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Eldest Son

Premiered – 1 May 2004 (Beltane)


Chapter 3

Heir Apparent


Dan Sewell Ward


Aaron stood outside of Zak's office in a state of shock. This had never happened to him before: Total rejection. All the plans, the prolonged effort, the brilliant and innovative proposals -- all trashed and discarded without the slightest hint of an explanation. What in the world was happening? Aaron struggled to comprehend what was a singularly new event in his life.

In many respects he was more bewildered than angry. Unaccustomed to failure or set backs, he was only obliquely aware that anything was wrong. It had certainly not occurred to him anything could be wrong with Aaron. That had never entered his mind. Instead, it was a new experience, something to be analyzed and reviewed. Mentally he stepped back to try to put it all into context.

Obtusely, it would not fit into context, at least, into Aaron's view of context. There were too many loose ends and facets which he had never before encountered, wandering about, doing their own thing, and in general, denying any relationship to anything else. Everything seemed quite in excess!

Inasmuch as Aaron was standing within a few feet of her desk, Joy could not help but be aware of his presence. For a moment she simply observed Aaron's classic, ramrod straight pose -- a pose developed through years of waiting for someone else to hail him a taxi. Then she ventured a communication. "Is there anything I can do for you, Mr. Gilan?"

Now, think about that for a moment. Given Joy's opening, 99.99% of the male population would have responded in what virtually any woman would have referred to as "a typical male response". Aaron, on the other hand, missed the opportunity completely. He was still in his own original version of an altered state, and was hardly even aware of Joy, an attitude which constitutes a thoroughly dismal state -- rather like the state of Mississippi . Instead, Aaron made one last attempt to understand what was happening, failed, and turned his attention to a rational alternative. 'Perhaps Tina can help me,' he thought.

With that, he strode off toward his sister's office. Joy watched him walk away, only slightly daunted by his being oblivious to her charms. Joy, after all, being a woman of the world, had long since recognized Aaron as the type of man who might never comprehend emotional or passionate relationships. He was, so they say, marching to a different drummer -- one who apparently had long since retired and left an electronic metronome in his place.


Herman was laughing uproariously, when Aaron entered Tina's office, unannounced and as if he owned the place. Tina looked up, immediately cooled by Aaron's typical audacity and lack of respect for her space. Herman looked up as well, but continued to laugh, albeit somewhat less uproariously.

Aaron, of course, failed to notice Tina's abrupt change in attitude. He was not a happy camper; thus he wasn't required to notice. He did notice Herman laughing, however. He did notice the fact that the laughter had been noticeably dampened upon his entrance. For a moment, his slim, lean, nothing in excess body wavered. Then as he stopped short, staring down at his younger brother with rank suspicion, the remnants of the laughter quickly subsided. Herman ignored Aaron's penetrating stare, cheerfully replacing the momentary lull in the merriment with, "Hi, big brother! What's happening!?"

Aaron's response was bluntly simple. "Don't call me that. I'm not your brother."

Herman tried to feign hurt, but generally failed. "Oh?"

Aaron then switched his focus to one of suspicion. "There's something funny going on here?"

Herman regained his cheerful smile. "Especially with your arrival."

Aaron switched his focus again, this time to something faintly resembling paranoia. "Were you two talking about me?" Actually it wasn't paranoia, per se. Aaron just naturally assumed that people would talk about him because he was so exceptional – even if only behind his back.

Herman's smile immediately flew the coop. "Why in the world would we want to do that? Have you actually done something lately?"

Aaron was appropriately above it all. "I do more in a week than you manage to accomplish in a decade!"

"Hey!" Herman countered. "That depends upon which decade!"

Tina had failed to find any interest in the half-brother's battle of wits and semi-wits. Her interests were more personal. "Why are you here, Aaron? And why did you see fit, once again, to barge into my office without so much as a simple knock!?"

Aaron turned to Tina, his expression one of deadly seriousness. He was vaguely aware of Tina's question, but was not yet able to address her concerns in light of his own heavy burden. Finally he said, "Are you aware that every aspect, every single program, every single, solitary facet of Worldwide Enterprises' advertising and public relations has been canceled!!?" Allowing for the anticipated shock waves to subside, Aaron then forged forth with additional revelations. "Canceled!! Without reason, without justification, without the slightest hint of why -- Zak, from his lofty and supreme heights, has unilaterally canceled everything!!!"

Tina was surprised, but it was Herman who voiced it. "Really?"

Aaron hardly noticed Herman's response and spoke directly to Tina. "I am the Vice President! I'm in charge of all advertising, public relations, every official announcement leaving the confines of this building!!! I'm the one letting the world know what's going on in here!! And I've been canceled!!"

"But Zak has always approved everything!!"

"Exactly!! But he's always approved it. Today, he canceled it!" Aaron was obviously frustrated, as he began to bemoan the fates of his destiny. "He's kept iron clad control on every advertising and PR project and expense with which Worldwide has ever been involved! He's always insisted on approving everything! But that's not the point! I'm the one who's done all the planning, all of the proposals, all of the work! Now, everything I've pulled together over the last six months has been canceled, dropped, tossed in the trash can! No explanation! No reason! Just 'No'! It's absolutely crazy!! How can I convey the message of Worldwide Enterprises to the world with Zak squelching it!!?"

"All your work?" Herman asked. "What about your staff? Those nine very lovely ladies, for example, who do all the creativity, write all the catchy tunes...?" Herman neglected to mention his own attempts to appropriately reward each and every one of Aaron's female staff.

"That's not the point! Zak has canceled everything!!" Aaron was inconsolable.

Tina glanced at Herman. "He's right. That's not the point."

Herman looked back at Tina, innocently. "What is the point?"

Aaron's frustration reached a new plateau. After looking at Herman for just a moment, he turned to Tina. "Why is he here?"

"There was a riot at the airport," Herman helpfully replied.

Aaron was not impressed. "There's always a riot at the airport. That's what airports are for! It's the in place for rioting."

"This one was on advertising," Herman explained. "Anti."

For the first time, Herman had managed to obtain Aaron's momentary interest. "But why? Why would anyone riot against advertising?"

Herman considered the question carefully. Then, attempting to be complete, he said, "Because it's dishonest, fraudulent, base, dishonorable, unscrupulous, foul, vile, low, ignominious..."

Aaron turned to Tina. "How do we shut him up?"

Herman continued undeterred (in fact, gaining in speed and enthusiasm), "...false, perjured, two-faced, crooked, deceptive, distorted, perfidious..."

"I always liked 'perfidious'," Tina noted, primarily to herself.

"...exaggerated, deceitful, evasive, humbug..."

Aaron had enough wits left to know that if he didn't take the offensive, he would be hopelessly lost. "How would people know what to buy, if there wasn't advertising?"

Herman's answer was simple. "Word of mouth?"

Aaron's response was simpler. "That's idiotic! There's no money in it!"

"Hey, good products are the best advertising!" Herman turned to Tina, a much more appreciative audience. "I have a friend back home, owns a bakery. Wonderful stuff. He avoids advertising like the plague, and still has all the customers he can handle."

Aaron's interest took a different turn. "Has he tried franchising it?"

"Can't. The quality would go into the toilet." Herman didn't wait for Aaron's reply, already being able to read it on Aaron's stunned expression. "When you cook a thousand loaves a week, there's no financial incentive to save a few pennies on each loaf. But when you're doing a million or so, the savings become irresistible. Franchising is just the first step in finding ways to save a buck, at the expense of quality."

"That's ridiculous," Aaron observed. "In fact, it's un-American."

Herman smiled. "I figure that sending McDonald's, Wendy's, and Baskin and Robbins to Russia was the best way to defeat communism. Talk about subversion! And a whole lot better than a neutron bomb. No blinding flash and all the consumers left intact." For a moment Herman smiled at his profundity. Sometimes he was astounded by his own grasp of the really complex issues of life. And come to think of it, a little amazed that no one else enthusiastically agreed with his analysis.

Aaron quickly leaped upon his soapbox. "But advertising has always been! It's a way of life! People know they're being lied to! But if you're clever enough or funny enough, or sufficiently obnoxious, people will remember the product and buy it. That's the whole point." When the others were momentarily intimidated by his intensity, Aaron continued, "You can get away with virtually anything! Take milk, for example. Cow's milk is demonstrably bad for you. But in one of the great advertising coups of all time, the "four basic food groups" lie has a whole generation believing that they regularly need to overdose on calcium." His audience obviously impressed, Aaron kept up the pace. "Or how about "diamonds are forever"? An otherwise totally useless consumer product now sought after by millions." Aaron smiled, as if he had already won his debate victory laurels.

"Personally," Herman said, while Aaron took a symbolic victory run around the track, "I always liked the liquor ads in magazines -- the ones with the subliminal advertising, always pushing death and sex, in order to get you to buy hard liquor."

"Of course," Aaron agreed -- as undisputed victor, he could afford to be magnanimous. "Otherwise no one would buy the stuff. It'll kill you! That's why they always use art work for the ad, and never photographs! It's virtually impossible to incorporate subliminals in a photograph. Art work may be more expensive, but it's absolutely essential to the ad concept. Anytime you've a product that is clearly killing people, you've got to use subliminals."

"I've always suspected," Herman added, "That the main purpose in advertising and PR was to mold society into a specific and consumer-oriented form. With enough skill, a good sales pitch can sell virtually anything."

"Exactly!!" Aaron was suddenly excited. "So why the hell is Zak shutting it all down? If we don't advertise, our sales are going to drop. Worse yet, our profits will plummet!"

Disgustedly, Tina said, "Who cares? Zak has not only canceled the advertising; he's canceled the business!" When Aaron turned to her with a confused look (apparently a not unusual condition of late), Tina explained, "Zak has not only been selling stock right and left, but he's been selling Worldwide's subsidiaries. Who needs advertising, if you don't have a company?" Tina mercifully neglected to add, 'Who needs the Vice-President for Advertising?'

"What!!?" Aaron was stunned. Carefully, slowly, for several minutes, Tina explained the recent revelations. The only response from Aaron was, "Can he do that?"

"Of course! Worldwide Enterprises is the largest multi-billion dollar company in the world under the iron clad control of one man. You'll notice he has never sold voting stock to the public -- just the non-voting kind."

"What about all those damn Greeks? I thought we had a million ties with the family supporters back in the homeland!"

"What do they care? Zak earns so much money, how could they complain? Besides, he may have just bought them out!"

Herman thoughtfully interrupted the two. "I have a question: Do the brothers grim know what Zak's up to?"

Tina seriously considered Herman's question. "Good point. Maybe not."

But Aaron was on another kick. "You're talking a major corporate restructuring. But why? What's going on?"

Tina was disgusted. "We don't know, Aaron. All we know is that there is one hell of a lot of money going... only Zak knows where!"

"But you're the comptroller! You're supposed to know where the money's going!"

"Hey! The money is in the banks. We have quarterly audits. But there is a significant time delay, before I can find out what's going where."

Aaron still wasn't getting it. "But why would Zak want to be so liquid? That's not the way you're supposed to do business!" Suddenly his confidence slipped. "Is it?"

Tina was blunt. "Something is going on! We just haven't been told what!"

Herman raised his hand slightly, as if to obtain permission to speak. When no one said anything to discourage him, he said, "Actually, I have a pretty fair idea what's happening. Something I've been working on for sometime now. It really seems to explain everything."

Aaron was now as confused as Tina. And Herman was like a nagging doubt to him. "We are not interested in your ideas! The only reason we even tolerate you is because Zak, for some totally unexplainable reason, likes your sense of humor. God only knows why!"

Herman turned to Tina, confiding the truth with her. "Aaron doesn't like me because I once beat him at Monopoly."

Aaron immediately went livid. "Bullshit!! You stole, swindled and robbed me!! And Zak let you get away with it!!"

Tina was amazed. Intrigued, she turned to Aaron. "Are you serious?"

"Damn right, I'm serious!" Aaron replied. "This bastard -- and I use the term in all of its connotations -- hosted a big barbecue in Texas for Zak and some damn royalty. And I ended up paying the whole tab. There must have been a couple of hundred people there!! He butchered my cattle, I got stuck with all the costs, and this shit didn't even bother to ask my permission!"

"Hey, that's not fair," Herman replied. "I invited you to the barbecue!"

"I loath barbecues!!!" Aaron shouted. Then in a milder voice. "Not to mention Texas !"

"But you own that cattle ranch in Texas ..."

"It's an investment!" Everything seemed simple to Aaron. Why couldn't the rest of the world see the obvious? Preferably in the manner in which he saw it? Then he frowned. "One of the worst investments I ever made. Nobody is eating beef any more."

"It's unhealthy for you," Herman observed.

"Who gives a shit," Aaron replied. "They used to eat beef by the carload! But once I buy into the business, everyone goes vegetarian! The cattle business really sucks!"

For several moments, Tina had dropped out of the conversation and began thinking on the more immediate problem. "Herm, I have an idea. On your next trip to see Aunt Ester, I want you to pay a visit to our two uncles. It may be that we can learn something from the Greek and Italian connections, particularly our two devious uncles."

Herman had another thought. "You think Aunt Ester is involved?"

"Not really. She's never been one for family politics. Still… we shouldn't ever underestimate her. Zak is just devious enough to involve her, if only as a go-between. No one would ever suspect our sweet aunt of anything illegitimate!"

Herman could sense the possibilities, but Aaron was now thoroughly lost. Trying to comprehend, he asked, "What in the world are you two talking about?"

"Herm is a courier between Zak and Aunt Ester. And he's about to make a trip to Nepal , if not today, then tomorrow."

"You mean he's carrying some kind of correspondence between the two?" When Tina and Herman both answered affirmatively, "So why doesn't the courier just open the letter and find out himself? He can read, can't he?"

"I'm not allowed to read the mail. Besides, it's in a locked case."

"But when you go through customs, you'll have to open everything up. Read it then." Aaron tried to make it real simple, inasmuch as for him it was.

"I can't. I don't go through customs. Diplomatic passport, you know."

Aaron was really stunned this time. Incredulously, he demanded, "YOU have a diplomatic passport!!?" When Herman simply nodded yes, Aaron fairly gagged. "But you're not a diplomat!! How can you...?"

"Zak got it for me. He didn't want customs to be a problem, or for his mail to be opened. Our daddy has a lot of pull in international circles, you know."

"This is ludicrous!!" Aaron was now furious. His fury was fueled in part by the fact that Herman had something he didn't have. But perhaps more importantly, three months prior, Aaron had been caught at customs for attempting to smuggle in three fifths of Georgian Cognac. Not only did the agents pour the booze down the drain -- the loss of the smoothest liquor this side of Bhutan -- but they also forced its former owner and current felon to pay an excessive penalty for the attempted subterfuge. Aaron had no financial problem in paying the fine, but the loss of face had been enough to gnaw at his innards ever since. Consequently, with Herman's status and Aaron's recent history, the elder brother found himself primarily engaged in being furious. For several moments he was unable to say anything.

"Actually," Tina noted, during Aaron's lull, "With a diplomatic passport, you should have no problem in making a side trip to see Uncle Paul and Uncle Hal on your return trip."

"Uhhhh..." Herman was suddenly hesitant. "Mind you, I don't have a problem with Uncle Paul. He and I get along okay. But Uncle Hal is just plain weird! And you don't just drop by on him! That guy's harder to see than the Pope! And I've seen both."

"Which may be why we need to see him."

"Tina! You don't understand! I'm never all that sure that I'm going to be able to leave! We're talking massive weird here!"

"I'll arrange for the flights and just detour your return trip through Greece and Italy . I'll even arrange for a cover story so they'll be expecting you."

Aaron was continuing to struggle with the concept of Herman having a diplomatic passport. Primarily to himself, he said, "I really can't believe this! Dumb-dumb has a diplomatic passport, and I get..." Suddenly, it occurred to Aaron that he did not want to reveal his recent history, especially to his siblings. "Zak must be out of his mind!" Aaron turned to Tina, "What in the world is going on in this organization!?"

Tina was calm. "That's what we're trying to figure out, Aaron! Maybe you'd like to help!" For a moment, she looked at her brother, wondering if perhaps he knew more than he was saying. As she thought about it, however, she found it difficult to accept Aaron as devious. She also had serious doubts that he was smart enough.

Herman was calmer still, and he attempted once again to offer his suggestion. "If anyone cares to listen, I still think I may know what Zak is doing."

For the first time, Aaron was willing to listen. "What?"

"I think he may be ready to step down and retire."

Aaron was stunned. Again. "Are you kidding!!?"

"And in doing so, hand over the reins to his successor."

Aaron was now mad (but still a little stunned). "That's idiotic! He's not that old! He's still charging around here like a kid!"

"He'll be 69 this coming November," Tina casually noted, hiding her amazement that Herman had arrived at the same crazy solution that she had.

"Really?" Aaron was shocked (as opposed to being stunned).

"Time to choose the Heir Apparent ," Herman added. Mostly for effect.

"Holy shit!" The implications abruptly hit Aaron. Suddenly, everything started to fall into place. The cash position, the sell off of subsidiaries, the shut down of all advertising and public relations, not to mention the secrecy surrounding it all -- typical moves when one was ready to install a new head man. Zak could be, in fact, ready to step down in favor of someone else. But who!? The possibilities momentarily stymied Aaron. (Apparently his stunned days were over.) Then he recovered. "Wait a minute! Now I know you're full of it! I'm the heir apparent! Surely that's obvious!"

"If it's obvious," Herman gently chided, "Why don't you know what's going on? Wouldn't that be the straight-forward thing to let the heir apparent know?"

That stopped Aaron, but Tina already knew the answer. "It would be typical of Zak to let his successor be the last one to know. He'd want to treat everyone just as before, lest the true heir apparent, by being apprised of what's happening, inadvertently gave the secret away. You know how he hates family power struggles! He would want to keep everything quiet until the last moment, when everything would be an accomplished fact. No arguments at that late stage. Just acceptance of his decision."

Herman smiled, knowingly, "Lord only knows this family has had its share of family power struggles."

Aaron fairly leaped on Tina's suggestion. "Of course! Zak would keep all of us in the dark. Even me! Even the Board of Directors!"

"Even the Board," Tina agreed. "We're just a rubber stamp in any case." When Herman looked at her, surprised, she added, "When you have iron control over a company, you can also fire your Directors anytime you want."

"Look," Aaron insisted, "I'm Zak's only son..." When Herman raised his eyebrows, Aaron added, "The only legitimate son, and the only one worth his salt. The only one in any type of significant position at Worldwide Enterprises!"

"Pardon me," Tina interrupted, her voice carrying the undertones of dire threat, "But just why does Zak have to hand over the reins to a son? Why not a daughter?"

"Don't be absurd!" Aaron almost laughed (an exceedingly unwise thing to do under the circumstances). "It's got to be his son!" When the other two showed absolutely no interest in agreeing with him, Aaron smiled slightly. "Are you kidding me? The world's greatest male chauvinist? The man who has fathered more children, legitimate and otherwise, with more women, than any other man on or off the planet? This is the fellow you think might hand over the control of the world's largest private enterprise to a woman!?"

For just a moment, Tina's anger at being demeaned as a woman threatened to cause an early dress rehearsal of Armageddon. But then she reluctantly recognized the possible validity of Aaron's argument. Not that she agreed with it, but she knew that it was at least a possibility. Still... Zak was known for doing things quite differently. Sometimes…

Herman laughed to himself, and then pointed out, "Zak really does have a rather large following. At last count, he's gone through three wives and probably a couple of dozen affairs. He's fathered five legitimate and God only knows how many illegitimate kids."

Aaron laughed. "Of which, Herman is definitely one of the bastards!"

"Yes," Herman quickly retorted, "But one who is greatly favored by my illegitimate father!" When the others looked at him, momentarily puzzled by his reference to his father's illegitimacy, Herman added, "I've always felt the perpetrator of the act should be the one to carry the appropriate designation. He's illegitimate. Not me."

Aaron frowned heavily. "It's much easier for me to simply think of you as a bastard!"

Tina, no longer distracted by Herman's diversion, looked at Aaron with absolute certainty. "I'm legitimate. The first born of Zak's first wife! The eldest child of all his children. That might count for quite a lot, particularly since I'm currently well established in the Corporation!" Aaron said nothing, having no idea of how to answer Tina's intensity.

"What about Andy," Herman asked, in his typical irrelevant fashion, "Your brother?"

Tina frowned. "My half-brother. Zak didn't father Andy."

Aaron smirked. The momentary diversion had allowed him time to recover his aplomb. "It really makes no difference. I'm the obvious choice to take over from Dad."

Tina, on the other hand, was quicker. "Don't count on it, dear brother. Zak believes heavily in competence."

Aaron flared at the insult. The guy was known to have a thoroughly nasty temper. He was ready to take on his older sister, when Herman interrupted their impending feud, "Who is Andy's father, anyway?"

Tina hardly heard. "What?" When Herman repeated himself, she said, "Who cares?"

Aaron, ready for any handy taunt to add to his argument, leaped in with great sarcasm: "You don't know?"

"My mother and I don't spend a lot of time with mother-daughter chats."

"Do you ever see her?" Herman's question was as gentle as possible, suspecting that he might be stepping into a sensitive area.

"Often enough," Tina replied, not really caring to continue the topic of conversation. "In any case, I don't know who Andy's father is and frankly I don't care. When Andy was born, I hadn't seen my mother in years. Zak raised me, not her! I didn't even know I had a brother until I was twelve!!"

"Really?" Even Aaron was amazed.

"Hey! She got pregnant by some guy seven years after Zak divorced her. Maybe she didn't want to tell anyone about the kid! Obviously, he didn't have a legitimate father."

"And you have no idea who the father is?" Herman asked.

"I've know there's some guy who spends a lot of time with Andy, particularly in recent years, but I don't know who he is."

"Amazing," Aaron said. "And with your spy network!"

Tina smiled, menacingly. "Look! I simply didn't care one way or the other. Why waste resources on something that means nothing?"

"Good point," Herman agreed. "It's not like we don't have enough other candidates for heir apparent. What with the kids, ex-wives, brothers, sister, friends like April Ikaria and the Brotherhood..."

Aaron was amazed at Herman's line of thinking. Dismissing the idea, he interrupted Herman's listing of possibilities. "You really don't get it, do you? Obviously, if Zak is planning to hand over Worldwide Enterprises to anyone, it's me!" For a moment, he noticed Tina's taking exception, and displaying a rare moment of diplomatic skill, added, "Or maybe Tina. Certainly, no one else! We're the only ones who know anything!"

"Except about what's currently going on," Herman added, smiling mischievously. “Neither of you seems particularly well informed in that regard.”

Aaron sighed heavily, as if no longer willing to deal with mental defectives. Instead, he took charge, as befitted his station in life -- or what he perceived befitted his station. "Tina," he ordered, without considering the consequences of his order or its effect on Tina, "Why don't you get on this and let me know what you find out. Pull together a complete report. I'll check a few of my own sources, and we can get together thereafter and compare notes."

One of the more incredible phenomena observed by researchers into sibling rivalries is the occasional inability of some brothers to see when they've just enraged a sister by their rather obviously running amuck and making a totally unwarranted assumption of authority. This is particularly true of younger brothers who make no allowance for an older sister's greater and often wiser experience. There is some evidence that a not-insignificant number of brothers have met an untimely and abrupt end, not to mention a bloodthirsty one. This, however, was not one of those times. Tina, it was true was quite ready to happily tear her younger brother's eyes out, but she refrained from this possibly psychologically beneficial act due to the presence of a witness -- however illegitimate said witness might have been.

Aaron, having decreed the marching orders, resumed his authoritative composure and dismissing the bulk of the previous conversation, left the room. He was not then and never ultimately became aware of the proximity to death that he had just occasioned. Mercifully, no one ever enlightened him. Of course, it's exceedingly difficult to enlighten anyone who already thinks of himself as fully enlightened or exceptionally bright.

Herman, on the other hand, having maintained contact with other beings for lo these many years, picked up on Tina's emotions pretty well. To ease the tension in the room, a tension sufficient to string every tennis racket within a parsec, Herman commented with as little fanfare as possible, "Aaron's quite a fortunate fellow when you think about it." When Tina raised her eyebrows in bewilderment, Herman added, "Not only is he not 'first among men', inasmuch as he spells his name with a double 'a'..." For just a moment, Tina relented slightly from her posture of wrathful vengeance. Herman sensed her slippage, and continued the ruse. "But Aaron is also the ultimately confident leader."

Tina, abruptly taken aback, gasped. "Whaaaat!?

"He's too stiff-necked to turn around to discover no one is following him. And without all those pesky followers, there will be no one to suggest he's going in the wrong direction."

For a moment, Tina just sat there, her mouth open, trying to grasp Herman's intent. Then she simultaneously caught on mentally to the joke and at the same time felt his concern for her. Abruptly she laughed out loud. Herman joined in the laughter, and relaxed, knowing that above everything else, Tina would not dwell on unprofitable emotions.

As a lightness returned to the room, partly occasioned by the sun slipping through the flumes of two major smokestacks, Tina leaned back in her chair, watching Herman with an appreciative eye. "I can see why Zak sometimes finds you worth keeping in the family. You do provide a certain amount of levity."

Herman smiled back, belying his seriousness. "Especially when the joke is at Aaron's expense. Right?"

Tina's smile faded slightly, as she thought about her brother. "I don't think that I could ever work under Aaron. He requires too much worship."

Herman laughed slightly. What else could he do? Tina's statement was not necessarily humorous, but it was safest to assume it so.

Then Tina shifted to her planning mode. "Let's think about this for a moment. If you're right about Zak being ready to designate his heir apparent... Or even if he's just in the process of some major structural changes in Worldwide... We need to talk to some people."

"What about the Brotherhood?"

"That's a possibility," Tina said, her mind now moving with precision. "You can probably figure that one out by first talking to Uncle Paul. He's right in their midst, and you're far more likely to find out from him than from anyone else."

"So I fly to Greece from Nepal ?"

"Exactly. And then to Italy and Uncle Hal."

Herman frowned, miserably, like a young boy informed of imminent piano lessons. "Maybe Paul can tell me everything, and then I won't have to..."

"I don't think it's Paul," Tina mused. When Herman turned to her for explanation, she explained, "Several years ago, when Zak and I were in DC at one of those big political fund raisers, I remember him telling some reporter that only someone of his blood would ever rule Worldwide." Herman was noticeably surprised by Tina's words. "I remember his exact words: 'only someone of his blood'. It's stuck with me ever since."

Herman replied, "Of course there's an awful lot of Zak's bloodline running around loose out there. Even Uncle Paul could be considered 'of his blood'. Couldn't he?"

Tina smiled slightly. "I doubt it. It would have to be of Zak's seed , something within the bloodline. Someone that Zak could point to with pride and say that it was his genes that made the difference. Besides, Zak may have already settled with both Paul and Hal. The sell offs, remember?"

Herman suddenly smiled brightly. "The heir apparent could even be me!!"

Tina smiled sarcastically. "Why not? Zak's ultimate practical joke!"

"Careful! You may be working for me."

"Only if you agree to fire Aaron."


"Agreed!" They shook hands with mock seriousness, and then set back and laughed. They had begun to start planning Herman's cover story that would divert him to Greece and Italy , when the call came down that Zak would see Herman now.

Herman immediately dropped to his knee in front of Tina, and with exaggerated and nonsensical emotion, begged of her, "Please, Mother. Bless me, for I fear that I go into the land of the living dead. And me without a hint of the monsters that lie in wait!"

Tina laughed, put one foot on Herman's shoulder, and gently pushed. "Out of here you knave! Life's too long as it is!"

With that they both laughed. Herman then skipped out of her office, while Tina grabbed her telephone to set up the flight scheduling. The game was afoot!


Chapter Two – Worldwide Enterprises

Forward to:

Chapter Four – The Return




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