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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 52

Act V

Victory


Chapter Nine


A month later the partners at Kiel, Austin, and Cromwell discussed various payout packages for Austin’s divestment. In the middle of a heated discussion between various paralegals, Austin was surprised when Kiel, normally quite reserved, shot to his feet.

“I’ve got it!” He pushed past secretaries scrambling to get out of his way. “I’ve got it!” He pulled open the conference room door and raced down the hall.

Austin and Cromwell exchanged mystified glances. Austin shrugged and said, “Guess we’re done for now. He’s ‘got it.’”

Moments later, Kiel rushed back into the room and slapped a thin manila folder on the spacious table. “Michael Grambic’s original will,” he said breathlessly. “It predates the hiring of Victor Howe and all his other executive assistants. He had me draw this up the day after his father died.”

Cromwell scooped up the folder before Austin could reach it. He flipped to the last sheet of the ten-page document. “Doesn’t look forged. No stops-and-starts or wavering lines, letter size is consistent, too.”

Kiel slid another page to the table next to the folder. “Here’s a copy of the signature page on the will giving Howe nearly everything.”

This time Austin beat Cromwell to the punch. “They don’t match.”

Kiel grinned as he took out his cell phone. “Time to bring Amy to Savannah.”

***

Howe/Chamos stood in the spartan soundproof room built into the Wilmington Island home inherited from Michael Grambic. The only adornments were a mat with manacles to hold a human spread-eagle. The gray tiles on walls and ceiling absorbed all of the sound and most of the light from the lone bare bulb attached twelve feet over the floor.

Chamos twisted reality and Mastema’s natural form appeared.

Mastema’s initial expression of surprise quickly transformed into hostility. “What do you want, Chamos? I was in the middle of showing a Canadian how to cast spells.”

Howe’s subjugated personality gibbered in fear while shrinking away. He’d never seen a Brother’s true form.

“I know you prefer to work alone, but I need you for a more important assignment,” said Chamos. “And your affectation of being a ghost isn’t relevant to the Brotherhood.”

“I’ve gone three centuries without appearing in bodily form, and you do this to me? How dare you?”

“How dare I?” Chamos bent reality to his will, pulling Mastema’s arms and legs in different directions. “I serve someone else just as you serve me. We have a plan, and your petty machinations will be subordinate to that design.” Chamos, in Howe’s body, took a threatening step toward the faux wizard. “Do you understand?”

Mastema whimpered. “Okay. Fine. Just give me half an hour to prepare my protege for my absence.”

Chamos contorted space-time even further. “No. I need you to get a hotel clerk believing in magick. I don’t want you wasting time arguing.” He waved a hand and sent Mastema to Iowa.

Another manipulation brought a second Brother into the secret room. Bathin was able to keep the human form of Sally Shoen when being summarily yanked from another assignment.

“Chamos.” Bathin subtly altered the Sally Shoen form into a more voluptuous figure, which leered at the human body worn by Chamos.

“Bathin. A situation requires me to draft you out of your current assignment.” Chamos resented the Brother’s transparent attempt to distract him. Grambic’s will was of too much importance.

“I guess Suriname can wait.”

“And the governor of Georgia can’t. See if you can get him or his people to put pressure on Kiel, Austin, and Cromwell.” Chamos waved Bathin away as Howe-within recovered from his horror at Mastema’s visage.

Another gesture brought Pop, aka Baraqijal, away from whatever he’d been doing. “Pop. Amy Drabbs will be coming to Georgia. See if you can keep her away from Savannah.”

“By any means?”

Chamos’ disappointment sat like a bratwurst in a vegetarian’s stomach. “Yes, Pop. Kill her if you want, but keep her away from here.” He had no hope the overgrown imp would succeed. There were too many of the enemy arrayed against them now.

Barely a nod from the most annoying of Brothers. He vanished without being dismissed. Of course there was his signature POP!

Then the hardest of all, Ruax. Chamos rested a moment to summon every bit of strength he had. Ruax was nearly as capable as Chamos. The order needed to be irresistible, or Chamos would lose status and influence.

Just as Chamos marshaled the last bits of his power, Ruax appeared of his own accord as a nondescript human male.

“Chamos.” Ruax wore a mocking grin. “I’m guessing I was next on your list.”

“Yes.” Chamos relaxed, letting his accumulated energy slowly fade. “I have need of you.”

Ruax’s smirk turned nasty. “After what you did to me with the beagle? Why would I lift a finger to help?”

Howe strained to exercise his will, sensing that Chamos’ was fading. Maybe today he could change something – anything.

“You mistake this as a request. It’s not.”

“You’re not authorized to draft me from my current assignment.”

“You and I both know that you’re bluffing. You have no assignment at all now. You are at my disposal, and I require you to destroy Jessica Austin’s usefulness to Ben Kiel. Kill her only if you need to. We need to keep her expertise away from Savannah, but killing will draw too much attention to this project.” There’d been so much of it already another death or two might show Brotherhood involvement.

Ruax tipped his head to one side, squinted slightly, and grinned. “You’ll owe me for this.”

Howe struck as the word, “Grabintalimtha,” slipped from Howe/Chamos’ lips.

Chamos blinked in confusion as Howe laughed at making his oppressor speak gibberish.

“What was that?” said Ruax, cocking his head.

Chamos sent waves of actinic pain at his host. “I might owe you,” he said to Ruax, “but that depends entirely on how effective you are.”

As Howe screamed in agony, Chamos nonetheless felt his human taunting him.

More than anything, Brothers hated being mocked.


If you appreciate this story, please consider supporting the author's ability to write more stories by purchasing The Brotherhood, available in print and on Kindle. Please share on social media, and leave a review on the page linked above.



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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 51

Act V

Victory


Chapter Eight


The next morning Amy’s alarm went off at eight. She could have used the hotel room’s clock, or left a wake-up call, but she trusted her own timepiece.

After showering she read a section of her book by Sarah Young, then went down to the lobby for her complimentary continental breakfast. A package of oatmeal and a glazed cruller should hold her until her shift started at the store.

The real question was what to do with her time. She could always drive over to church, or visit the library, perhaps meet up with Andy.

Then reality came crashing back in. Andy was dead. Had been for months.

A man dressed in felt pajamas, patterned with red cherubs sporting pointed tails, entered the tiny breakfast room. His long hair was pulled back into a pony tail, but otherwise left free. “Good morning.” He yawned as he pulled two slices of bread from their package and dropped them into the toaster. “I hate hotel rooms.” He pushed the lever down and set the dial to “extra dark.”

“I don’t mind them.” Amy wiped her eyes. “It’s another place to stay is all.” Something about him set her teeth on edge.

“I’m Gus.” His spectacled eyes surveyed the selections available at the breakfast bar and took a bowl to the row of cereal dispensers. “I think chocolate.” He pulled the handle to dispense his food.

“Amy.” She pushed a few lingering bits of oatmeal around her own bowl as Gus’ toast popped up. “What are you here for?”

“My job. It requires me to travel and meet with people.” Gus grimaced and poured whole milk on his chocolate cereal. “Probably the most distasteful part of my existence is the people.”

“You don’t like people?”

“I only like the ones I’m done with.” Gus spread butter and jelly on his nearly black toast. “I don’t have to deal with them again. Ever.” He shoveled cereal into his mouth like he was racing.

Amy was taken aback by his misanthropy. Why was he like that? Then she caught a hint of a feeling and knew who he was.

Gus smiled as Amy’s eyes widened. “Yes. You can tell, can’t you? Chamos said you could. But I’m not here for you.” He shoved the toast into his mouth and swallowed. Without using a spoon he drank the rest of his breakfast straight from the bowl. “Gotta go see to my own assignment, Amy. I like you even less than the rest of your horrid species, but you’re someone else’s problem.” His eyes narrowed and he vanished, leaving his bowl behind.

Amy stared at where Gus had stood, unsure of what to do. Pray. That’s what. But before she could even begin, her cell phone buzzed. She answered without looking at the caller ID.

“Amy Drabbs? Victor Howe.”

The name startled Amy. “Hey, that’s like the name on my hotel reservation.”

“Exactly, Victoria.” Howe’s voice took on a nasty tone. “I’m having you watched, and you have no hope of winning your little lawsuit.”

“Uh, Victor? I didn’t file any lawsuit.”

“Liar,” he snarled. “You had Ben Kiel sue to void Grambic’s will so you could get everything.”

Amy threw out a quick prayer. “I didn’t even know I had a cousin until Ben Kiel approached me. But if you hadn’t forged his signature it wouldn’t be an issue.”

The growl in Howe’s voice vanished. “I’ve been signing his papers for years. I’m going to win this case.”

“Perhaps.” Amy didn’t really care who was awarded the inheritance. “Doing what’s right is what matters, and stopping you is what’s important.”

“You’ll never stop me.”

Amy’s hand holding the cell phone closed on air.

There had been no phone.

She must have left it in her room.

A woman with rollers in her bright red hair stood at the entrance to the breakfast room. “You okay, honey?”

Amy wondered if she’d imagined the whole conversation.

***

At his desk in Grambic Tower, Chamos grinned. The material world was so easy to manipulate. The Brotherhood tried to avoid doing so, because hiding was a better tactic. If too many knew it was done, the overall strategy might collapse, according to Kulak.

“Sir?”

Peralta’s voice brought Chamos/Howe back to the here and now. “What is it, Nachell?”

The secretary stood to look over the privacy shield between her desk and Howe’s. “There’s a Terrance Yang who called your private line. He wants to know if you have a moment.”

Howe had always been treated well by Yang, so he screamed a silent “NO!” Anyone in contact with his oppressor became a tool or was damaged in some way. Howe surged forward to stop Chamos.

The fact Howe didn’t want it cemented Chamos’ decision. He stomped down Howe, enjoying the howls of pain from his pawn. Speaking with Howe’s voice took a bit of effort to overcome the human’s resistance, but once inhabited, nobody could stop a Brother. “Sure. Put him through.”

A light on Howe’s desk phone glowed, and Chamos had to fight the human’s will to pick it up. “Mr. Yang, Victor Howe. What can I do for you today?”

“I just got to the office.” Yang’s voice growled with anger. “What’s going on with our stock prices?”

The Brotherhood was spreading rumors that Grambic Tiles would collapse. The company’s stock prices had fallen to half the price it had been before the Paris explosion. On the heels of Grambic’s death it didn’t take much to erode confidence in the company. Howe could snap up remaining shares at a discount.

“Mr. Yang, there are those who still expect the company to fail simply because Mr. Grambic died.” Chamos took a moment to replay the conflagration that had killed the majority owner of Grambic Tiles. “Tragedy makes people nervous when there’s no reason to be. If you’d like, I’ll buy your shares at the closing price the day before he died.”

Yang cleared his throat. “Uh . . . well . . . I’m not sure. Your company has been a reliable business for a number of years.”

Howe tried yelling, “Hang in there, Yang. Resist!” But Chamos’ control was too tight.

“Then you shouldn’t get cold feet, Mr. Yang.” Chamos had to reassure Yang, all the while hoping he’d sell. That extra percentage of company shares would help the Brotherhood in the long run.

Again Yang hesitated. “I guess I’ll hang on for a while yet. But your stock price is down by half! Aren’t you even a little nervous?”

“Not really. The reward for those who hold strong will be so much better.” Chamos didn’t mention “Howe” had already bought back about half of the outstanding shares not owned by Yang.

“The thing is,” Yang said, “it’s been so reliable for so long it’s very disconcerting to have things go so far south now.”

Chamos was sure Yang was nearly ready to sell. “I can only renew my offer to buy you out at the price mentioned already.” He had to play things just right – not too obvious, but not too subtle – to get those shares under his control.

The phone line stayed silent for a half minute before Yang responded. “No. I’ll stand pat. For the time being.”

Chamos gritted his teeth. “Call if you change your mind.” He slammed the handset into the cradle.

Then he said a very nasty word that made Peralta’s eyebrows raise.

***

Ben Kiel toweled off, wishing he could wipe away the dread of Austin leaving the firm. She’d been an asset to the partnership and at times seemed more like a very close friend – perhaps even a daughter.

He dressed and opened the bathroom door to find his executive secretary waiting in his office, seated on his leather sofa. “What is it, Yvette?”

Yvette Faucher had been a street urchin when Kiel had first noticed her. He’d hired her to deliver messages, then found a tutor for her. After earning her high school equivalency– at fifteen – Kiel had given her a job sorting mail for the then-fledgling Kiel Law Office. Twenty years later, Faucher was the gatekeeper’s gatekeeper. Not even one of the paralegals could see a partner at Kiel, Austin, and Cromwell without going through her. Soon, it would just be Kiel and Cromwell, he thought with disappointment.

“Rumor has Austin leaving in November.”

Kiel sat down in a chair across the room from Faucher’s perch. He opened a drawer on an oak credenza beside him and pulled out a new pair of dress socks. Faucher never beat around the bushes “Your point?” He pulled on his socks and reached for his shoes, thinking how fast the staff change had become common knowledge.

“Five of the paralegals will go with her.” She pointed toward his tidy desk. “I’ve left a list.”

Kiel whistled his amazement. “I’ll talk to Jessica. Perhaps she can convince one or two to stay here. She owes me big time.”

“Don’t we all?”


If you appreciate this story, please consider supporting the author's ability to write more stories by purchasing The Brotherhood, available in print and on Kindle. Please share on social media, and leave a review on the page linked above.



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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 50

Act V

Victory


Chapter Seven


Ruax swore so inventively that the pile of plowed snow at the edge of the parking lot steamed. No doubt Pop would claim he’d seen Ruax linger and would suggest some deficiency.

What would be his best course of action?

With Chamos involved in the beagle’s life, that left Kulak in charge. Asking for an assignment now wouldn’t let him satisfy his curiosity, but at least he’d be doing something productive. If he was busy he stood a good chance of avoiding Chamos’ wrath.

Ruax nodded and shifted to the Brotherhood for a project to put himself out of Chamos’ reach.

***

Kiel stepped off the plane in Savannah and exited the terminal. Jessica Austin, from Kiel, Austin, and Cromwell, was waiting there with her car. “Good timing, Jessica,” Kiel said.

Austin shook her head. “Simple process, Ben. The internet tracks everything now.”

Kiel knew that but hadn’t learned enough about using his phone. That he held a computer in his pocket wasn’t top of mind, so when someone like Austin viewed it as second nature it seemed amazing.

Kiel moved to the already-open trunk and dropped in his carry-on. “You got the suit filed, I presume?”

“I may be young, Ben, but I know my job.” Austin smiled. “That’s why you hired me.” She playfully flipped her shoulder-length hair. “Or was it because I’m blonde?”

“If memory serves, it was because of your client list.” Chuckling, Kiel closed the trunk on the Lincoln MKZ.

Austin laughed. “You’re getting senile, old man. I didn’t have a client list yet.”

The two climbed into the front of the vehicle, and Kiel said, “Oh, that’s right. Cromwell was the one with the client list. You do have clients, right?”

Austin started the engine and pulled away from the curb. “Just the one poverty-stricken orphan. He has a job now, so he won’t be stopping by our lunchroom to steal from our refrigerator.”

Kiel let the banter stop there and waited a minute before continuing. “Jessica, there’s something wrong with Grambic’s will.” He braced himself as Austin took the corner onto Highway 21 faster than he liked.

“I’m guessing that’s why you’re contesting it.” She put on an innocent expression and used a caricature dumb blonde voice. “I think my first clue was the lawsuit you had me file.”

Kiel loved to banter, but Austin sometimes didn’t know when to stop. “Did I ever tell you what the problem was?”

“Oh, I forgot to read the paperwork we filed with the courts. Why don’t you tell me?”

Kiel grimaced. “Smart aleck. Howe’s going to fight us tooth and nail, you know.”

Austin grew serious as they passed through Garden City, where Augusta Road became I-516. “I think anyone would fight to keep that much money. You would, too.”

“Maybe. If it was truly mine, you bet I would. If I’d stolen it, like Howe did . . . .” Kiel’s voice trailed off for a moment. “Then I’d be as dishonest as him, and I’d fight for it anyway.”

“Exactly.” The highway curved to the right and Austin whipped around the ramp to West Bay Street. “The one thing you can count on is dishonest people acting as selfish as they are.”

“That’s why the world needs lawyers,” Kiel said.

Austin took a right turn into downtown Savannah and a couple of blocks later turned into the law firm’s parking lot. “I’m guessing you prefer to use your office facilities to freshen up.”

“You guess correctly.” Kiel’s apartment wasn’t fancy. He spent most of his time at the office, so why would he need a posh home?

The car came to a halt in Austin’s parking space facing the brick exterior of the four-story office building.

“Ben?” Austin hesitated. “I’m, uh, giving you advance notice of leaving the partnership.” Then she blurted in a rush, “I have to leave, Ben, but I don’t have to like it.”

“That’s . . . unexpected, Jessica,” Kiel said. “What brought that on?”

“There’s a firm in Atlanta offering me a partnership. They’re about triple the size.” Austin turned off the engine and stared at the brick wall in front of them. “I’ll leave all my local clients with you, but the ones from the Atlanta metro area I’m taking with me.”

All things considered, Kiel couldn’t blame her. He nodded. “When will you leave?”

“I have some vacation time built up.” Austin unbuckled but still didn’t look at Kiel. “I don’t want to leave you in the lurch, Ben. Let’s call my last day October fifteenth, with vacation time filling out to December twentieth. Keeping everything here in this calendar year and Atlanta next year will make things easier.”

Kiel grimaced. “Okay. I have to say I didn’t see this coming, Jessica. Will there be a conflict with our case about the Grambic will?”

“I don’t think so.” Austin dabbed at her watery eyes. “If there is, I can always recuse myself.”

Kiel gave a forced laugh, even if he didn’t think much of anything was funny at the moment. “Remember that kittennapping case?” A divorcing couple had fought over a tiny kitten, stealing the cat back and forth so often neither could remember who had possession of the pet at any given moment. A judge had given the cat to the couple’s daughter, then declared they both had joint custody of the girl. They’d only gotten the case because of another lawyer had to recuse himself.

Austin chuckled. Mimicking the stentorian tones of the judge, she said, “‘The first person to leave Savannah loses custody of both!’ Judge Banning must have known of the King Solomon precedent.”

“It kept both the parents in the girl’s life.” Kiel considered that a win-win. “It’ll be a while before we can buy out your percentage.”

“You have two years, according to the partnership agreement.”

Kiel smiled. “You checked. Good girl.”

“Taught by the best for the last three years, Ben.”

Kiel opened his car door. A shower and shave would make him feel better, but Austin’s departure would leave a hole at the firm. Buying her out would take a chunk out of their finances, too.

“I’ll get your bag.” She climbed out and popped open the trunk.


If you appreciate this story, please consider supporting the author's ability to write more stories by purchasing The Brotherhood, available in print and on Kindle. Please share on social media, and leave a review on the page linked above.



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