Chapter 273

                The knock was brief, two swift strikes on the door before it was shoved open. That fact alone drew Charles Adair’s attention. Barging into his office was not something he tolerated, as a rule. Even his most trusted employees understood the extent to which Charles valued privacy. So, for someone to come bursting in like this, there were really only two possible options: either something incredibly important was happening that demanded his immediate attention, or one of his employees was about to be fired so hard they’d never find work again.

                “Sir.” Simon, usually the picture of composure, was sweating as he made his way past the guards, who were visibly torn on whether to let him through like this. “Mr. Adair. I have a report to make. An off-the-books report.”

                “Guards, shut the door behind Simon. He’s obviously bringing a vital matter to my attention.” There were few employees whose judgement Charles would trust so immediately, but Simon had a good head on his shoulders and loyalty to spare. Whatever he needed to say, it would almost certainly be worth hearing.

                The guards did as they were told, and once the door was shut Charles flipped a hidden switch on his desk to activate security and anti-monitoring devices built into the room. “Proceed, Simon.”

                “Thank you, sir.” Simon dug into the pockets of his khakis, ultimately pulling out a wrinkly sheet of folded-up paper. He smoothed it out as best he could before handing it over. “This came a few minutes ago. From the special device. The one you told me to have monitored at all times. I’ve got an intern posted there twenty four hours a day, and when one called to let me know this was printing I dashed over. He didn’t see what was on it, the locked tray ensured that, and I folded it as soon as it was in my hands to protect from prying eyes.”

                Charles scanned the page. All that security, and they probably wouldn’t have been able to make heads or tails of it even if they’d seen. To most, this was nothing more than a string of numbers. For Charles, however, it was so much more. It was the beginning of the end. In a strange way, he felt a sense of relief at that message. Deep down, he’d always known this would come. Phil never gave up, especially when he was in the right. Eventually, Phil would find the lab. Charles had been all-too-aware of that from the very beginning. And now, at last, they could finish things. This was the end of their cold war, and when the day ended only one Adair brother would be left standing. If this were a just and decent world, it would be Phil, but that was not the world they lived in. Charles had seen that first-hand as his wife withered away.

                “Thank you, Simon, that will be all.” Charles started to reach for the phone, then paused. “Actually, I think I need you to do some other business for me. That deal in Venice we’ve been working on, it could use a soft touch. Take one of the private planes and see if you can’t charm them into a better deal, I’ll let the airstrip know you’re coming. And take your husband along as well, I’m sure he would love to see the sights. You have to make room for time together, you never know how much you’ll have.”

                Simon was staring at him, confusion replacing the frantic energy he’d burst in with. “Mr. Adair? Is everything okay?”

                “Time will tell, I suppose. But you’ve been a good employee. Perhaps even a friend. There is a chance this day ends without any incident whatsoever. There is also a chance that today is the day my entire world comes burning down. Most of my people have been carefully compartmentalized, kept so far away from understanding that the light of suspicion could never fall on them. You, however, have been with me too long. I fear there will be those who don’t believe your honest innocence. If all is peaceful, then do your job and enjoy a few days away. If things go wrong… well, arrangements for my staff have been made. Take care of yourself, Simon.”

                “I will.” Simon paused, looking at the boss he’d spent years working under and learning from. “Sir, whatever you’ve had to do, I want you to know that I have complete faith it was necessary. You may be a hard man, but I don’t think you’re a cruel one.”

                A flicker of a smile appeared for a flash on Charles’s face. “Optimism and faith. I do enjoy those, even if they are things I can no longer have. Now go. I’ve got work to do, and you have a plane to catch.”

                As Simon left, Charles finally picked up the phone and began to dial. The upside of always assuming the worst, always knowing this battle would come, was that it allowed one to plan for such contingencies. Phil was strong, determined, and capable of building a powerful team, but foresight was never his greatest asset. That was something the lesser Supers had to use, ones like Charles who lacked the raw power to force an outcome to unfold the way they wanted. Plans were already laid, they just needed a small push to get moving.

                “Reports are in, Globe is making his assault.” His voice echoed through the spacious office as Charles spat orders quickly into the phone. “Security staff on site will no doubt be responding, but we need to flank him to have a chance. Gather the secondary force and pin Globe in the moment they breach the first layer. Once that’s in motion, activate all contingencies.”

                Charles had to pause as the voice came over the line, asking a question. There weren’t a lot he would tolerate in a moment like this, but it was a fair one to ask. Turning to the window, Charles stared out into the sunlight streaming down onto his garden. Shelby’s garden, really, since he’d planted it for her. He wanted her to see it, just once. He wanted her to walk through the vines and flowers, smiling as she took in the wonders of nature. Sometimes, Charles liked to picture Alice with her too, the pair of them looking so alike, happily strolling together. He never put himself in that fantasy, though. That sort of moment was beyond him. Charles had done too many horrible things to ever stand at Shelby’s side again. So in the end, what was one more if it meant that someday, she might get that stroll in the garden.

                “Yes. The latest contingency as well. Send someone right away, and offer whatever it takes. Overpay as much as needed. Speed is more important than anything else right now. Globe will come in gently at first; he hates to kill if it can be avoided. We use that time to prepare. Once the fight turns deadly, all hell will break lose.”

                Swiveling the chair, Charles turned away from the garden, a sight more lovely than he felt he deserved. “When it comes to that, let’s make sure we have the biggest demons.”