Chapter 14: Fools Rush In – part 3
Daniel rang the door chime to Myers’ quarters out of strategy, not necessity. Best to let the brat think he had some degree of control. Like father, like son.
When no one responded Daniel tried again. Mattioni had insisted that the boy had been there for hours and was currently alone. The conversation would go better if Ashlynn weren’t around.
The door remained closed, so Daniel elected to show a bit of his hand. He entered his override code in the electronic lock’s keypad, but didn’t step inside when the door slid open. Slightly cooler air carrying the spicy aroma of Tex-Mex food wafted over him. “Jacob,” he called, “it’s Dr. Gibson. I’m coming in.”
Daniel strode through the small entryway into the living room. He wasn’t surprised to find Jake standing in the entrance to the kitchen, arms crossed. “What do you want?” The skinny kid’s voice was flat, like Almeida’s was (and Myers’ had been) when he did his weird alien thing. Daniel now found it more annoying that creepy.
Wearing an appropriately concerned look, Daniel said, “Are you okay? Your teachers said that you didn’t show up for classes today.”
Daniel held back a laugh from the blatant lie. “Where’s your father?”
“Away on business.” Jake’s poker face was perfect.
So that’s how he wants to play it. After mentally reviewing his options, Daniel motioned at the kitchen. “I need to speak with you, Jake. May I come in?”
“Whatever.” The brat turned his back and returned to the tile and stainless steel room.
Daniel resisted the urge to strangle the boy; he was just as impertinent as his father. Amazing how five percent of my employees cause 90% of the trouble.
He entered the kitchen to find Jake standing at the stove stirring strips of meat and vegetables in a frying pan. A package of tortillas sat on the granite countertop beside a dinner plate. Daniel decided to make one last attempt at civility. “Do you make dinner for yourself a lot?”
“Sometimes,” Jake shrugged.
Fed up, Daniel cut to the chase. “We both know that your father isn’t away on business.”
The brat exchanged the stirring spoon for a vial of ground red pepper. He wordlessly sprinkled the spice into the pan, then resumed stirring.
“Your father isn’t coming back,” Daniel continued.
Jake’s hand halted. “Of course he is.”
Daniel mustered as much false sympathy as he could manage. “I’m sorry, Jake, but he’s not. Someone needed to tell you, and that job fell to me.”
Jake moved the pan to a cold burner, then turned to Daniel, stony-faced. “What happened?”
“I won’t mince words, Jake. I know that you and your sister were involved with your parents’ little rebellion.” Daniel paused, hoping for a reaction from the boy. There was none. “I won’t hold you accountable for their actions. Triptych is bigger than all of us, Jake. You need to choose your allegiances.”
An emotion momentarily disturbed Jake’s mask. “My allegiance is to my family. All you care about is yourself.”
Daniel shook his head sadly, which only required a little exaggeration. “Not true. I care about Triptych, and serving Triptych in turn helps me. Unfortunately your father put his interests before everything else. Including you and your family.”
Jake’s facade finally cracked. Although he stood still, his fists clenched and tension laced his voice. “You don’t know my dad, and you don’t know anything about family!”
“You don’t know me, Jake.” Daniel took a breath before continuing. He hadn’t wanted to dredge up these memories, but they’d be effective. “I had a family once.” Jake laughed, but Daniel kept talking. “A wife and a son, Samantha and Ryan. I’m here today because Samantha put her interests before Ryan’s and mine.”
Jake’s eyes narrowed. “You’re lying.”
“I’m not. See for yourself.” He didn’t like inviting cocky, too-smart psychics into his head, but in this case it was useful. Knowing that Mattioni was keeping an eye on him from afar helped his resolve.
The brat’s stance relaxed a bit. Having gained some ground, Daniel added, “Somehow a beautiful baby boy, a gorgeous house, and a generous allowance wasn’t enough. Samantha’s drinking turned to drugs. We tried to get a handle on it, if only for Ryan’s sake, but nothing worked.”
Jake looked away from Daniel, fidgeting. “Where are they now?”
“Dead.” The boy’s eyes snapped back to Daniel’s. Letting the old hurt wash over him, Daniel continued, “Her negligence killed them both.”
Sympathy softened Jake’s expression briefly. Then his lips pressed into a thin line. “My dad’s nothing like that!”
“Your parents attacked me knowing that they’d likely fail,” Daniel said, stepping forward. “Where does that leave you and your sister?”
Jake put one foot back, but held his ground. “Shut up!”
“They left you alone.” Daniel took another step, and Jake retreated. “They’re obsessed with each other. Their needs before yours.” The boy’s eyes unfocused for a moment, and then he gasped. “I needed to talk to you alone, Jake. Your sister is fine. I’m trying to help you. Both of you.”
Jake took another step back, shaking his head. Daniel didn’t follow; he was winning. The boy whispered, “Where are Mom and Dad?”
“In the infirmary.” A flurry of emotion flashed in Jake’s dark eyes. Daniel added quickly, “They’re not hurt, and you’ll see them soon. Then you’ll all have choices to make.”
Daniel shook his head sadly. “Life isn’t fair, and Triptych is even less so. You’ll be here for the next six years at least. That time could go smoothly or… not. The choice is yours.”
Jake gulped. “I’m just a kid.”
“I’m afraid it’s time to grow up,” Daniel said, pretending the brat were Ryan. That’s the only way he’d have any sympathy for the person-shaped experiment standing before him. Then he turned on his heel and headed for the door. “Thank your parents.”