Chapter 14

Conrad fumed out of the board room, slamming the door and ranting to himself. “Interim CEO? Interim? After the last month I put together for them? INTERIM? What the hell do they want? I kept the lights on, I got independent investigators involved, I kept the stock from free-falling. Sure, it could go up, but they need to be patient. Those short-sighted pricks have no idea. Succession plan? Time to start a succession plan?”

As Conrad barreled past his assistant, he threw his hands up to signal that he had no interest in hearing what she had to say. “I don’t have time for meetings or appointments,” he thought to himself as he ducked into his office and closed the door.

As the door shut, he realized that Scott was in there, waiting for him. Pausing for a second, Conrad put on his best fake smile and reached forward for a handshake.

“Scott. A pleasant surprise!”

Conrad watched Scott’s body language. The sour look on his face and his crossed arms said everything. Conrad braced himself.

“Surprise? I’ve been trying to call you for two weeks. I have no interest in being screened or shut out!”

Even though Scott’s voice was getting louder, Conrad started tuning him out. Nodding dismissively, he turned away from Scott, and started pouring himself a scotch. Reaching to his neck, he tucked his fingers into his silk tie and tugged it loose. He brought the scotch to his lips. It smelled so good. He took a sip. Noticing that Scott was still yelling, he decided to pay attention again.

“… and are you even listening, you dumb bastard?” rambled Scott.

Conrad put down his scotch. He felt his head getting warm, his nerves straining. It was high time this bullshit came to an end. Conrad leaned forward over his desk towards Scott.

“Listen, you stupid shit. You are in my office. Show some goddamn respect. I’ve given you some leeway – some benefit of the doubt, because up until now you’ve impressed me, and you’ve been useful, but now you’re neither impressive nor useful. You’re being a petulant fucking kid. You work for me. I call you WHEN I feel like calling you. I have bigger things going on than to placate your ego.”

“I’m not afraid of you, John,” Scott snapped back.

“You should be. Your father was. Before I had all of this, I had no problem getting my hands dirty. Your father was haunted by just being a part of the things I did. He wasn’t afraid you’d become like him, he was afraid you’d become someone like me.”

Conrad paused to let his words resonate with Scott. He watched Scott’s face contort as he processed scenarios in his head. The vague words Conrad chose were playing out in Scott’s head over and over.

Scott’s face grew more and more pale. Conrad picked up his scotch and had a few more sips. He knew that Scott did need to be put in his place, but he also knew that his anger was really directed at the board. Either way, as long as he could use the situation to quell Scott’s recklessness, he might actually be useful again.

“You know, Scott. They call me a psychopath. Not to my face of course, but I hear hushed tones here or there. And they’re probably right. Hell, it probably makes me a good CEO. I know that during the board meeting I found myself wondering how many board members would have to meet accidents to get the vote back in my favor. Ultimately, it was too high a number. Too suspicious. I’ll have to win over a few more some other way before I can reconsider that plan.”

Pausing, Conrad looked at Scott again. He was still so pale. He continued talking. “And it looks like you don’t have the stomach to think that way. Maybe you do, I doubt it. Either way, we’re at a moment of truth here. You can decide to continue the family business, with a weird personal moral code, like your father. Or.”

Conrad paused again to watch Scott’s reaction.

“Or, you can learn from me and become truly ruthless. Make your decision.”

Scott fidgeted nervously. Conrad watched his eyes dart from his feet to the desk. He raised his hand to his face. He looked down to avoid eye contact with Conrad. Finally, he piped up.

“How do you sleep at night?”

Conrad smiled, baring his teeth.

“On a bed worth more than your house with top notch pharmaceuticals from a subsidiary of this company.”

Scott nodded.

“I think I can live with that. What’s the plan, Conrad?”

“I’m glad you asked,” replied Conrad as he got up. “Come with me.”

Conrad took off his suit jacket and put it carefully over the back of his chair. He removed his cufflinks, opened his desk drawer and threw them in. Rolling up his sleeves, he started towards the door of his office. Obediently, Scott hopped up and started to follow. Conrad made his way to the silo entrance and motioned for Scott to get on the golf cart. Conrad hopped on and sped down the hallway. Somberly, he found himself surveying the damage in the hall. Scott was the first one to break the silence. “You’re rebuilding the cannon?”

Conrad pretended to ignore Scott and drove the cart right up to Tom, who seemed to be hard at work on redesigning some of the schematics. Tom glanced up for a second, scowled and looked back down at his page. Conrad turned to Scott.

“Tom is working on a newer version of the cannon with some additional fail-safes.”

“No visitors, please.” said Tom as he motioned to Scott.

“This isn’t a visitor, Tom,” pleaded Conrad. “This is someone who is going to help us get stuff back in order.”

“Order? Get what in order? Another investigator?” Tom rolled his eyes with such fervor that Conrad expected him to stomp his foot like a pouting teenage girl. The image made him smirk. Composing himself, he added, “No, we’re done our investigations. He’s here to help in a more general sense.”

“Help how? Is he going to fix that wall properly?”

Tom motioned to the hastily repaired wall, causing Conrad to turn and look. As he surveyed the mess of drywall and plywood, he could see that it flapping from the wind outside.

“Yeah Tom, I think that’s the repair job the rescue services did. I think a real repair was overlooked. I’ll put it on a list.”

“Thanks, that’s great, but I’m running behind, as it is, Conrad. What can I help you and buddy with?”

Conrad watched Scott grit his teeth and ball his fists as he stepped toward Tom. Growling, he responded, “Hey, my name is Scott, not buddy.”

Conrad wasn’t sure if this was a show for his benefit or if he had so emasculated Scott that he needed to prove something.

Shockingly, Tom stepped right towards Scott and gave him a shove. “Listen, dude, I don’t care. Unless you know how to get this stuff running in a hurry, you need to step off.”

Conrad did a poor job of stifling his amusement. “Poor Scott,” he thought to himself. “It’s just not his day.”

Having to compose himself yet again, he stepped between the two men and brought the conversation back on track.

“Tom, I was actually here about that,” said Conrad, “I just had a meeting with the board and there has been some change in direction. Now, thankfully, this project is safe, because we managed to get it far enough along that they couldn’t stop it now, but, now that we’ve hit that milestone, you can slow down the pace.”

“I have no interest in slowing down, Conrad.”

Conrad nodded. Tom took a wide stance, clenched his fists and stared at Conrad with a burning intensity that almost made Conrad look away. This determination, this grit. The man was possessed to finish this project and Conrad could not understand what was motivating this passion.

“Alright Tom, but I do have a few requests that will make your life easier. Don’t worry too much about miniaturization. If you can make it about ten feet long instead of 50, that would be perfect. I see there’s enough undamaged barrel material to make that possible, which will keep costs down. Reuse is a priority.”

“Ok, Sure.”

“Also, wrap the entire thing in that energy grid shielding stuff you guys used to protect the wall. I mean, obviously, leave a bit of room for the thing to fire, but I want it to be extremely safe in here.”

“Not that it’s my concern, Conrad, but how did you sell the board on this? I can’t believe they would take this risk, even with the costs involved.”

“Honestly. I didn’t even tell them about it until today and now that we’ve made progress, they’re reluctant to withdraw the project. It might have cost me my career, and it certainly will, if you fail, but it might just save it as well.”

Tom looked at Conrad, but it was as if he was almost looking through Conrad. It made him uncomfortable. Conrad couldn’t get a fix on what the glance meant. Was he suspicious? Shocked by the altruism? It bothered Conrad intensely.

“Was that all?” asked Tom

“Oh, no - just one last thing, Tom.”

“Sure, what?”

“That cannon needs to be on an articulating base. They want it to be able to shoot in any direction, even straight up if need be.”

“Seems pretty doable. I’ll add it to the plans.”

Satisfied, Conrad got back on the golf cart and started to drive away. Halfway down the hallway, he stopped and looked at a very confused Scott.

“I have so many questions,” spoke Scott.

“Yes, I know. Fire away.”

“Well, how did you get Tom to keep working for you?”

“You know, I worried about that for a few days myself. I wondered if there was a way I could blackmail him or if I could goad him into doing it, but once the investigators wrote it off as suicide, Tom came out of it pretty broke up. I can’t figure out his motivation, but I think it might be an attempt to recreate the last project they did together or some kind of misguided tribute.”

“They ruled it a suicide?”

“Yes, it’s shockingly easy to pay off a coroner. We both know the corpse was your father, but they concluded it was actually Neil.”

“OK, But still how’d they arrive at suicide?”

“Actually, that was a shock to me. Not really planned. Basically, Neil’s odd behavior here at the silo – the sleeplessness, the yelling, as well as the rumors I spread about him having hallucinations – ultimately they decided that he came out of the hospital too soon and that the PTSD got to him. It’s pretty common.”

“And the board wants the cannon rebuilt?”

“Oh god, no. In fact, that was a complete lie. Truth be told, my career is actually at risk because I’ve convinced them that recovery operations and investigations are still ongoing. The cannon is my project.”

“Why do you want another cannon?”

Conrad bristled at the stupidity of the question. “Why?”

Scott responded sheepishly. “Yes, why!?”

Frustrated, Conrad put his fingers on his forehead. “Of all the…” he muttered. “Neil emerged from the cannon. And, not only was he unharmed, he was completely healed. You saw the pictures. He was on his feet. This man needed a cane right before that. Fuck, just imagine what we could accomplish with tech like that. Oh – and he charred your father to a crisp. We could heal soldiers and make them living weapons. Never mind rifles, we’ll manufacture enhanced soldiers!”

“I don’t care about battlefield injuries or enhanced soldiers. I was hoping this plan would bring us closer to revenge. Neil has to pay.”

“There’s much more at stake here than revenge, Scott, but even so, you forget that we need to have the capability to fight back. Somewhere in that city, there’s a man hiding out there that has the ability to FRY people and heal from injuries. How are you going to handle that? Think, man. THINK. Hopefully, we can turn this power off once we learn how to replicate it.”

“I don’t know Conrad, this plan has a lot of moving parts. Lots can go wrong. You’ve got a developer with some weird complex, a board that wants you out and you’re building a cannon that isn’t exactly easy to hide. I’ve been weighing it out. I’m not sure if it’s my best chance. Still, you’re right. I can’t exactly go toe-to-toe with Neil. I guess I’m on board.”

Conrad nods. “Great. I’m glad. At the moment, based on the corpse we found, I have a strong feeling he’s still somewhere downtown. Just in case I’m wrong, I’ve got some people watching his home and keeping an eye on the routes in and out of town. No activity. As for his home, his father still lives there, but they’re estranged. It’s been a dead end so far, and admittedly, it’s a bit of a Hail Mary pass, but here’s hoping we can track him down when we’re ready.”

“What do you need me to do?”

“Start preparing. You’re going to need to get your hands dirty.”

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I am Sinewave: Spark

Written by Richard Belzile

Updated semi-infrequently

I am not a professional author, this is my novice attempt at creating a novel in an episodic fashion. Comments, critiques and compliments accepted.

Richard Belzile and, 2015-2018.

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