Vattek leaned back in his sumptuous chair, ice clinking in his glass. “And it’s done,” he said, beaming a smile at his business manager. “The leak’s been plugged.”
“I…wouldn’t be too optimistic, sir,” Anard said, shuffling in his chair and tapping the screen strapped to his arm. “It’s unlikely we’ll recover the funds.”
Vattek waved a hand. “Then we push through a few more deals. Not a problem.”
“The solution may not be as easy as that.” The man looked down, left eye twitching like it always did when he was nervous.
Vattek placed his glass on the coaster. “What aren’t you telling me?”
Anard tapped his screen—another nervous habit. “There’s talk. Some people—a lot of people—aren’t happy with how things went. With…your daughter.
Vattek slammed a hand on the desk, hard enough that it would hurt later. “I have no daughter!” And he ran through the arguments in his mind, how he knew the girl’s mother hadn’t been faithful, how she’d always kept the child distant from him.
“I know,” blustered Anard. “But…people say things. You know that.”
“Which people? You got their names on one of your bloody lists?”
Another twitch of his eye, and Anard tapped his screen. “Farrow, for one. He’s terminated the Slinax contract.”
“Getting out of the game?”
Vattek snorted. “Going to cost him. Always said the man was a fool. Anyone else?”
“The Paternas Brothers. They’ve pulled out, too.”
“From which contract.”
“Erm…” Anard tapped again, as if he didn’t know the answer already. “All of them.”
Vattek froze. Numbers raced through his head, credit values that rapidly dwindled, pushing into the negative. “All?” he managed to say.
A nod of that stupid head. “Every one.”
“They said they…didn’t feel comfortable working with you any more. Not after…what happened with your … I mean, with the thief.”
Was this for real? “Didn’t feel comfortable? The Brothers? Didn’t they get an assassin to remove half their sneaks?”
Anard nodded, shifted in his chair again. “But they weren’t…family.”
“Neither was she!” Vattek looked to his hand, only now feeling the pain as his fingernails dug into his palm. He forced himself to breathe. “They don’t approve of how I look after my own affairs?” he said through gritted teeth. “They renege on some of the best deals they’ve ever had, all because of…of some misguided sense of morality? And Farrow feels the same way?”
The man’s eye twitched even more now, and his brow was slick with sweat. “I…believe so. He said he couldn’t work with someone so…so unstable.”
Vattek stood, leaning over the desk, looking down on Anard. “I’m unstable?”
“In their eyes.” Anard backed into his chair, both hands up, like the pathetic coward he was.
“And what else?”
“Your list, fool! What else have I lost? Who else thinks I should’ve let her continue stealing from me?”
Anard’s shaking finger almost slipped off the screen. His voice wavered as he read out the list. “Jilman. Dephloren. Ramard and his crew. And Felitia’s removed her contact details.”
Vattek’s jaw ached, and the room felt too warm now. He thought of the last girl Felitia had supplied, young and cocky, but still submissive. Not like…like that treacherous thief. No, she’d never given him what he wanted, had she?
Should’ve drowned her at birth. And her mother.
“None of them trust me?” he said, only now realising he was walking round the desk.
Anard pushed his chair back, the wheels creaking. “We…we can work something out,” he said, perspiration dripping down his ugly face. “New contracts. I know a few names.”
“You couldn’t even keep the old ones.”
“They rescinded. There was nothing I could do. Please! We can…”
The first punch exploded blood from Anard’s nose. When Vattek punched again, something cracked. Anard’s head lolled back, and he made a gurgling sound, not even words, just like the baby he was.
Vattek remembered the baby, and the mother begging him to look after his son. And he’d taken her at her word, paid for a maid to care for the brat, taught him the business, then taken him on. And now, the self-titled business manager had failed.
Just like the girl. Just like everyone else around Vattek.
The chair fell back, and Vattek followed it down, thrusting his knee into Anard’s chest and another fist into the man’s face.
When his arms grew too heavy and his lungs felt like they were about to burst, Vattek staggered to his feet. Anard’s face was unrecognisable, and his body didn’t move.
The screen was still strapped to his arm. Vattek swiped down the list. So many names, some he barely recognised. And next to them, details of the contracts they were terminating, the deals they no longer wanted to be a part of.
And all because of that girl.
No. Because of how he’d dealt with her.
But what choice did he have? Didn’t they understand?
Numbers raged through his mind. He had no need to see the spreadsheet Anard would have prepared.
If he’d lost a few of these contracts, he could’ve recouped. But this many? Not a chance. Not without help.
Anard didn’t move, even when Vattek kicked him.
The room grew cold, and Vattek shuddered. They’d all abandoned him. His daughter had betrayed his trust, and his son had done nothing to stop his downfall.
There was nothing left. When word of this got out—and it would, somehow, no matter how Vattek tried to plug the leak—there would be more crying hearts who said he’d done the wrong thing, who refused to work with him. He’d be an outcast, with no protection and no standing.
Vattek turned to his desk, picturing the gun he kept in the drawer, always loaded.
There was only one way out now.
Always A Silver Lining
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It Takes A Steady Hand