The lights of Las Vegas twinkled below, glittering like spilled nickels across a black carpet. Genevieve Pips liked to look down at the view from her office every now and then, when the hectic schedule she worked actually permitted such luxuries. Between the actual business and the other business, it was all she could do to find two spare minutes to rub together. A touch of guilt gnawed at her gut, reminding her that she should probably spend this time with Nicholas. The truth of the matter was that he’d rather be with Gerry anyway. And Genevieve had never really been comfortable around children, not even her nephew. Their interactions were stilted and formal, she could never seem to draw out his good humor the way Gerry did. If she were another type of person, this fact might have bothered her. Instead, she took solace in the knowledge that at least there was someone on payroll who could get through to the boy.
A light rapping on her door signaled the end of the precious moment of free-time. Genevieve pressed a small button under her desk and allowed the door to unlock. It opened swiftly, revealing Gerry in his usual unassuming suit. It was remarkable how unremarkable he managed to make himself. Even after working with him for years, Genevieve still had trouble picking Gerry out of a crowd. As unassuming as he appeared, the mind underneath was sharper than nearly any she’d ever known. She counted herself lucky that Gerry was the loyal sort; if he’d had serious ambition it would have made him a problem, rather than an asset.
“Nicholas is asleep,” Gerry reported. “Though I caught him hanging out by one of the showgirls’ changing rooms again.”
“It’s cute while he’s young, but I’m starting to worry we’ll have to drug his food when he hits puberty,” Ms. Pips remarked. Genevieve was gone; she could only exist in solitude. Around others, even the ones she trusted most, there was only the careful controlled countenance known as Ms. Pips.
“I think it will be useful,” Gerry replied. “Always good to know what motivates a student. If nothing else, I bet it will get him to focus more on his social work instead of spending so much time on counting and slight-of-hand.”
Ms. Pips turned the idea over in her head carefully. Nicholas always fulfilled the goals set before him, but meeting expectations and living up to potential were entirely different things. The kid definitely had talent, that had been clear since he first started talking, and with enough training he might be the best of them. Not for the first time, Ms. Pips found her mind wandering to what Nicholas would be like if he were being raised by his actual mother and father. Probably struggling to deal with his status as a Powered, but surrounded by genuine love and affection to soften the blow. Ms. Pips’ sister had thought the world of her baby, in the small time she’d had with him.
“Take it out for a test drive, see what you can accomplish. I trust you’ll amend his training as needed.” She did, too. No one in the casino took more care in the education of Nicholas Campbell that Gerry. Every now and then whispers would start creeping up that Gerry had gone soft. The ones who said such things were idiots. Gerry had always been soft; it was part of what made him so good with people. The difference was that Gerry knew softness had limits, and when those were reached he was not a man to be crossed.
“Can do. You’re probably already aware of this, but just to be sure, Wilson Evers came through the casino again today,” Gerry reported.
“Oh yes, I am all too keenly aware.” Ms. Pips took a seat at her desk, glancing over the details reports of what Wilson had done during his fifteen minutes jaunt through her property. She’d review the tape herself later on, but she liked to get the impressions of her employees first. It helped her see who had good eyes, and who needed to be reassigned.
“The employees are a little unsettled, lots of rumors about hostile takeovers being spread about. It might help to be reassured by the woman at the top of the ladder.” Gerry smiled as he talked, always careful to frame his suggestions as verbal musings. It not his, nor anyone else’s, place to tell Ms. Pips how to handle her business. That said, his words had wisdom and were worth hearing, so long as they were properly framed.
“Tell the cooks we’re doing an employee lunch tomorrow,” Ms. Pips ordered. “I’ll be attending, so make sure they don’t cut corners. The Evers are probably considering trying to take us out, but there’s no need for everyone to know that.”
“They can’t possibly think we’d be that easy,” Gerry said.
Ms. Pips slowly shook her head. “Our Family has stood for nearly as long as Vegas itself, but everyone knows my sister was the one who was supposed to take over after our father passed. With me seen as a substitute, and her dead, there are certain to be those that think we might be in a vulnerable position. They’ll want to strike now, while the perceived opportunity exists. All that remains to be seen is if that temptation proves too great for cooler heads to resist.”
“If it does come to that-”
“If it does come to that, I’ve already got my people in place,” Ms. Pips interrupted. “I don’t know what their first move will be, but it will also be their last. Despite whatever rumors and fantasies people are concocting, we neither weak nor vulnerable. If the Evers decide to test that, I plan to use them as an example so that every other Family in the state knows how strong we are. One attack, one aggressive step, and there won’t be an Evers family anymore.”
“That’s going to cost a lot.” Gerry never disputed, never went against her; he merely pointed out what repercussions might come from her decisions. “A lot of money, and a lot of blood. If we start that kind of war, the Heroes are going to take note.”
“Which is why I want to avoid war if possible,” Ms. Pips told him. “But if it kicks down my door, I won’t cower in a corner.” She paused for a moment, envisioning all the loss that would come if the Evers forced the issue. “However, I think Nicholas is overdue for a trip on the road. Perhaps you and he should get away for two weeks. It’s good to get him out of his comfortable environment.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll make the preparations tonight.” Gerry knew an order when he heard one, and without another word he headed back out the door and into the casino.
Genevieve turned her chair around to look out at Las Vegas once more. From up here, it seemed gorgeous, almost tranquil. It was only from on high that she could see beauty in her home, though. When she got out there on the ground, it wasn’t nearly the same. Genevieve could never find it beautiful down there.
Not when she could always smell the blood on the sand.