“Mr Lucent has arrived for your 7 pm meeting, Mr Forster.”
Nathan Forster frowned at the intercom, started to reply, but then thought better of it and picked up his phone instead so he could speak privately to his secretary.
“I thought I was done for the day,” he said irritably. “I don’t recall there being another meeting in the schedule. When was the appointment made?”
“I’m really not sure, Mr Forster, ” she said, then added in a low voice, “Perhaps Simon added it in at the last minute?” Simon was one of Forster’s executive assistants, and the only one authorised to add appointments to Forster’s busy schedule. But he had already left for the day.
Forster was annoyed not to have been briefed. He was half inclined to tell his secretary to send the man away. But then Simon wouldn’t have agreed to a meeting in the first place if it wasn’t potentially very profitable.
“Very well,” he said finally. “Send him in.”
The secretary opened the door to a tall, thin man who appeared to be in his early sixties, about the same age as Forster himself, with a sharp nose and a full head of greying hair. He was strikingly dressed, in a charcoal suit, black shirt, and a bright red tie. Made him look a little like a gangster, or a Mafia boss. Forster didn’t discount that for a minute. There had been some useful deals in the past with such men.
“Mr Lucent? Pleased to make your acquaintance. Won’t you take a seat?” Forster gestured to one of the armchairs arranged around a coffee table in the midst of his vast office. “Can I get you a drink?”
Lucent smiled pleasantly. “Thank you. A Bloody Mary, heavy on the tabasco, if you would be so kind.” He sat down. “But we have in fact met before, some years ago.”
“Oh?” said Forster, busying himself at the well-equipped mini-bar. “You will have to forgive me, I can’t recollect it just now.”
Lucent relaxed back into the chair. “You were just starting out, I believe. Trying to get your business off the ground.”
Forster brought back the drinks. His was a straight Bourbon. “Well, that is a long while ago, quite a long while ago.” He looked intently at Lucent. There was something familiar about that face, but he couldn’t bring it to mind. He had so much to look after these days, so many deals to manage, that he could barely remember anything about those early days. He hated being reminded of those miserable times.
Lucent took the drink, sipped at it appreciatively, and then leaned forward. “That is in fact why I am here, Mr Forster. It all comes down to that early meeting.”
The preliminaries over, Forster was starting to become impatient. “Forgive me, Mr Lucent, but could you get to the point? I don’t have much time to spare.”
“True,” said Lucent. “Let me be direct, then. In those days, you were having trouble getting your business established, fighting against the big, established operators. I was able to be of some assistance, and we signed a contract. That contract involved a payment on your part which has now fallen due, and I am simply here to arrange for collection.”
Forster frowned. He did recall borrowing some money and getting some advice from a much older man who had offered his services. But that was decades ago. It couldn’t have been this man.
“Well, you’ll need to talk to our legal department about that, Mr Lucent. I’m sure that I’m grateful for your help, but if there’s a repayment required, I’m sure Legal will sort it out for you. I don’t recall the terms of the contract, exactly.”
Forster sounded confident, but there was a degree of tension building in him. Had he signed away some essential rights, offered this guy a percentage? That could be expensive.
“I have a copy with me, of course” said Lucent smoothly, and brought out an envelope from an inner suit pocket but did not open it. Unexpectedly, he stood up and began to walk around the office as he spoke. “Your business has done very well, Mr Forster. You are, I understand, now extremely rich. So rich that money means almost nothing to you, am I right?”
Forster groaned inwardly, turning to watch Lucent stride up and down. Very expensive. But, what the heck, Legal would fight any unreasonable demands, claim the original contract was flawed, invalid, forged, even. If things didn’t look good, they would probably settle out of court for a much smaller sum than demanded.
“‘Rich beyond the dreams of Croesus’,” Lucent murmured, flicking one of the executive toys on Forster’s desk.
“I worked hard for it,” Forster said, getting up himself. What was this all about?
Lucent turned to a side desk and leaned over the huge touchscreen there. He popped up the browser and flicked idly through some pages. “‘The whole world’s knowledge at your fingertips’, I believe? Isn’t it wonderful how technology has developed since you started out, Mr Forster?”
Forster could only nod, baffled at the way this was going.
“Is this your wife’s photograph? Ah yes, so beautiful, so young. You have been married several times, I understand?”
“Yes,” Forster said, uncomfortably. There had been a dozen mistresses along the way, too.
“‘The most beautiful women in the world at your disposal’, would you say?”
“Damn it, I’ve had enough of this,” said Forster, reddening. “Tell me how much you want, and get out of here.”
Lucent made a disparaging sound. “No need to become agitated, Mr Forster. I am merely ascertaining whether I have fulfilled my side of the contract. It seems that I have. And now you need to fulfill your side.”
Forster was about to make an angry response when his attention was fixed on something on the desk. The little Newton’s Cradle executive toy, which should have still been in active motion from the flick Lucent had given it a minute ago, was instead perfectly still, one ball raised in the air, frozen. Forster could only gape at it.
Lucent opened the envelope and took out the contract. “It is always worth reading the fine print of a contract, Mr Forster, but I believe you were a little too eager when you started out, and perhaps omitted to do so?”
Forster stared at the signature on the contract, made in red ink. He remembered now, something the old man had said at the time about it being a ‘long-established tradition’.
“You declared, I believe,” said Lucent, smiling, “that you would ‘sell your soul’ to save your business. My dear Mr Forster, you did.”
by David R Grigg
© Copyright David R Grigg 2012. All rights reserved.
Illustration by David Grigg.