The grey sky of the early day gave rise to a blustery afternoon. The wind told on the car as they made their way to their destination. Victor wondered, idly, if this was all just a sign of how this meeting would come to pass. The weather had been steadily getting better until this day. Today the last death grip of winter held sway on the wretched little county. The chill was not as sharp but it was every bit as cold as the worst January. Whatever the weather outside, it paled to the frigid atmosphere that awaited them within the dark rooms of a hotel that Victor had been loathe to set foot in. All the more tragic that this cheerless place was one that he owned under that dreadfully unfortunate name, Mr. White. Thus far, Victor had been extremely careful to keep the name that he used on paper a secret with no face to give to it. Thanks to the bumbling need for revenge from his associate, he knew that the days when he could allow Mr. White to be a figment were over. He only hoped that this would not be the end. Not here. Not in this horrible building from which he could not wish himself further away from than he was now.
The click of his cane on the tile sounded ominous to him and everyone who was not there concerning his current business seemed to understand that it signalled the end of their leisure time there. They filed out as he stood tall, making his way toward the back. It was the only place where men of this variety would congregate. To his ultimate credit, Mr. Gray was at his side and stood just as proud, his posture the picture of confidence even though they both knew that he was convinced that this was the end. Victor himself was not entirely convinced that they would not meet their end here. That this would not end in their deaths. At least, in the last moments before they left, he knew that should this be the end for real, it would have been for something other than greed. It was true that Gray was beyond greedy and should they survive, perhaps the only just punishment he could think of was to introduce him to Charlotte and see their mutual love of money destroy them. Of course, he did not know which one he hated less and couldn’t bring himself to cause himself so much grief either over the loss of his only family member he felt was worthy of saving or his one associate that he could rely on for the means to get through difficult situations.
Victor was relieved that his driver was able to stay outside for the duration of this mess. He’d had a moment with the man before they left and told him as much that he did not expect this to go well and in the event that there was gunfire, he should save himself. That there was no point in foolish attempts to save someone when he could still run. They would not track him if there was no reason to. The man had argued but he assured him that he made a point to take care of them all. He did not like making such a request of this man whom he trusted but he knew better than to demand such things of him. In all the time that he’d been in his home, Victor had sought to make certain that he was not his father’s equal. He would not turn into the man he hated. The one that would demand your very life if it suited his needs. If this was to be his final stand, he would not betray that promise to himself now. He said nothing of this but he would not allow his own coward heart to turn cold now. No, he would face this down, alone if need be. He would make it right and he would be damned if he would allow someone else to take that fall for him. His driver, a man of his word, promised that should there be any hint of gunfire, he would retreat but it would be not a second sooner and he would not run for the furthest point. He assured Victor that he was no coward himself and that his loyalty was hard and fast to those he trusted. It was an admirable trait and he only hoped that this man would not be brought to his knees for it. When he had set Gray to the task of preparing for their arrival by speaking to the man in charge, Victor gave his final release to his driver in the form of an amount that would set the man up for the rest of the year. He had left as much for the cook as well and in the event of his death, the rest would be divided up between the staff with the bulk going to Paulette and Rosemary. His house would stand even if he did not and he made it known as he had left that man behind him that he was going to face down his death with dignity and with no single person’s life left on his conscience.
These final words loomed heavy in his mind as he approached the table of sinister men. The reality of what this meeting was to be had never been in doubt to him but it was still difficult to know that it was here already. How ugly a way to meet his end if this should be it. Still, he would not face this down like he was already at the gallows. This was hardly the first table that he’d approached in his life that he had wished to be away from but he sincerely hoped that this would be the last time he would see such a sight. As he came to the point where he was being seen by the men he was to speak to, he saw that their attention was now casually leaving their card game. Victor had seen this play before. He knew this to be the work of people who wished to be seen as calm but he knew better than to fall for such games. The men before him were anxious to find out what was to be done and who would be held responsible. It was not the core of the Brotherhood before him but there were members that he knew to be aware of. Men who had stomped out their competition in most brutal means. Victor made a point to look them in the eye. He knew all too well that they could suss out a coward and there would be no dealing with them if he didn’t present himself as an equal. When he stood at the foot of their table, one of them rose to meet his eye but did not extend a hand.
“These are violent times,” the man said, no warmth in his voice. Victor remained unmoved. “We have suffered a greater loss than we bargained for.”
“So I have been told,” Victor replied, his tone as sharp. “I offer condolences but that is hardly why you’ve called this meeting, no?”
“You bait us, Mr. White?”
“I bait no one,” Victor replied stiffly. “I was summoned for and I have come. It is a matter of business and I have kept no one waiting. I have never missed my appointments, sir. We have offered nothing but our good word to the Brotherhood.”
“A second Brother is now buried in this county and we intend to find out why it should be that he was found in such a disgraceful state,” another man seated at the table said. His eyes flickered to Victor. “And on such a lucrative property.”
“A property that is not owned as of yet and certainly not by myself,” Victor replied, carefully. “Again, my apologies for your loss but considering that this is hardly my lot, I fail to see why I am being dragged into my own parlor to discuss the matter when the real culprit might well be caught and dealt with by now.”
“Ah but it seems that there have been some rumors about who might have been financing the acquisition of the lot and some of the correspondences that have come up were from none other than your dear Mr. Gray,” the leader among them said. He looked to Gray with a sneer. “Is he not your right hand man who has done so much to secure the means to build for your endeavours in this town?”
“He has,” Victor replied, still meeting his gaze with no tremble in his voice. “If you mean to implicate that I had secretly purchased such a property without notifying the Brotherhood, you’ll find that you’re sorely mistaken. It is not a property that interests me, regardless of its lucrative placement. I assure you that my position on the dealings of the nearby trails remains as it was and your interests within the area are yours alone. I have turned a blind eye to the world around here as you well know and I see no reason to change this. If you are implying that Mr. Gray is to blame, I assure you that he is a man of business and his talents are well sought after. That he corresponds with others is of no concern to me. My lawyer does the same. That he should have happened upon an unsavory client is unsurprising given this county.”
“And you wouldn’t happen to be saying this to hide anything, would you?” another man said, standing now.
Before Victor could speak, Gray let himself be seen and stood straight before them. Victor was instantly livid with him but watched as he stared the accuser in the eye.
“We have under every circumstance given to the Brotherhood no reason to disregard our loyalty,” he said, visibly angry but his tone in check. “We recognize your losses, even at the potential threat to our own operations. Any payment that was necessary has never once been late and our correspondences have never been anything but prompt. I might well remind you that we sent one of our own to Brother Eugene upon hearing of the loss of Brother Edward, an associate who had been faithful to our operations from the beginning.”
Victor did not speak but rather observed when his very angry associate was talking. Though he was preparing to have to deal with the messy aftermath of having to try to plead for the life of this idiot, he also was blessed with a small, very important clue as to how to get out of this mess. It was only when Gray mentioned Eugene that he saw the frost in their eyes turn to fear and he understood what card to play.
“Come now, Mr. Gray, we must focus,” Victor said, casually as he patted his associate’s back and took the lead back in the conversation. Gray glared but said nothing as he gritted his teeth. “My associate is right to call to memory our long history and his upset is understandable.”
“He forgets his place.”
“That may well be and that will be a discussion that we shall have in private. Regardless, he is not without merit in what he speaks and if a show of our loyalty is needed, I shall send for a wire to our accountant, Mr. Glass, this afternoon. We can provide you with proof from our accounts both local and over seas that our dealings in this matter are nothing if not above board,” Victor said, dismissively. He smiled as he looked at the leader. “It should be in Brother Eugene’s hands before the end of the week if need be. If this was all that was needed, I must ask again why it was so necessary to involve us in such a dreadful manner.”
“There is no need to involve Brother Eugene in such a bothersome mess as this,” the leader said, sharply. Victor watched him carefully, aware that his body language spoke of a man preparing for violence. He steadied himself, preparing for the worst.
“Alas, he is already very much involved, Brother Stephen,” a man’s deep voice spoke behind them.
The man before him visibly cowered and Victor knew that this was more trouble than he had prepared for. He dare not look at Gray to see his reaction. Instead, he gauged his own reaction and poised himself as the man that was to be worthy of the title Mr. White. He knew they would expect nothing less. He turned to see a man in a fine suit, flanked by a number of other men who were heavily armed and watching the scene with malice in their eyes. Victor met this man’s eye and knew immediately that the Brotherhood had arrived. Whatever happened now would be in their brutal hands to decide.