Cordell McCandlish slid into the back seat of the limousine, nodded at the black-suited bodyguard who sat across from him, and opened up his briefcase. A uniformed doorman eased the door closed and the driver started the car. The limo pulled out into traffic, flanked by two black SUV’s, each filled with bodyguards and hired security. Cordell started to go through the files he would need for his monthly meeting. He paged back and forth through revenue estimates and earnings reports, patent applications and security statements. Site accidents, hirings, firings, all the daily minutia of the company that they contained. The data was sorted and compiled and arranged so that it formed a cogent picture of how the company was functioning.
All of it utterly useless for his business today.
But protocols had to be followed, for the sake of Cerbecorp. McCandlish would meet with Abraham Jordan, just as he had every month for the last ten years, and he would bring along all the information pertinent to the running of his vast corporate empire. Everyone knew the ritual, thus the armed escort. The information in McCandlish’s briefcase could bring down Cerbecorp, its affiliates, probably even its competitors. Indeed, not five minutes after they started driving, McCandlish heard a small pinging noise come from the outside of the car. The large bodyguard in the seat opposite him put a finger to his ear for a moment. “Just a shooter, Mister McCandlish,” he rumbled. “Nothing to worry about.”
McCandlish nodded and closed the briefcase. They would be there soon enough, ensconced in the bomb-proof fortress that Jordan had erected in the heart of the city. What Cerbecorp offered, better than anyone else, was security. Whether it was physical security, data security, financial security, it didn’t matter. If you had something you needed to keep safe, Cerbecorp was the first place you went to. For all that it had been run for years by a near-paranoid psychopath, that surprised no one.
What did surprise people was how the company thrived. Jordan had spent the first few years of his position as the President of the company utterly hiding – figuratively and literally – from all risk. He made few investments, subjected all new employees to a rigorous inspection and background check, and refused to leave the tower he’d had built downtown. It was not until he’d hired McCandlish as his right-hand man that the company started to take off, and plenty of people were very aware of that. They were also aware that the company had been going in some unexpected directions in the last few years, leading some to wonder if Jordan hadn’t finally snapped. The company’s attempt to buy out Munin Scientific, the building of a new subterranean research complex in New Mexico – these were not the kinds of ventures that Abraham Jordan would have taken.
Analysts attributed the changes to McCandlish’s influence. He wondered if they had any idea how right they were.
The limo came to a stop and McCandlish blinked his mind clear. A bodyguard opened the door for him, and he got out, followed by the large young man who had ridden in with him. The three of them walked to the elevator in silence. The bodyguards each pressed their ID badges to a sensor, and McCandlish stated his name in a loud and clear voice. A green light blinked on above the elevator and the doors slid open.
Jordan’s suite was ten floors underground. The elevator opened into a minimalist lobby, with a simple reception desk, matte white walls and two armed guards in front of a steel door. There were no windows, nor should there be. The whole suite was a concrete and steel box, built to withstand nearly anything from earthquakes to terrorist attacks to – it was said – nuclear bombs. The guards carried large handguns and a variety of other implements of intimidation on their belts. That was normal, and perfectly expected.
What was not expected was the disheveled young man who was sitting slumped in a chair by the reception desk. McCandlish curled a lip at the sight of him. Jordan’s son was everything his father wasn’t – a layabout, reckless, completely undependable. Than Jordan stood up and ran a hand through his uncombed hair. “Cord,” he said. His eyes were red and he hadn’t shaved. McCandlish was sure he could smell alcohol. “Cord, I have to see my father,” he said, reaching out.
One of the bodyguards stepped in between them and blocked Than from getting any closer. He groaned, a noise that was closer to a whine. “C’mon, Cord! I need to see him!”
“Why?” Cordell asked. “Run out of money again? Because you’re not getting any more, young man.” McCandlish stepped out from behind the bodyguard and nodded to let the large man know he could stand down. “You asked for full access to the trust fund, and you got it.” He put his hands – and the briefcase – behind his back and watched the young man’s eyes follow it. “You blew it, Than. And that is not my problem, nor is it your father’s.”
Than stood for a moment, his eyes locked on McCandlish. There was an instant where he thought the young man would fall over, or perhaps throw up, so he was especially surprised when Than lunged at him and grabbed his lapels. “I know what you’re doing,” he said. His eyes were bloodshot, wide, and mad. “I know what’s going on with you and my father. I haven’t seen him in years, no one has, and if you don’t cut me in, I’ll -” Than squawked as he was pulled away by the bodyguards. They held him with ease as he struggled in their grip.
McCandlish straightened his jacket and looked around the room. The armed guards hadn’t moved. “Bring him upstairs,” McCandlish said to the bodyguards. “I’ll see to him after my meeting with his father.” The bodyguards nodded, tightened their grip, and hauled Than into the waiting elevator. The doors perfectly silenced his angry shouts.
“Well,” McCandlish said to the guards. “That was a change of pace.”
The guards didn’t respond, nor did they move. McCandlish held out his hands. The guard on the left reached into one of his belt pouches and removed a small device – long and thin with a small display on the top side. He pressed a button and a number appeared – 10 – indicating the place where a small blood sample would be taken. McCandlish rolled up his right sleeve to expose the randomly chosen spot inside his elbow. The guard set the device against his skin, there was a small pinprick and a hiss. McCandlish rolled down his sleeve and waited as the guard plugged the small device into a carefully concealed port next to the door.
A moment later, the door unlocked. far quieter than would have been expected. The guards stood aside, and McCandlish nodded to them as he passed into Jordan’s suite.
The room was white. Pure, antiseptic, disorienting white. Only the hospital bed in the center, and the attendant machines that flocked around it, gave him any idea where up and down were. He carefully stepped towards the bed. There would be a nurse here, normally. During their meetings she would leave by a different door. This was a private moment between Jordan and McCandlish, just as it had been for years.
“Hello, Abe,” McCandlish said quietly. “It’s that time again.”
The machines beeped and hissed quietly, but Jordan didn’t say a word. He lay in his bed, slivers of white showing under nearly closed eyelids. A variety of tubes went up his nose and down his throat, needles in both arms, cables and pipes snaking all around the bed. Jordan’s skin was sallow and brittle, his muscles soft and watery. He moved slightly as the implanted rollers in the bed started their massage, but he didn’t react at all. Abraham Jordan was just this side of dead, and had been for some time. But vast wealth and deep paranoia were able to buy a lot of things, not the least of which were far more years than he had any right to.
McCandlish rested the briefcase on the bed, but didn’t open it. “Your son,” he said. “He thinks he knows what’s going on.” He shook his head. “Pity if he does. I don’t think he does.” He shrugged. “But risk is weakness, isn’t that right, Abraham?” He looked at Jordan, who didn’t respond. Who hadn’t responded to a question for the least five years. McCandlish patted his hand. “Don’t worry, Abe,” he said. “It’ll be quick. He’ll never see it coming.”
He sighed and popped open the briefcase. “Shall we begin, then? Barbeau Pharmaceuticals is asking for a cooperative arrangement.” He outlined the deal in quiet, measured tones.
Abraham Jordan respired and metabolized, but did not respond.