Chapter Fifteen

“You called?” Benjamin Detweiler said as he poked his head through the door Heinrich Stabolis had just opened for him.

Albrecht Detweiler looked up from the paperwork on his display and raised one eyebrow at the oldest of his sons. Of course, Benjamin wasn’t just his son, but very few people were aware of how close the relationship actually was.

“Have I mentioned lately,” Albrecht said, “that I find your extreme filial respect very touching?”

“No, somehow I think that slipped your mind, Father.”

“I wonder why that could possibly be?” Albrecht mused out loud, then pointed at one of the comfortable chairs in front of his desk. “Why don’t you just park yourself right there, young man,” he said in the stern tone he’d used more than once during Benjamin’s adolescent career.

“Yes, Father,” Benjamin replied in a tone which was far more demure and chastened sounding than Albrecht recalled ever having heard out of him during that same adolescent career.

The younger Detweiler “parked” himself and folded his hands in his lap while he regarded his father with enormous attentiveness, and Albrecht shook his head. Then he looked at Stabolis.

“I’m sure I’m going to regret this in the fullness of time, Heinrich, but would you be kind enough to get Ben a bottle of beer? And go ahead and open one for me at the same time, please. I don’t know about him, but I feel depressingly confident that I’m going to need a little fortification.”

“Of course, Sir,” his enhanced bodyguard replied gravely. “If you really think he’s old enough to be drinking alcohol, that is.”

Stabolis had known Benjamin literally from birth, and the two of them exchanged smiles. Albrecht, on the other hand, shook his head and sighed theatrically.

“If he’s not old enough yet, he never will be, Heinrich,” he said. “Go ahead.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Stabolis departed on his errand, and Albrecht tipped back his chair in front of the window with its magnificent view of powdery sand and dark blue ocean. He gave his son another smile, but then his expression sobered.

“Seriously, Father,” Benjamin said, responding to Albrecht’s change of expression, “why did you want to see me this morning?”

“We just got confirmation that the Manties’ survey expedition got to Verdant Vista six weeks ago,” his father replied, and Benjamin grimaced.

“We knew it was going to happen eventually, Father,” he pointed out.

“Agreed. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make me any happier now that it’s gone ahead and actually happened.” Albrecht smiled sourly. “And the fact that the Manties ultimately decided to let Kare head the team makes me even less happy than I might have been otherwise.”

“One could have hoped that the fact that the Manties and the Havenites are shooting at each other again would have made them a little less likely to cooperate on something like this,” Benjamin acknowledged dryly.

“Fair’s fair –” Albrecht began, then paused and looked up with a smile as Stabolis returned to the office with the promised bottles of beer. Father and son each accepted one of them, and Stabolis raised an eyebrow at Albrecht.

“Go ahead and stay, Heinrich,” the senior Detweiler replied in answer to the unspoken question. “By this time, you already know ninety-nine percent of all my deepest darkest secrets. This one isn’t going to make any difference.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Stabolis settled into his usual on-duty position in the chair beside the office door, and Albrecht turned back to Benjamin.

“As I was saying, fair’s fair. They aren’t really cooperating, you know. They’ve just agreed to refrain from breaking each other’s kneecaps where Verdant Vista is concerned, and we both know why that is.”

“They do tend to hold their little grudges where Manpower is concerned, don’t they?” Benjamin remarked whimsically.

“Yes, they do,” Albrecht agreed. “And that pain in the ass Hauptman isn’t making things any better.”

“Father, Klaus Hauptman’s been pissing you off for as long as I can remember. Why don’t you just go ahead and have Collin and Isabel get rid of him? I know his security’s good, but it’s not that good, you know.”

“I’ve considered it — believe me, I’ve considered it more than once!” Albrecht shook his head. “One reason I haven’t gone ahead and done it is that I decided a long time ago that I’d better try not to get into the habit of having people assassinated just because it might ease my blood pressure. Given the number of unmitigated pains in the ass there are, I’d keep Isabel employed full time, and it would still be a case of weeding the tomato patch. However many weeds you get rid of this week, there’s going to be a fresh batch next week. Besides, I’ve always felt restraint builds character.”

“Maybe so, but I figure there has to be more to it than self-discipline were Hauptman is concerned.” Benjamin snorted. “Mind you, I agree about the asshole quotient of the galaxy, but he’s one asshole who’s demonstrated often enough that he can cause us a lot of grief. And he’s been so openly opposed to Manpower for so long that having him taken out in an obviously ‘Manpower’-backed operation couldn’t possibly point any suspicion in our direction.”

“You’ve got a point,” Albrecht agreed more seriously. “Actually, I did very seriously consider having him assassinated when he came out so strongly in support of those Ballroom lunatics in Verdant Vista. Unfortunately, getting rid of him would only leave us with his daughter Stacey, and she’s just as bad as he is already. If ‘Manpower’ went ahead and whacked her daddy, she’d be even worse. In fact, I suspect she’d probably move making problems for us up from number three or four on her ‘Things to Do’ list to number one. An emphatic number one. And given the fact that she’d control sixty-two percent of the Hauptman cartel’s voting stock outright, once she inherited her father’s shares, the problems she could make for us would be pretty spectacular. This survey business and those frigates they’ve been building for the Ballroom wouldn’t be a drop in the bucket compared to what she’d do then.”

“So take them both out at once,” Benjamin suggested. “I’m sure Isabel could handle it, if she put her mind to it. And she’s Hauptman’s only kid, and she doesn’t have any children of her own yet, which only leaves some fairly distant cousins as potential heirs. I doubt that all of them share the depths of her and her father’s anti-slavery prejudices. And even if they did, I imagine that spreading her stock around to so many people who’d all have legitimately different agendas of their own would end up with the family control of the cartel finding itself severely diluted.”

“No,” Albrecht said sourly, “it wouldn’t.”

“It wouldn’t?” Benjamin’s surprise showed.

“Oh, having both of them killed would dilute the Hauptman family’s control, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, it would only hand that selfsame control over to another family we have reason to be less than fond of.”