury the sometimes less than transparent decisions made for the good of the Company.
Hell, Stane would have paid for this himself out of his own money, it was that important, but he didn’t need to.
Donna would deal with the payment in her usual efficient manner, if she hadn’t already.He must remember to tell her to get herself a spectacular Christmas present this year on his personal credit card. His Personal Assistant deserved it.
A weight was lifted from his shoulders and he was idly considering how he wanted to celebrate the resolution of his little problem. Perhaps he could convince Tony to leave his labs and take the boy out for a fancy meal complete with champagne. The boy was always up for a celebration. Any celebration.
The delicious irony in that made him almost miss the fact that the voice had continued and uttered two further words.
Two words which sent a spike of shocked disbelief through his gut.
“Obadiah Stane”, the tone was calm and smooth but the words held a dark promise.
God damn it, these transactions were always supposed to be anonymous and conducted through reliable secure third parties. Even if he always insisted on the final report being delivered verbally to a secure untraceable telephone line by the Consultant managing the project.
It gave Stane peace of mind that the job was completed to his requirements. Stane had long acknowledged that he was a controlling bastard, and the final confirmation was the minimum that his nature allowed whilst still being the unseen hand pulling the strings. He had made his peace with that years ago.
The two words were repeated with implacable patience as if the insolent bastard had all the time in the world. Sheer unadulterated rage flooded through Stane, how fucking dare he? Did he not know who he was talking to? He might have actually said the words aloud.
Smoothly with no inflection the calm voice sent shivers of ice through the enraged man’s brain. “I know exactly who you are Obadiah Stane”
For long seconds unfamiliar and disconcerting fear kept the large man silent until Stane remembered his backbone and reacted with more bluster than confidence. Stane had manipulation bred into his DNA and was used to getting his own way when he was forceful enough. This situation was not going to be the exception. He drew a breath to centre himself and drawled icily,
“I assume this is some paltry attempt at blackmail, you should know that...” but he was interrupted again by that eerily calm and emotionless voice “Look down Obadiah Stane”.
Stane paused, disconcerted once more, then gave in to his curiosity and moved his head obediently downwards. To his horror he saw the small red dot dancing on his grey suit and white silk shirt before coming to a stop directly over his heart. He was a weapons manufacturer, he knew damn well what that red dot meant. Ice trickled down his spine and for a second he found it hard to breathe. His heartbeat was pounding so loudly he almost missed the next sentence.
“The fee has been doubled Obadiah Stane” the lack of inflection in the indifferent voice was seriously adding to Stane’s stress levels. He suddenly realised that he had a lot to learn about the word menacing.
But then Stane’s natural cunning and aggression asserted themselves. The flood of anger in his veins was a welcome relief to all that damn introspection. The bastard wouldn’t kill him, he hadn’t been paid all his money yet. This was just a pathetic attempt at a shakedown. Big mistake punk.
Stane knew the importance of money, his greed for wealth and power was in his very own bone marrow. Everyone had their price.
“Now see here, we had a deal” the big burly bald man blustered trying to ignore the hovering red threat on his chest. Stane didn’t know how it was possible but that calm menacing voice became even colder.
“You knew the rules when you hired me Stane. You broke my rules. You lied to me and you broke the rules Obadiah Stane. No-one breaks my rules without retribution. You only have yourself to blame for what happens next. The fee is doubled because there were two in the equation not one. There will be recompense for flouting my rules Obadiah Stane one way or another”
Stane sucked in a breath as the red dot suddenly appeared on the bridge of his nose. Rank fear pooled like bitter acid in his gut. But he drew a deep sustaining breath. He could do this, he could deal with this risk and still come out on top. He was Obadiah Stane. He didn’t lose.
“Alright, alright” he spat grudgingly, resentment running through his angry voice “it will be in the account in the morning”.
That would gave him enough time for his people to trace the account and track down this bastard before having him wiped from the face of the earth for having the audacity to try to shake down Obadiah Stane.
“Obadiah Stane it will be in the specified account within the next thirty minutes” the words were soft and utterly implacable.
What? No, the devious double crossing bastard wouldn’t get away with it. Stane couldn’t help himself, the guy was merely a tool for him to use. How dare he try to dictate terms to one of the most powerful men in the world? Uncharacteristic ill-considered words snarled from his mouth before he could stop himself.“Damn you to hell I’ll find you, you deal breaking bastard and … arrrg”
The scream was piercing but short lived as Stane closed his mouth in shock and abject terror. His left arm dangled and blood dripped steadily to the floor. The bastard had shot him, he had actually shot him. He stared with horrified fascination at the speed that the obscenely red liquid spread against the pristine white silk of his shirt and must have uttered the words aloud without realising it because in the stark silence which fell after his scream had ended, a dry chuckle preceded that infuriating terrifying calm voice.
“It’s what I do best Obadiah Stane, which is why you hired me. Don’t ever think that you can hire me again. If you disobey me, I will find you and there will be no warning. And if you try to send anyone after me, your death will be a certainty and it will not be an easy one. I will make you suffer Stane. You have thirty minutes Obadiah Stane, thirty minutes and if I don’t get what I want I am coming for you”
Then as if to reinforce his words, two more shots were fired, into the same arm, each bullet hole precisely lined up below the previous one.
There was utter silence in the executive office. The cell phone dropped unnoticed to the ground, black plastic cracking and splintering in the pause before pain receptors flared with agony once more.
The double doors to his office were flung open and as he met the frightened pale blue eyes of his personal assistant Obadiah Stane began to scream.