1 – Get The Right One
Rodin led her down the alley beside the residential, alert for any movement. This time of the morning, he didn’t expect to be interrupted, but it always paid to be careful.
“I don’t normally work with anyone else,” he said, keeping his voice low.
“Should I be honoured?” The bounce in her voice was grating.
“Just saying. You need to do exactly what I say.”
He headed to the rear door, ignored her complaints about the stink, and pulled out his screen, checked for signals. Only the call-back from the hack he’d inserted yesterday.
Beyond the door, the screen’s glow illuminated the hallway, cracked paint on the walls and mould across the ceiling. There were a couple of doors, one to either side, and stairs at the far end.
The woman eased past him, far too close, straight teeth showing in her grin.
“This is exciting,” she said.
Rodin closed the door, eased past her and walked to the stairs. “This is work.”
“What happens when we get to him?” she asked, so close he could feel her warm breath on his neck.
“You do what I say.”
“Be good to have some idea.”
She wasn’t going to shut up, so he stopped. “Okay.” Might’ve helped if she’d listened first time. “Horran has a room on the third floor. We go up, I open the door. I find him, restrain him, and then we have the chat the boss wanted.”
“You mean my father?”
“My boss, then. We talk, and then I do what I’m being paid for.”
She nodded. “You kill him.”
He took a breath. “I remove the one stealing from your father. That’s the contract.”
“And you’re sure it’s Horran?”
Interesting, the way she tilted her head, like she was challenging him.
“You came up with the evidence.”
And now she beamed. “I did, didn’t I? See—I’m not just Daddy’s little girl.”
So that’s what this was all about. Rodin had been wondering, ever since he’d put everything else together.
“So we’re clear?”
“You don’t want me to say anything up there?”
On the third floor corridor, ceiling tiles illuminated the stained walls. Horran was in 304, at the far end. His door was sealed, but Rodin’s hack opened it.
The man lay on a brown sofa, bowl of chips resting on his protruding stomach, hairy arms holding a glowing screen that illuminated his chubby face.
Before Horran had time to move, Rodin was across the room, piercing the man’s neck with his lance, the drug rushing into the man’s body.
The effect was almost instant. Horran let out a cry, and his body relaxed. The bowl slid to one side, greasy chips tumbling onto the threadbare rug.
Rodin straightened, and the girl came to his side. Horran saw her, and his brow furrowed.
“You?” he managed to say.
She nodded, then turned to Rodin. “He’s safe now?”
“Paralysed from the neck down. Can still talk. Temporary, though.”
“Long enough.” He shot her a look. “Thought I told you to stay quiet.”
“Won’t make a difference now.” And she stepped forward, hands on her hips. “You’ve been a bad boy, Horran. Daddy’s not happy.”
The man whimpered. “You said he’d never find out. And…and it was only the once. I mean, you’re not a kid, right?”
Her eyes ran over him with a look of disgust. “I must’ve been drunk. So maybe you took advantage. You know what that makes you?”
The man whimpered, tried to shake his head.
And Rodin understood, the final piece falling into place.
She turned, grinning like a maniac. No, like someone who knew exactly what they were doing.
“Go do your stuff,” she said.
Horran’s eyes widened in terror as Rodin unsheathed a blade.
“You know what this is about. He’s not happy. Someone’s been syphoning off funds. Enough that he wants to stop them. Permanently.”
The man’s mouth flapped for a moment, before he found words. “But…I do security, not finances. I’d never steal from him. Please! You’ve gotta believe me!”
Rodin leaned in, rested the sharp metal against the man’s throat. “You saying you never took anything that wasn’t yours?” He glanced at the girl, Horran’s eyes following.
“She led me on. Come on, man! He pays me well. I don’t need any more. You’ve gotta believe…”
Rodin placed his hand over Horran’s mouth, all warm breath and sharp stubble. “Just doing my job.” He glanced up, jerked his head at the girl. “You want to come closer?”
She bounced over. “Make it slow. I want to enjoy this.”
Rodin shook his head. “Not my way.”
“He needs to suffer.”
“He already is. Suffering for letting some daddy’s girl take advantage of him.”
And now she stiffened. “What?”
“You know what a patsy is?” Rodin pulled the blade back, just a fraction. “Whoever’s been stealing from your father, they’ve been doing it for years, knew a lot about his accounts. They started small, amounts he probably wouldn’t even notice. But they got greedy.”
He had both their attentions now. Rodin shifted his stance, prepared.
“It was only a matter of time before he noticed. And what then? The money was already gone—no way to replace it. The only way to avoid discovery was to set someone else up.”
And now, Rodin spun. His aim was true, and the blade slid into the girl’s stomach. He twisted it as he wrenched it free, widening the wound.
She staggered back, collapsed to the ground. Her chest heaved as she struggled for breath.
“What…what are you doing?” she managed to say as blood pooled around her hands.
He leaned over her. “I’m completing your father’s contract. I’m removing the one who stole from him.”
And Rodin silenced her.
2 – Always A Silver Lining
While he waited for the drug to wear off, Horran watched the blood flow from the dead girl. It became a trickle, then stopped, leaving a dark stain on his floor.
The first thing he did, once his body became his own, was throw up, the acrid stench overpowering the rank smell of the womans blood.
The second thing he did was reach for his screen and call Snake.
“Bro!” Snake said, his face leaning into the screen. “You changed your mind?”
“My meditech friend. You want to sell an organ or two? He’s running a research program now, needs volunteers. Good money. And the rash goes down eventually. Well, it did last time.”
“I’m not selling my body. I have standards.”
“Right. So you moved out of that dump yet?”
As if it was that easy. “Look, I’ve got a problem. Could do with a little help.”
“Hey, lay it on me, man. Girl problems, right?”
“Could say that.”
“Then you’ve come to the right man, bro. Ain’t nothing I don’t know about women.”
Horran cringed. “Nothing like that.” He took a deep breath. “You know anything about removing bodies?”
Snake didn’t show the slightest surprise. He smiled—lopsided, as always.
“Be right over, bro!”
Horran didn’t move while he waited. He might have control of his body back, but everything ached. It was like he’d run for hours, and then had a gang of goons use him as a punchbag for another hour.
His door was still open—the assassin hadn’t sealed it when he left—and Snake waltzed into the room ten minutes later, his boots squeaking on the flooring. The man looked around, took in Horran stretched out on the sofa, the pile of puke on the seat next to him, and then the dead girl.
Snake’s face blanched.
“That who I think it is?” he said. “You know who her dad is, right?”
“I know. And I didn’t do it.”
Snake shrugged, all his annoying nonchalance returning. “Not here to judge.” He ambled over, nudged the girl with his foot. Then he looked around again, dropped his hands to his sides. His mouth pursed, and Horran could hear some feeble attempt at whistling.
“So, you got any ideas?” Horran asked after a couple of minutes of silence.
“Ideas? Oh, right. The body.” Snake shrugged. “Trash?”
Horran gave him a stare.
“Gotcha. Has to be permanent. Her old man know?”
“If not yet, he will do.”
“So, he gonna want the body back? You know, give her a funeral, all that jazz?”
Jazz? Where the hell did this freak get his words from?
“No idea,” Horran said. And then, a dark thought rose.
If her father didn’t know where she was now, he’d find out. And that would put Horran himself in the firing line.
More so than he already was.
But it wasn’t like he’d gone behind the old man’s back. Not really. So he’d made a bit of a profit, exaggerated a few cost. Nothing wrong with that. Just business, right? He’d understand.
But would he understand why his daughter was dead on Horran’s floor?
Only one thing for it.
“I’ve got to tell him.”
Horran tapped the screen, called up the man’s contacts, pressed to connect. The call icon flashed.
The voice sent a chill through Horran, and he swallowed, smoothed his hair out—even though this connection was audio-only.
“Er, you know your daughter?”
“Think he knows his own kid, Hor,” Snake said. Horran waved a hand to shut the fool up.
“I mean, have you heard…what happened to her?”
The silence lasted three deep, painful heartbeats.
“Right. So, um…”
“But I have no daughter.”
“Not now, he doesn’t,” Snake muttered. Horran shot him another glare.
“I don’t understand,” Horran said.
“I had a daughter, once,” said the emotionless voice from the screen. “But someone who treats family with such contempt doesn’t deserve them. You understand?”
“Cold, man,” Snake said. “Disowning her when she’s dead.”
Easier than when she’d been alive, Horran thought. “Okay,” he said, slowly. “But…well, there’s…I mean…” He swallowed, closed his eyes, gathered his thoughts. “There’s still her body.”
“There are always bodies, my friend. They all go cold eventually.”
“But what do I do with her?”
“That is none of my concern. Now, if you don’t mind, I have important matters to attend to.”
The click of the disconnection ricocheted off Horran’s skull. He sat motionless, vaguely aware of Snake shuffling around, trying to whistle again.
“Anyway,” Snake said, eventually. “Thought you had a thing with this girl.”
“One night. A mistake.”
Snake nodded, looked at the girl. No, leered at her. “Wouldn’t say that, bro. Fine piece, this one.”
“Yeah. Too cold. Sorry, man.” But Snake still stared at her, tongue darting round his lips. “Still, means she won’t complain, right?”
“You’re a sick man, Snake.”
“I’m not the one sitting in my own puke, bro. And I’m not the one had daddy’s girl here.”
That made no logical sense to Horran, and he shook his head.
A pile of vomit, a dead girl, nobody to take her, and this freak he called a friend mooching about. And the room was crap, too.
Wasn’t like he could afford better, though. Not on the kind of low-level work he could get. And half the clients cut him short too. Maybe he should take that dodgy meditech up, sell bits of his body.
Or someone else’s.
He turned to Snake. “Your meditech friend want a few more organs?” When Snake tilted his head in confusion, Horran grinned, waved an arm at the dead girl. “How about a whole body?”
3 – No Return
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.
4 – It Takes A Steady Hand
Borinoff focused on his hands. He ignored the thinness of his mottled skin, and he relaxed his muscles, waiting for the trembling to abate. He couldn’t mess this up.
When he regained full control of his fingers, he moved his right hand toward the model, placed the tiny wooden rod in place and held it for a five-count as the glue hardened.
He held his breath. Anticipation grew as time slowed. His fingers were rock-solid, holding the drain-pipe against the side of the model building, and when he released the tension, the glue held.
Borinoff let the air escape from his lungs, and admired his work. Against the wall, the detail was nearly invisible, the drain in perfect alignment with the corner, the top touching the tiny gutter.
If anyone were to look at this model, they would miss details like this. At least, they wouldn’t be conscious of them. But if things like the drain were missing, the model would feel wrong.
It was the same with the interiors, only partially visible when peering through the windows. Details were important. The model was constructed of details. It required time and patience, and the ability to see beyond the here-and-now.
It was the perfect companion to his business life.
Borinoff breathed deep, then rose from his chair and paced the well-worn path around the table. And he let his mind drift, let his thoughts return to the message he’d received.
Vattek was dead, by his own hand.
Borinoff was one of the first to hear the news—he’d requested his more reliable sources keep a close eye on the man for a few days—but it was no longer secret. And the reaction was much as Borinoff expected—surprise at the manner, but knowing acceptance at the death itself. And no sadness. Even those who worked closely with the man saw him as a means to an end rather than a friend. He would not be mourned.
Borinoff remembered the man when he first started out, taking over Khorin’s empire in a bloodless coup. The man showed promise back then, but he was greedy, wanted too much too soon. And he always looked to the next deal, to the next victory.
He was ruthless and driven, and naturally he wanted to deal with Borinoff. Everyone did.
Vattek’s office had been spotless and impersonal, confirming Borinoff’s suspicions about the man. And he knew that, while the two of them could make a few deals, Borinoff would have to be careful. More so than normal.
That was only a few years ago, and in that time Vattek had built up his empire. The man boasted that it was the biggest in the districts, stretching further than even Borinoff’s. And Borinoff let the man boast, didn’t argue, didn’t talk of the deals nobody else knew about. Instead, he watched. He observed how Vattek worked with others—or rather, how he abused them with a smile.
Couldn’t fault the man’s commitment to his dreams, and there were many like Vattek. Borinoff had worked with them all, had given and taken as appropriate. But he’d always kept his distance, focused on sustaining his own operations. And they’d all—at least, all who were still alive—accepted Borinoff’s position eventually.
But, three months ago, it had become clear that Vattek was after more than Borinoff’s contracts. He wanted Borinoff gone. Vattek yearned for complete domination. He wanted his enemies dead.
Borinoff wouldn’t rush. He watched some more. His sources spoke of the man’s daughter, of her mother’s abandonment by Vattek. Others spoke of a son, and another mother discarded once she’d given Vattek what he wanted.
He used his offspring as pieces in his strategies. There was no love, no attachment. And Borinoff understood what he needed to do.
His screen pinged. He pulled it from a pocket, read the incoming missive.
Talk of deals, in the wake of Vattek’s demise. Talk of bartering amongst the man’s many contacts, of threats and violence.
Borinoff smiled. He swiped the screen asleep, and sat back at his model.
From this angle, he could look into one of the windows. The tiny furniture in the room was awry, and there was a stain on the flooring. It might have been a kind of premonition, had he included a second stain from the other body, or a model of the gun on the floor.
Or maybe this room was in honour of the death of Vattek’s daughter.
Borinoff’s patient surveillance paid off. He discovered the truth behind Vattek’s leaking funds, planted seeds in Vattek’s head. Then he let drop the contact he had, one of the best.
There was a moment when Borinoff wondered if Rodin was good enough. But he should never have doubted the man. Of course Rodin would think for himself, and he’d uncover the real culprit rather than the one Vattek accused.
The reaction to Vattek’s assassination of his daughter was predictable. Who would trust a man who condoned such an action?
Borinoff had expected the fall to be longer, hadn’t believed the man so insecure that he’d take such a drastic way out. But it was better this way. The sudden emptiness created by his death left others fighting over the scraps. Left Borinoff free to keep his own operations ticking over.
And when things settled down, Borinoff would forge new deals. He’d help others, keeping his enemies close, benefiting those who would otherwise want to act like Vattek. Rather than gain more power, he’d let others have power for themselves, while ensuring that he always retained the majority.
Domination wasn’t success. Survival was. And the secret was in the details, in what was hidden, in what happened behind the walls.
Smiling, Borinoff reached for the next piece of drain, lifting the delicate wooden rod from the desk with thumb and finger, focused on the work at hand.
Impact (A Dominions Story)
These four connected short stories have been reworked and published as an ebook (which should be free) on all platforms. Click here for more information.