“You’re joking, right?”
William Ryder stretched the skin between his eyebrows with his thumb and index finger, then formed a fist and slammed it on the table in front of him. He stood up, hunching over the edge of his father’s cherry wood desk. The owner sat on the opposite side, glaring. Light from a squat, burnished pewter lamp threw up blurry shadows on the metal paneling.
“Wills, sit down!” The stentorian voice of Geren Ryder echoed in the large office. The bones of his face set like ice, holdovers of the Last Glacial Maximum. Salt-and-pepper hair framed a mahogany canvas.
His son was a mirror image, only more muscular, and a coloring of polished sepia.
Perim Nestor remained silent as he leaned, arms folded, against a credenza along the wall opposite a picture window. However spartan the office, it reflected more than the green and brown décor. It reflected the multi-trillion-dollar company that Geren Ryder had built from scratch. And he was used to being listened to.
Wills sat down, but the tenseness remained. He hovered on the edge of the chair, ready to spring. Geren continued, his voice now measured and calm.
“I didn’t know Perim was my son until last week. After I confirmed it, I’ve been…coming to grips with the implications.”
“Confirmed?” Wills said. “So it’s been confirmed that you whored around on my mother. As if I hadn’t already known. And what do you expect me to do? Jump up and say, ‘I’ve always wanted a brother’? Shed heartfelt tears and give him a slap on the back?”
Silence. The ether froze, like hanging mist on a December morning. Perim drew up his lips and met the flinty stare Wills leveled at him. He couldn’t blame the man. Heir apparent to a wireless hologram empire and presto change-o . . . a long-lost older brother appears.
“Does Nicholle know?” Wills said, eyes still riveted on Perim.
“No. She’s busy recreating the Prado in Anacostia. I didn’t want to distract her. It’s her first full-scale exhibit,” Geren said.
Wills relaxed somewhat, straightening and placing his arm on the desk. Mrs. Arthur Knowles and her Two Sons looked on the proceedings from the wall behind Geren. In the painting, Mrs. Knowles was sitting on a couch, one son clinging to her as his hand rested on a book. The other son lay wrong-way on the couch, barefoot, his hand on his chin, as if contemplating some mischief.
“Look, I don’t want anything material. . .no money, no stock. I just want acknowledgment,” Perim said.
“Acknowledgment!” Wills sprang from his seat. “And why do I have a hard time believing that? On the eve of my father announcing his retirement from American Hologram, you just happen to show up.”
Wills approached Perim, jabbing a finger in the air between them.
“I’ve dealt with drug dealers, pimps, and CEOs, and I know bullshit when I hear it. It’s all the same.”
Perim straightened. “I head my own accounting firm. What would I need with your company?”
“Why settle for a little power, when you can have a lot?”
“Is that your life’s motto?” Perim stole a glance at Geren. “In that case, you’d better watch your back, Father.”
Too late he noticed the oncoming blur of flesh, the carpet rising to meet the side of his face. His next view was of a sideways Potomac River through the picture window. The reflection of neon pinks and blues undulated in the invisible waves, only they careened like a slow-motion merry-go-round. Wills’ feet left his field of vision. Wind chimes whispered as he exited through the magfield.
“I should have told you he boxed in college,” Geren said, matter-of-factly.
“No shit,” Perim said, only it came out sounding like, “Oh ih.” His head spun, mental function a whirlpool. He edged up on one elbow, then leaned against the credenza and slid up right. The room slowed.
“You’ll come to work for me. I’ll make you a vice president, but you’ll have to prove your mettle,” Geren said. “Especially to Wills. He can be a hothead, but he respects skill.”
“I have my own–”
“Company, yes. That has a quick ratio of point seven eight. How long do you expect to stay in business running those numbers?” Geren arose and began packing a briefcase that lay open on the desk.
Perim pulled himself to standing, gripping the credenza. “We just scored a large contract with the defense department.” He rubbed his jaw, hoping there would be no bruise.
Geren guffawed. “If you call forty million a large contract. Look, it’s settled. I just sent in the approval. Let your second run the company and report here first thing in the morning. But. . .we will wait on the acknowledgement until after I announce my retirement.” He closed the case and hefted it off the desk. “Come prepared to learn. See you tomorrow.”
Wind chimes echoed again as Geren disappeared through the doorway. Perim smiled to himself. This is going better than expected.