Leo awoke in his rooms at the Gestalt estate. Cocooned in silk and soft eiderdown, he stretched, yawned and drowsily brushed his locks out of his eyes. The frail dawn light from his window illuminated the tiny specks of dust in the air above him. Leo’s lips curved upward in a soft smile before he realized what his face was doing. When he did, it faltered and vanished. He got out of bed. He showered, shaved, put on the clothes laid out for him during the night.
Right outside Leo's rooms, Ashanti waited for him, tapping away at an electronic tablet. She was slightly taller than Gestalt, something that had initially bothered him. He got over it though. She was always there when he stepped outside, no matter how early or late he was in getting ready for the day. She wordlessly handed him his itinerary and kept tapping away at her electronic device as he read through it.
Leo noted with an internal sigh the number of meetings for the day. They had been getting more numerous as his father's health declined. He also noticed the last item on the docket, the Oswalt Society Charity Gala. He had been reluctant to agree, but Ashanti had insisted. When Leo finished reading he looked up at his aide, awaiting any other information he needed for the day. This was a ritual they had performed so many times, few words were necessary.
“A representative of Arasaka Corp. has tried to set up a meeting with our data mining branch for the past week. They have been refused, as per your instructions on July 5th. However, your brother Maximilliam was seen having dinner with said representative yesterday. It is possible he is trying to undermine your decision and possibly create an unsanctioned trade deal between us and Arasaka Corp,” Ashanti rattled off in quick succession.
Leo bowed his head as he thought it over. “Arasaka Corp. is a sinking ship, but so is our data mining branch. Most assets have already been repurposed elsewhere. Max should know this. He is either trying to get Arasaka to buy our branch for an inflated price, or he is trying to buy assets from Arasaka in order to revitalize our own department. Find out what his angle is. If it’s the former, let him do it but make sure he works with a lawyer whose loyalties aren’t in question. If it’s the latter, shut him down. There is nothing Arasaka has that’s worth buying. If there was I’d have accepted their request for a meeting,” Leo said. Ashanti nodded as she tapped away at her tablet, no doubt already setting Leo’s orders in motion.
“Very well,” Ashanti said in reply when she was done. She moved to the side to give Leo room and as he walked down the hallway of the personal wing of the estate they locked step, as so many times before.
Leo dutifully followed the itinerary decided for him, with Ashanti shadowing him during all of it. To point out that she was working for his father, reporting back to him, would be redundant. [i Everyone] was working for his father. Despite this, Leo felt a level of trust towards her. Their interests aligned. If he reached the top of the food chain he would bring her with him, they both knew that. He had her loyalty, as long as he could make it worth her while.
Most of the day passed in a blur. Exchanging information, strengthening alliances, checking in with department heads. Bribing, threatening, congratulating, manipulating. On and on the wheels turned. Tedious, all of it. And yet Leo never faltered, performed every task set out before him no matter how difficult, tedious or menial. He had never failed. The day he did was the day he was thrown to the sharks.
[b [i ~~~
Leo arrived late to the gala, intentionally so. It wouldn't do for the Gestalt heir to have enough time on his hands to arrive in a timely manner, after all. He stepped out of the backseat of his personal car and looked up at the grand hall as he adjusted his golden cuff links. They featured the family crest, the head of a male lion, mane surrounding its face and its mouth open in a vicious snarl. He turned and held out his hand for Ashanti to help her out of the car. They walked inside together.
Leo's shirt was rich silk, a golden color that perfectly matched Leo's eyes. Above it, a slim three-piece suit made of the finest cream-colored linen due to the warm weather. The jacket had slim notch lapels, three-button closure and straight jetted flap pockets. It was a good suit and an even better fit, despite Leo never having been measured for it. Leo could see people noticing his presence as he entered the gilded lobby of the hall. They also took note of his father's absence.
[i That's right, better start being politer to me, you vultures.]
As if on cue, the portly host of the event flitted into view and presented Leo with an impressively sweet smile. "Mr. Gestalt! So glad you could come, so glad,” he declared as his eyes flitted away from Leo to see how many noticed him being so friendly with the golden goose. Leo’s face remained impassive and polite, despite the revulsion this man’s very presence filled him with. “We must all do our part for the less fortunate, after all," the man purred at him, as if they were sharing a secret.
Which they were, in a way. The money from the charity gala wasn’t for dying children, almost everyone at the event knew that. Even though Caduceus wasn’t officially affiliated with the Gala, that was where the money ended up in the end. Many people who used Caduceus services didn’t want it on their official paperwork. So instead of a bill, they were strongly advised to give a suitable donation at the Oswalt Charity Gala. That way, Caduceus got their money and the client could pretend they were unaffiliated with the company. Plus, the donation was tax-deductible. Win-win.
Leo graciously thanked the man for his invitation, made polite small-talk for a short time and then, with a sharp smile and a pointed silence, made it very clear that the man's presence was no longer wanted. The host quickly vanished into the crowds again.
"Brother!" came an enthused call to his right as he made his way further into the hall. His youngest sister, Frieda.
Leo smiled down at his sister and gave her hand a friendly squeeze as she came up to him. Meeting his family at social gatherings was always a bittersweet experience. In public, they treated him like the brother he technically was. His two sisters doted on him, teased him about the pretty girls who were eyeing him and insisted he try the various treats that were available at whatever banquet they were currently attending. His three older brothers would speak seriously with him on various subjects, from politics to recent sport results. They always seemed to value his opinion on whatever subject they were discussing.
In the privacy of home, things were different. They hated him, plain and simple. He had usurped the heritage they felt rightly belonged to them, a shameless cuckoo in their nest. Leo also represented in a very real way their father's disappointment in them all. None of his [i real] children had been worthy of his heritage, so he had handcrafted a boy to surpass them all.
Leo never blamed them, or so he told himself. He understood their hatred, their anger at being overlooked by their own father. That they directed that anger at Leo, and not at the one who was truly to blame, was also understandable though less forgivable.
"Frieda, you are radiant," Leo said, turning his eyes to his sister's gown. It was made entirely of a sheer golden fabric interspersed with dazzling crystals and gold leaf. It matched her skin color perfectly, as intended. She flashed him a fanged smile at the compliment. She didn't have Leo's curls, her slightly darker hair was in a tight bun held up with yet more gold leaf and crystals. She was truly beautiful, even beneath all the adornments. Clever, too. In another life, maybe, they would have gotten along. As it was, she had tried to kill him three times, one of which he had only survived due to Ashanti’s timely intervention.
There was a certain logic to the plan that if one of his siblings simply managed to murder Leo, they would be deemed worthy of taking his place. No one had succeeded thus far, however. After the sixth attempt and the death of Gloria, their eldest sister, most of them had stopped trying.
Frieda turned to Ashanti, greeted her warmly and complimented her attire. Then she gave a little wink and was gone in the crowds again. Leo let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. He turned to Ashanti. “Let’s get this over with, who do I have to talk to before I can get out of here?” he asked in a low tone.
Adam watched out the window of the van as the city rolled by. Tall, gleaming buildings shone by, beautiful cars that cost more than all the money he'd ever paid in rent roaring quietly past. A large, white and gold building came up to their right, doors wide open, red carpet rolled out; The Oswalt Society Charity Ball. Adam grimaced. Oh, how wonderful. All these beautiful people, gathering together to sip champagne and stand around and be famous, all in the name of some fake-ass charity. Oh, sure it was supposed to be given to kids with cancer to help pay for their chemotherapy, but they were giving it to Caduceus, and once it vanished into Caduceus' vaults, only a tiny fraction was going to be given to actually help poor kids with cancer. Most of it was going to pay for whatever horrible experiments the company was up to this time. That alone was enough to make him want to crash the party.
But there was an even better reason to crash this party. The young Gestalt heir, child of one Caduceus' biggest proponents and allies. If they could take him down, then finally, finally, they'd make a real impact. People would start taking notice, and maybe, maybe they'd even listen.
Adam glanced back inside the car, nodding at Theo, who was driving, and Calliope, in the back seat. His eyes drifted over the tied-up newscasters, all lying in a clump in the back, then settled back on his teammates. A small smile touched his face. "You ready?" he asked, adjusting the suit he'd stolen from one of the newscasters. "Remember, as we rehearsed. Theo's the cameraman, and Calliope--you know what to do."
The car pulled around to the service entrance. Adam hopped out and adjusted his suit, then shit the door behind him. Now off to crash a party!
The inside was just as gorgeous as the outside, if not moreso. Adam looked around, taking in the party with a big grin. Now this was living the life. Famous people, good food, and a nice ambiance. He could almost forget how hypocritical it all was for a moment.
With a quick glance, he checked his watch. Just about time for the party to really get started. By this time, the station was probably wondering where their traffic-report cameramen had wandered off to, but that wasn't his problem. By the time they found the van, it would already be too late.
"Taipan, Boa, anyone see the target yet?" he asked into his lapel, scanning the grand ballroom from the balcony above. Plenty of elites, but not their man yet. Maybe he was running fashionably late. Maybe he'd decided to stay home tonight, and he'd jacked a newcaster's van for no reason. He bit his lip. Hopefully not. This was their big chance.