My brother only had one job.
To arrive on time with the envelope.
It was a test.
At that moment, when my expectations were completely trashed, and there was a great deal riding on it, words could not express my disappointment.
Michael had the better end of the deal. Being second-born meant that avoided all of the family’s hopes and expectations that fell on me, that I would carry on the business, as our father had, his father before him, going back six generations.
Without any of the expectations loaded on his shoulders, he got to live a free and easy lifestyle, one with little responsibility, some of which o would have liked to have myself.
Then there was the problem where my father, not quite the businessman as those before him, had made a number of dubious decisions, leading us down the path that almost closed the business down, and had only just found the financing to keep it afloat when he died suddenly.
It left me in charge of what could have been a sinking ship, but, as I unraveled the complexities of the deal he had made, it soon became clear he had made a deal with the devil himself.
And fort eight hours before that missed drop-off, I had finally discovered all of the connections through countless shell companies to arrive at the person from whom he had secured the funding.
Walter Amadeus Winthrop.
A man whom my father had hated because he had stolen away the only woman he had ever loved, a man who was in the business of stealing other people’s companies, ideas, products, and people because he could.
And he wanted our company, simply so he could destroy my father a second time.
There was no doubting the reason why my father had died. He had found out who had supplied the funding.
I had the evidence that linked Winthrop to dirty dealings and promised to get it to the DA’s office by a particular time, but a previous and more pressing appointment meant I couldn’t be in two places at once, so I sent Michael on my place.
It had been time-sensitive and having missed the deadline to tender the documents in court, the case lapsed, and Winthrop, who had been arraigned many times before and got away for lack of evidence, or witnesses, survived yet again.
It wasn’t out of the question that Michael had been kidnapped by Winthrop’s people, but I didn’t think it was possible they knew about him, simply because as part of his distancing from the family he had taken our mother’s birth surname.
I rang his cell phone, and it went to his voice mail. That was not really a concern because he rarely answered the phone the first time, especially if I was calling him.
Next, I called his latest girlfriend, not the usual sort of girl he dated, and quite a surprise given her sobriety and work ethic. She was, I thought more than once, the sort of girl I’d like to meet.
When they introduced thirty-hour days, perhaps.
“Good morning, this is Katherine Willoughby.”
“Good morning, Katherine, it’s Michael’s brother, Jake.”
“He’s not here. I assume he made it to the meeting?”
“But that can be possible. I went with him until outside the front door of the building. I saw him go in, talk to the reception, and then get taken up in the elevator.”
“Then we have a mystery on our hands. He hasn’t called me to say it’s done, and as usual not answering his phone.”
“That’s just for you. If I call… I’ll call you back.”
I waited for five minutes, then my phone rang. Katherine again.
“He’s not answering for me either, and that is very unusual. Did you talk to others at the meeting?”
“Yes, they just said he didn’t turn up, but I have another thought. Leave it with me.”
A call to the DA’s office sent an assistant down to the front desk, where it was established, that Michael had signed in, and the officer that remembers him could recall the name of or describe the person who came and collected him.
But he had gone there as I’d requested and was beginning to look like Winthrop obviously had someone in the DAs office keeping him informed on what was happening.
Which meant, Winthrop’s people had taken him.
It was a development I hadn’t entirely unexpected.
This was my first time on what was known as a superyacht. Really, it was slightly smaller than an ocean liner, and the grand tour showed fifteen staterooms, a dining room, a games room, a ballroom, well a small one, and various other rooms that were as remarkable as they were mysterious.
For a laugh, I said it was missing a library.
I was promptly corrected.
My host, the owner’s daughter, Sylvia, no last name given or asked for, had promised a visit and passing by after picking up the vessel after some repairs, she collected me by helicopter, and took me straight to the ship.
I was taking in some sea sir, trying to make sense of what just happened, and get some sea air.
“You look unhappy, Jake.”
“My brother has gone missing. He was delivering some documents for me and never arrived. While it’s like him not to finish anything he starts, this time I know that, at the very least, he made it to the building.”
“That seems very strange.”
“Not when you factor in who the documents were about.”
I’d told her some of the history over a few drinks, perhaps more than I should.
“I’m sure you’ll discover what happened soon enough. Chef tells me lunch is ready.” She held out her hand, “come, dine with me.”
We went into the dining room and sat. Two waiters in full livery attended us, serving champagne and hors d’oeuvres.
That’s when my phone rang.
And Sylvia said, quietly, “put it on loudspeaker, on the table.”
The tone was insistent and worried me. The call was from Michael’s phone. He was simply calling me back. Just the same, I did as she asked.
I said, “Michael?”
“Is that Jake?”
“Put my father on the phone, Ari.” Sylvia looked as though she knew who it was.
I looked over at the woman I knew as Sylvia. She was supposed to be a representative of another company in the same business we were, and I’d met her at a business conference in Miami, a few months back. That she would turn out to be something else wasn’t the surprise I thought it would be.
It wasn’t long before I began to think I’d been seeing the daughter of the man who I believe killed my father.
“He’s not here.”
“Tell him I’ll sink this tub he sent me to get if he doesn’t get his ass on the phone now.” Not angry but laced with intent.
I was going to say something, but I think words failed me. What could I say, if she was a Winthrop, his success in destroying us was complete?
I just sat in silence.
Then, “What are you doing Sylvie?”
I assumed that voice belonged to her father, the infamous Winthrop himself.
“You shouldn’t have let me go to explosives school. Oh, that’s right, you did know. So much you don’t know about me. I’ve wired this yacht Dad, and I will sink it. I’m sure mom will be impressed.”
I heard a sigh. Was he trying to deal with an errant daughter? Was she crazy? She certainly had a lot of talents, piloting helicopters, and making bombs; was there a stint in the military somewhere in her resume.
“What do you want, Sylvie.”
“Stop pissing off my boyfriend.”
“Jake? Have you been dating Jake,”
“In a manner of speaking. Since he hates the family so much and given what you just did, I’m not surprised, and I’ve been trying to figure out a way to tell him. But kidnapping his brother? Not a way to impress him Dad or give me a usable Segway.”
“You do know Jake is helping the authorities put me in jail. That’s not going to happen.”
“I don’t care what your issues are with the authorities, but if you’re worried that the evidence Michael had will have you prosecuted, then you have lied to me, and I told you what would happen if I found out you lied to me.”
“You’re just a child.”
“Whose got a penchant for blowing up things. I’ll start with this boat, then I’ll move on to bigger and better things, like your car collection. I’m thoroughly pissed off myself now.”
“What do you really want?”
“Give them their company back. You don’t need it. Get Ari to take Michael home and apologize for making a mistake.”
“And the documents?”
“Burn them for all I care. You’re going to make a very generous investment in their company, and then never bother them again.”
“And the ship?”
“Just hope I’m in a good mood in a few hours’ time after lunch, and Jake doesn’t jump overboard to get away from me.”
“OK. Your mother is waiting for you in Venice. Don’t upset her.”
“Why would I? I’m her favorite.”
The line went dead.
“So, Jake, didn’t I tell you I’d fix everything.”
She had, and I’d foolishly thought no one could handle Winthrop. “Would you sink this ship?”
“Hell yes, just to piss him off. Now, where is lunch? Negotiating makes me hungry. And,” she smiled wickedly, “there’s a stateroom with our name on it. You are coming to Venice?”
I guess it really was a matter of who you know, not what you know.
© Charles Heath 2022