Cunning, Emaciated, Degenerate
Denis mounted the brownstone steps, thinking about the meeting he needed to attend later in the day. I’ve got to block this deal. Yes, it would probably make money — and destroy what’s left of a hundred lives or so. And destroy some greenspace. I don’t want any part of that. Fortunately for him, he wasn’t alone; there was a group at the company who wanted to stage a takeover, and Denis meant to help them.
His grandfather had picked a heck of time to demand a meeting.
He knocked on the door. Delagardie, who was nearly as aged and emaciated as his master, answered.
Before Denis could get a greeting out, Delagardie said in a barely-audible whisper, “Your grandfather is expecting you. Go straight up.”
The young man started for the stairs as the door squealed shut behind him. Anyone expecting warmth and courtesy here had come to the last place where it could be found.
He stood outside the room for a minute. Something about the last minute summons bothered him. He and his mother had been estranged from his grandfather after the death of Denis’ father. While it was rumored that the old man was extremely wealthy it wasn’t an attraction for his grandson. With the idealism of youth, Denis had long ago decided it wasn’t a legacy he wanted any part of. In his eyes, the money was contaminated by the degenerate lifestyle and corrupt business practices his grandfather was infamous for.
“Denis. Come in. What are you waiting for?”
Reluctantly, he swung the door open and entered. Andrew DeFleur was laying in bed, his thin frame hardly seeming to hold the blankets off the mattress.
“Grandfather.” Denis bowed slightly. “You wanted to see me?”
“Yes. Sit down.”
Denis paused and then sat.
“I’m dying. I doubt that comes as any surprise to you.”
What do I say to that? I’m sorry? What a shame? Should I care?
The old man put him out of his misery and chuckled with surprising strength. “I’ll spare you from trying to find a nice, hypocritical phrase. Your Great-aunt Esme would break into tears and that pious old fraud Uncle Jeffrey would preach a sermon over me. You don’t pretend — it’s one of the things I like about you. ”
“You hardly know me.”
A small, cynical smile came over Andrew’s face. “I know more than you think, young man.”
“May I ask why you had me come?” Denis said briskly. He had other and better things to do.
“Why, for the pleasure of your company, of course. Of course, not!” Andrew grasped a small glass of a slightly cloudy liquid and drank. “No, because I need to discuss my inheritance with you.”
Denis looked at his watch. He had less than an hour to return to his office. He stood and prepared to leave. “I don’t have time for this, grandfather, and I’m not –”
He did, involuntarily, feeling for the moment that he’d lost control over himself.
“Now.” His grandfather settled back on his pillows. “This isn’t something I can leave to just anyone.” A cunning smile crossed his face. “It requires someone decent, someone who is capable of making money but who doesn’t make money his first priority. Someone idealistic and fundamentally kind. Someone like you, Denis.” The old man paused. “There has to be some sacrifice involved, after all.”
Denis used every bit of his will to get up and leave, but he couldn’t budge.
Andrew swung his scrawny body up and off the side of the bed. “I wasn’t always like this. I don’t mean my age, but the kind of person I was. We have a great deal in common, you and I — or we did, before my grandfather called me in, just like this.”
He reached out one apparently frail hand and gripped Denis’ wrist. With the other, he raised Denis’ chin so their eyes met and gazes locked.
He has a red highlight in his eyes, the paralyzed Denis thought. Why didn’t I ever notice that before?
A shimmer surrounded the old man and lifted away to form a sphere. It bobbed down the arm Andrew was using to hold Denis’, and slowly traveled up the younger man’s body. It spread thin and sank into him.
The old man released Denis and collapsed onto the bed.
Denis, whose chin had dropped to his chest, slowly raised his head. He looked at the old man with no interest, stood, adjusted his coat and descended the stairs.
Delagardie met him at the door. “Mr. Andrew?”
“He’s dead.” Their eyes met, and Delagardie noted with pleasure the red glint in the younger man’s eyes. He handed Denis a key.
“I’ll make all the arrangements, sir. You will be home this evening?”
“Indeed, I will. But first I have a deal that I need to ensure goes through — and some friends to stab in the back.” He left, a swagger in his step and a cold, cynical smile on his face.