“That’s not even remotely what I meant,” Christian said before turning away. The others were left to wonder what he did mean, even though it had seemed pretty clear to him at the time. None of them were brave enough, though, to open their mouths and ask him that one simple question, so one by one they exited the room. After they were gone Christian finally allowed himself to breathe — deeply in, and shallow out. It was already a tough Monday.
When he inherited his father’s massive real estate business, he hadn’t known he was also getting three of the crankiest vice presidents in the bargain. It was hard to come into work each day knowing they talked behind his back as constantly as the sun shined down from above, but he couldn’t let them win. If there was one thing his father taught him, it was never let others determine your mood. Control every situation, even when you’re not really in control of the situation.
He sat down behind his mahogany desk and was immediately swallowed up by the expectations that sitting there entailed. It was behind this desk that many of the firm’s most lucrative deals were made, what seemed like a dog’s age before he was even born. The desk had welcomed several famously rich individuals throughout its many years, none more memorable than Nelson Rockefeller himself shortly before Watergate. It was a history that Christian had studied intensively as he prepared to take over the reins of the Hand Group.
They put words in his mouth, too, he had finally surmised nearly two months after his father’s untimely death from emphysema in the fall. As winter rolled in for good, Christian realized he had to make a stand or he would be seen as ineffectual, something that would have made his father roll over in his grave. If there was anything Jonathan Hand craved, it was the symbols of power that he wielded with an iron fist until the very day he died. But Christian didn’t have the innate ability to crush others like bugs in order to get what he wanted.
“Your two o’clock appointment is in the lobby,” his assistant, Brian, buzzed him over the intercom. Brian was thirty-eight years old, with a buzz cut that accentuated his large ears, and a permanent five o’clock shadow that gave him a harried look he didn’t deserve. And he was gay. It didn’t matter much to Christian, except he had heard murmurs around the office that the reason his father had kept Brian around was for certain favors the younger man bestowed upon him. It made him sick to his stomach that anyone would take those murmurings seriously. He would set the record straight on that, as well as on so many other issues.
“Send him in,” Christian said, sitting straighter in his seat and placing an amused look on his face. He had learned the maneuver from his father when he was young, and it was the only way he ever resembled his old man, his looks deriving mostly from his Mediterranean mother.
That had been an issue in polite circles for years, his father’s choice of mate, so far removed from the upper echelon ladies he had dated in his youth, and Christian still detected an animosity in his mother for that very same polite society. She had been grudgingly accepted on the surface, and he himself by extension, but because he favored her in looks it made more sense that he would be subtly ostracized from the city’s elite. Money-wise, though, he fit very comfortably into that elite, having inherited not only the multi-billion dollar company, but also assets worth several billion dollars apart from it.
The man who walked through the gargantuan door was short of stature. In fact, it was hard to make him out from Christian’s vantage point behind the large desk, but he saw enough to verify the man’s identity. He wore a monocle over his right eye, either an affectation or a true need. Christian had always seen it as just for show because the man never squinted when he inevitably put it away. But either a lie or the truth, it hardly mattered since he brought a lot of old-school money to the table.
“Why hello, Julian,” the younger man greeted his guest without standing up. It was another rule he had adopted from his Jonathan. Never rise for another man.
“Christian, it’s good to see you again,” replied Julian Chase, the head of the city’s second largest architectural firm that had an exclusive contract with the Hand Group to develop properties. He had also been good friends with Jonathan, and he would make a solid partner if Christian decided to go that way. But he wasn’t sure he wanted to share any of the empire, especially with a man who was as greedy as Chase. Christian was sure his father had felt the same way, their friendship notwithstanding, but he had invited the older man in to feel him out.
“Always a pleasure,” he replied, more out of habit than anything else. “I hear rumors that the boulevard just sold you a lot of land.”
“Well, rumors are rumors,” Julian said, smiling.
“And if they were true…” led Christian, stretching out the last syllable.
“Then we would have a lot to talk about,” replied Julian, succinctly. His smile had faded.
“Indeed we would,” agreed Christian, knowing that part of the conversation was over. “The board voted to approve our series of projects over on West Avenue.”
“As they should have,” said Julian, settling into his seat as Christian fleshed out the project they had discussed a month prior, when he had still been grieving a father he had never truly known. It was to be his first big achievement out from under the shadow of his father, so he warmed to the topic as the meeting progressed deep into the afternoon. When it was done, and Julian had headed back down the hall, Christian breathed a sigh of relief. As difficult as it was to try and rally his own troops, it was even harder to realize his own mission in the larger world, out from behind that massive desk.
“That’s not even remotely what I meant,” he said under his breath as he closed the door behind Julian and leaned back against its polished surface. Their time would come, he thought. Yes, it most decidedly would. He smiled as he slid down to the plushly carpeted floor.