CROSS THE STYX
AND DANCE WITH THE DEVIL
(Free Excerpt only)
Kenneth E. Ingle
CROSS THE STYX
Copyright 2010 by Kenneth E. Ingle, all rights reserved. No portion of this novel may be duplicated, transmitted, or stored in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.
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This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and locations are fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or people is coincidental.
Recently, my grandson sat with me in my Prius marveling at all the electronic gadgetry. He’s in the masters program at Purdue University. I am so proud of him and told him so. His response, Grandpa, you can’t believe how proud I am of your being published. I tell every person I meet on campus. Some grandson.
To: Philip Ingle, Grandson
Evan Blakesley, attorney for Electronic Capital Resources (E-Cap) left the plane, cleared customs, and took a cab to the Mexico City Hotel Royal.
An hour later, a tall man, in an immaculate grey suit, standing by the window slowly turned and in perfect classroom English said, “Well, Mr. Blakesley, we finally meet.”
There was no warmth in the voice and certainly, nothing to convey this would be an amicable meeting.
Nevertheless, Evan put a smile on his response and started across the small room extending his hand. “Mr. Sverski. After all these years of hearing about you, it’s a pleasure to meet—”
Boris Sverski made no effort to accept the handshake, cutting him off with a hard stare and hand wave that looked more like a karate chop.
Blakesley grew up on the New York waterfront where he had his share of battles. “Okay, we cut the bullshit since we both know why we’re here. First—”
Sverski raised his hand again to silence his guest but Blakesley charged on, his voice raised to add emphasis. “—No goddamnit, you’ll listen to me.” At least he remembered not to jab his finger at the Russian. Taking some of the harshness from his voice he added, “I came down here to work things out.”
The Russian didn’t flinch. “When? The only thing to resolve is when. I am prepared to write the checks today and take control of Calypso.”
“It isn’t that simple. If we turn in a bid, E-Cap will probably improve on it.”
“E-Cap? A bid?” The Russian spit the words then his voice turned deadly quiet. “Take them out of the process. They are only involved because of your incompetence. I will not bid against what is mine. Calypso is mine.”
A faint trace of sweat appeared around Blakesley’s collar. “I can get them out. I have control of the majority of the executive committee. They’ll follow my lead. But it has to be done in such a way that my position is not jeopardized.”
Sverski coolly said, “If you are dead, your position won’t make much difference.”
Blakesley recoiled but quickly recovered. “If I’m dead, you don’t get your money.”
Sverski sat down in one of the overstuffed side chairs next to the divan. “Is this James Clayton willing to make such a recommendation?”
Evan, stunned hearing Clayton’s name, almost faltered in his step and quickly sat in the other chair hoping it had gone unnoticed. With the Russian having that information, Clayton was in deep, deep trouble and now the focal point of Sverski’s demands.
“Give him one day, if he doesn’t agree, kill him.”
Blakesley couldn’t stop an involuntary flinch. “That will not go over well with Cordell Mildren. Are you sure you want to start an all out war with him? Shoot this man and you will.”
“Mildren is old and all of his will is gone. Clayton is nothing. Nothing at all.”
“You have misjudged these people.”
I scooted into the rickety wooden booth at Ralph’s opposite Will Gaither. He had to grab the table as the unsecured seat slid, all the while cradling the reeling beer pitcher and two full mugs. The look on his face stopped my smart remark about the dilapidated beer joint’s smell and looks. This was despite the fact both of us knew he could do better. Flashes from the few neon lager signs reflected against his glistening brow.
His usual no-nonsense straightforward words, no more that a whisper, drilled me. “James, you’re being set up and I don’t mean for the bricks,” Gaither’s jargon for being fired.
I had started to sip my beer but stopped long enough to ask the obvious. “What in the hell is that supposed to mean? You’re joking. Just shitting me, aren’t you?” Despite the pain from the chilled mug sticking to my lips, my eyes remained glued on him.
Let me back up just an hour or so. The way this little tête-à-tête with Gaither, he’s E-Cap’s Human Relations guy, started should have been my first clue that something was up. I’m James Clayton, and we both work for E-Cap. The company buys and sells other companies. Most people look on us as pariahs. Maybe we are, although, I like to think my calling as a little higher. My job is to find companies to buy or sell—no ambition to be president of the company or anything like that. I’ve been in the business for eight years, four with E-Cap.
Will had come to my office all hot and bothered just before quitting time and handed me a scrap of paper. “Meet me at Ralph’s tonight, Five-thirty,” the address scribbled on the bottom. Before I could even answer, the guy took back the note and left. That wasn’t at all like him. His usual high-spirited, friend to all demeanor was gone. I’d never seen this intensity before, but the prospects of having a beer with him sounded like a good idea. My original dinner plan was to grab a carryout at Gini’s. Now, at least the beer would be on him and what was left of his demented mind would expose itself to me.
A few minutes later, my black Corvette swiftly exited the company garage. Off came the blue pinstripe coat. A casual flip of the wrist successfully tossed it into the boot behind the seat, and I headed for Ralph’s.
Sweat stood out on Will’s forehead, his jaw was clinched, and his forever-straight bow tie, now askew, further evidenced he wasn’t joking. “Someone wants you dead!”
The hair on the back of my neck stood, my clammy hands locked the mug in a death grip. His words scared the hell out of me. No one had ever threatened my life before. (Well, maybe a lady or two but that’s a whole other world. Got nothing to do with my daytime job.)
We sat there looking at each other for a few anxious moments. I didn’t know what to say but finally managed, “Let’s go to the police.”
Halfway out of the seat he grabbed me.
“Now,” I think I said. When scared shitless, it’s hard to remember.
“Can’t. You don’t understand. So far, every bit of my information is secondhand. And my source would never allow it.”
Self-preservation said get out of there—and then what? For some reason, most likely weak knees, it was easier to stay in the booth.
“Not bring in the authorities? Someone wants me dead and your source is worried about what, unwanted publicity? Damned right I don’t understand.” This wasn’t an over-reaction. It is my life he was talking about some one taking. Doubt began to crowd out that Gaither should be trusted, forget about could.
Between swigs and gulps on his draft, he managed, “This has to be handled internally.”
God, why threaten me? He wanted to keep it quiet and I wanted to call the police—or anyone—to do something. Why? Who? More questions than a mind could handle crowded my terrified psyche. You can bet if someone had said they were going to kill me, I’d remember.
Breaking the gloomy silence, I suspiciously asked, “Gooding?” referring to my boss, Charles Gooding, Senior Vice President of Acquisitions.
Now, that was a startler to say the least. If I hadn’t known Gaither, I’d have laughed it off. In fact, believing him seemed less likely as his warning soaked in. Maybe he’d screwed up and named the wrong guy. Bad information or not, it didn’t make me feel any better.
Anxiously, I leaned forward in the booth. “Evan Blakesley? I hardly know the man.” He’s the corporate attorney. “And you’re saying he may be threatening me?”
Avoiding any nonchalant moves, Will offered, “Not maybe. James, I don’t know all the details—yet. May never. But the information’s credible. Can’t ignore it and you shouldn’t. We can’t go to Stacy,” (Rodina Stacy, our Executive VP and CEO) “or anyone else for that matter. Wish I knew what in the hell to tell you to do, but don’t.” He rubbed at some sweat running into his eyes, shooting thin red streaks across the white.
A gasp I’d unsuccessfully squelched choked its way into the air. My mind reeled, searching for anything that made sense and wondering why he never mentioned Ruther Dietrich. I wasn’t being casual, but the prospect he’d painted crowded out any bravado. Deep inside a strange mixture of apprehension and anger built.
“Why, when, where? Who’s your source? Anything?” That was repeating myself, but one tends to do this when their continued existence is brought into question.
“Are you absolutely sure it’s me he’s after?” I spoke in no more than a whisper, even though the bartender, who Gaither assured me was safe, remained at the far end window one foot solidly placed on the sill eyeing the sparse traffic and the only other person in the place.
Will hunkered over his beer as if trying to add an even greater sense of urgency. That wasn’t necessary. He had my full attention. “James, it may not be Blakesley directly, but he owes people who wouldn’t hesitate to kill you if it meant keeping their money coming.”
“Kill me?” My voice erupted. That sounded even worse than wanting me dead. I reared back against the booth, nearly tipping it over and again had to grab the tabletop. My hands balled into clinched fists. I was pissed. My words brought an over the shoulder look from the bartender from his banished location. That inner bravado wanted to say, “Let him try it,” but a bluffs a bluff, especially when it’s no more than naked bluster.
A call to the bartender brought me a stogie, the only cheroot in the place, and he moseyed back toward the window. A borrowed match had my stogie smoke a lazy figure eight rising toward the ceiling and belying the charge racing though my body. “This is getting more bizarre every time you open your mouth.”
Will pushed my untouched quaff toward me. “Drink your beer.” He’d topped off the mug replacing the head that had disappeared. I hadn’t touched it and didn’t feel like drinking.
He was obviously worried and had been for some time; I was catching up in one hell of a hurry. The mad that was building in me wasn’t going away very soon.
I prodded him. “And you won’t tell me where you got the information.”
“Look, you’re going to have to trust me on this one. I can’t tell you. Can’t risk my source. As for the where or when or how, don’t know.”
It wasn’t the right answer and I had a problem with him not telling me where he got the information. “Any suggestions?”
Will broke the silence. “Blakesley needs for you to change your recommendation from buy and keep to buy and sell on the Calypso project or back away from it completely. He needs money, lots of it—and now. The only way he can get it is by E-Cap turning deals as fast as possible.”
The company had changed. Apparently, doing the right thing no longer meant the same thing. My problem remained in a decision to allow executive members to participate in buys and sells. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve bought and sold, (well, recommended anyhow, don’t have the clout to do anything else) companies before the ink dried on the contract but only if it made sense for everyone involved.
Gaither folded his hands around the sweating beer mug now forming a small lake on the table. I sat glued to the booth seat, numbed. “Why didn’t you tell me this at the office?”
“The place may be bugged,” he said, his voice rising for the first time.
I must have had a really stupid look on my face. Staring me down, he took a swig of his beer, “For the time being, don’t make any recommendations for long term acquisitions. Get a gun and carry it in your car. And―,” he hesitated, head slightly bowed, eyes looking though brushy brows, “if you want, I can recommend a very discreet bodyguard. You probably can’t afford him fulltime and won’t be able to use him at the office, so maybe when you’re out on the town. He can even pass as a waiter at the reception coming up in a few days. But, at the office, you’re on your own.”
Gaither knew there was only me, no family to worry about, and most of my close friends lived away from Dallas except for my best friend Bobby John Gales and an occasional squeeze.
“If you have a lady, it may be best for you to stay away from her until this is over.” He reached across the table and grabbed my arm, a frown crossing his face.
Now that really pissed me off. It was too much, besides, I should have thought of it, but things were moving fast, way too fast.
My back stiffened, “I’m not going to wait around and let someone try to kill me or people important to me.” To threaten me was one thing but to threaten any woman I might be dating only added to my anger. Use help, yes, but the fight was mine.
“Thanks for the advice. You’re probably right. I need to keep my personal life out of the line of fire.” My thoughts churned to grasp what was happening.
“James, I don’t like that look. You’re not going to try to handle this yourself are you?”
I didn’t answer.
He wolfed down his beer, quickly reached for the pitcher and swallowed another full mug, never taking his eyes off me. “At least let me help. I know people.”
“Bring all the help you can muster.” That did slip out a little quicker than intended. The recently procured cigar was no more than a sucked down stub when I jammed it into the ashtray.
Gaither sat silent for a moment as we prepared to leave then offered, “This place, Ralph’s, it’s more than meets the eye.”
He didn’t wait for the surprised look to leave my face. “It’s a cover. Open twenty-four seven—no beer on Sunday.
You can use it as a safe place anytime.” He looked at the back door.
“A cover for whom? And who pays the bill?”
He didn’t answer.
With the revelations made, it was obvious there was more to Will Gaither than I had thought. Not that it made a lot of difference when compared to my life.
He’d told me all he was going to, even though it was a certainty he knew a lot more.
An inner calm settled over me molding the rage into something unlike anything I’d ever experienced. A strength I’d never known I had took hold. It felt strange, ominously dangerous but my earlier fear was gone. Something said I was going to win. Maybe just an adrenaline rush, but, in any case, it gave me some solace.
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