The table across from them placed their orders – wagyū, well done. Both Lucas and Lucas Sr. sneered, the derisory curl of their lips almost identical.
“People shouldn’t be allowed in here if they’re going to ruin the product.” Growled the father.
“Well.” Said the son. “I expect you’re happy to take their money either way.”
Senior grunted and made the first incision into his own steak (rare, of course). Lucas sat and watched the old man chew. That had always been the rule. Father wins the bread, and so he gets to break it first. Senior swallowed with a coarse, disinterested motion that seemed entirely disrespectful of the exorbitant prices that his hotel charged for the cut. Everything’s free when you already own it.
With that little ritual observed, Lucas was free to start. He sliced into the meat, immediately releasing a juicy slick of myoglobin onto his sleeve. Swearing all the while, he made a series of hurried, futile attempts at applying a napkin to the stain.
“Two left hands.” Grunted Senior. “Same as ever.”
“Two right hands.” He quipped. His father looked momentarily confused. “I’m left handed.”
“It’s an expression, dipshit. Don’t get smart.”
Lucas took his bite, giving particular attention to the mouthfeel, the structure of the meat. It really was a good restaurant. Shame about the owner.
“That’s interesting.” He replied, eventually. “That’s pretty much all Henry does, and you don’t seem to mind.”
Henry was the younger son, Lucas’ brother.
“Henry’s a playboy. It’s his job to be disrespectful. You don’t have an excuse.”
“You say playboy, I say profligate.”
Senior plunged his next bite into the jus. “Profligacy.” He said, bringing the fork to his mouth. “Is good business.”
“That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard you say. And believe me, the competition is stiff.”
“Oh? You’re giving me business lessons now? I don’t think you know whose world you’re stepping into, kid.”
“Sure, dad. You’re the big-dick magnate, Henry’s the untouchable bon-vivant, and I’ve got more assets to my name than both of you combined. If we’re talking business sense, you’re both microbes compared to me.”
Senior laughed. A thick, nostalgic, malicious chuckle, like honeyed toast and poison.
“There’s your problem, my boy. You’re narrow minded. Only looking at one thing. You think I give a fuck about money?”
“I think almost every fuck you’ve ever given has been about money.”
“Then you’re wrong. And watch your mouth. Money’s a stepping stone, not a destination. I’m in it for greatness. For dynasty. You boys are extensions of that. And frankly, only one of you is pulling your weight. It ain’t you.”
That remark came dangerously close to getting a rise out of him. He squashed the urge. Pettiness and emotivity had always been the biggest constraints on the family empire. That would change, under his guidance.
“Henry’s a millstone. You’re a dinosaur. I fail to see how I’m the one failing to meet expectations. Fuck, any random handful of items in my portfolio is worth more than this hotel that you seem to think is such a big deal.”
“Uh-huh. Truth is, this hotel, or any of the others, has more value than you do. Wanna know why?”
“Oh, by all means. Please enlighten me.”
“Because people can actually see it. It’s real. It’s got my name on it – our name on it. They can look at it and think ‘gee, whoever owns that fucking matters’.”
“Sure. Or they can look at the numbers and realise what’s really going on.”
“They can. But they won’t. The hotels have presence, legacy. They mean something. Your little numbers games don’t mean shit outside of their own bubble. And hey, the people in that bubble think you’re hot stuff. Nobody else does. Henry, on the other hand…”
“The entire world thinks that Henry’s an incorrigible little prick!”
“And they’re not wrong. But they think that he’s a rich little prick. And they know he exists, and they know he has our surname. Dynasty, junior. By your standards, heck, even by mine, he’s throwing around chump change. But that’s pocket money that makes the world look, makes them think that this family is powerful, relevant, and can do whatever it wants. There are quite literally millions of people who read about him every week but couldn’t pick you out of a line-up. When it comes to respect, the kid’s doing his bit.”
“Respect? They hate him! I don’t know how much of a brain you had to begin with, but you must be running on scraps by now. There is no world where Henry draws more respect to the family, to the ‘dynasty’, than I do. I’m eminently respectable. He’s openly loathed.”
“No world? You’re sitting in it, asshat. Every time Henry cheats on his trophy wife, it’s worth more to us than your whole marriage, every time -”
“You mean my stable marriage, founded on ten years of mutual love and respect?”
“Yeah, that one. Nobody cares. Nobody even knows what your wife does.”
“Martha is a professor of economics.”
“See! How dull is that? People don’t know who she is. They know Henry’s wife. They know every prostitute, every drug-fuelled misdemeanour, every ostentatious display of idiocy. And that shit’s practically free.”
“All you’re doing is reminding me of how much of an animal he is. No dignity whatsoever. If that’s the flag you want to fly, you’ve got less self-respect than I thought.”
There was that laugh again. Some people spent hours every day stoking their own resentment. Lucas only needed the memory of one sound.
“Oh, he’s an animal all right. Of course he is. But he’s an exotic one. A showpiece. The crown jewel of the family menagerie. Point is, the little peacock splashing money around in public does far more than you accruing it in private. Come on, now. You know it. You’re a dumbass, but you’re smart.”
They ate in silence for a while. Quietly and inexorably, Lucas’ emotions got the better of him. Powerless, frustrated anger rushed through his skin and muscles, easily overwhelming his inner stoicism but being mostly contained by its outer counterpart. His father smirked.
“Look.” Said the old man at last. “Let’s get down to business. As it stands, you ain’t getting shit when I’m gone.”
“What.” Lucas’ face contorted into the briefest of snarls, a microexpressive lapse. Regaining his composure, he still found himself with nothing more to say. “What.”
Lucas Senior laughed, once again – treacle, whiskey and thumbtacks.
“Thought that might put a little fire in your belly.”
“Then you were wrong.” He retorted, unconvincingly.
“Point is, there’s no point me leaving any assets to you. You’d just chew them up and shit them out as bonds and funds. You’re a fucking tardigrade, kid.”
“A tardigrade? That’s a… creative insult.”
“Who said I can’t innovate? Besides, the glove fits. In financial terms, you’re practically invincible. But nobody can see you and nobody’s ever heard of you. Henry’s like a… a panda or some shit. A pointless wreck of a lifeform that can’t survive on it’s own, but draws crowds like nothing you’ve ever seen.”
“And you want to give your money to the philandering, criminal, piece-of-shit panda?”
“Correct.” Senior was plainly enjoying this. “The tardigrade does nothing for me, and doesn’t need any help to do it. The panda shows the world that my empire is capable of sustaining a panda. Pretty clear choice, if you ask me.”
“I’m the eldest.”
“Also correct. Always were the sharpest hammer on the rack.”
“That doesn’t mean anything to an old dragon like you? Primogeniture?”
“You learn that one at college? Anyway, it does mean something. If you were even a little bit less pointless, I’d reconsider. But, as it stands, you’re not.”
Lucas took a deep, growling breath. His father, in his own fundamentally wrong way, was right. He didn’t need the assets. He could generate equivalent wealth in a few short years. And if a self-indulgent desire for legacy was Senior’s concern (as it clearly was), then he was right to be cautious. Lucas didn’t know all the details, but he could be pretty sure that most of these flashy holdings would be better off dissolved.
“Sounds to me.” He said, with a mixture of feigned trepidation and genuine uncertainty as to how the situation would unfold. “That you’re willing to make a deal.”
“There’s my boy. Smartest ant in the farm.”
“Fine. Let’s get it over with. What do you want?”
“Haven’t you been listening? I want you to go out there and make a splash. Make the world know who you are. Show ‘em that our name does whatever the fuck it wants, consequences be damned. Stop being a tardigrade, start being a dancing bear.”
It would have been tempting to attribute that rather unflattering metaphor to Senior’s poor grasp of rhetoric, but Lucas knew that it was probably intentional. His father wanted a public display of bravado, but a private one of subservience. In the more rational corner of his brain, Lucas told his father where he could go and what he could do while he was there, then proceeded to walk away. In practical terms, he had nothing to gain from this arrangement. He had worked very hard, and very shrewdly, to become a tardigrade. He was immensely proud of it. Lucas was not currently residing in that rational corner. He had gone walkabouts. There was a throbbing pain in his hand, a result of having gripped his knife so hard that its handle had broken the skin on his palm. Images of Henry’s consumingly smug face filled his mind, the sound of his permanent and unmerited condescension forming a melody of call-and-response with his father’s mulled, acidic chuckle.
“Fine.” He said. “Have it your way.”
The End (i)