Henry frowned inwardly. Champagne truffles were a bullshit chocolate, and he resented their existence. Still, it was in his mouth now. He was more or less committed.
“You hate those ones.” Deadpanned Lucas.
How could he even tell what kind it was? Smartass. As he lay, sprawled along the pool chair, Henry conceded that he could probably have actually looked into the box of chocolates on his groin before picking one. That, however, would have been totally contrary to his purpose. He was idling, damn it, a pursuit that he took incredibly seriously. It was his artform. A lesser practitioner might have moved their neck to see the box, or moved their shades to be able to see the chocolate as it meandered towards the mouth. A true amateur might even actually venture into the pool. Henry would not be moved. For today, he was a virtuoso of sloth, a doyen of indolence, an imperator of inactivity.
Salted caramel. For fuck’s sake.
“You hate those ones, too.” Lucas was still there. Great. “Honestly, I’m beginning to question your whole plan of action here.”
“It’s a plan of inaction, dipshit. Now leave me alone. The wife’s out sleeping around, so I’ve got the pool. We take turns.”
“I’m not going to do that. We have business to discuss.”
“No, we don’t. We absolutely do not. That’s your thing. Go home and have a little finance party with Martha, or whatever it is you two do.”
Lucas sighed. After the first sigh, it was pretty much plain sailing to all the way under his skin.
“Fine. Let me lead with the part you’ll like – dad prefers you to me.”
“Well, obviously.” Henry took a brief pause to radiate smugness. “And you’re right. I do like that. But what does it matter to you?”
“It matters because he’s planning on leaving all of his assets to you when he dies.”
That almost made him sit up. So strong was the instinct to move that he was forced to quell it with another chocolate.
Hazelnut praline. Dreadful.
“And none…” he smirked, flecks of gooey, half chewed milk chocolate in his teeth. “… to you?”
“That is correct.”
“Well? That sounds perfect to me. Please leave.”
“I know this is going to be a struggle for you, but please stop and think about this. Dad dies. Everything goes to you. You keep waddling about like you always have done. You end up broke. I’m still rich. You lose.”
Lucas must have thought he was a genuine idiot. Still, it was worth humouring the poor sap, for entertainment if nothing else.
“You’re right. No way in hell I’m giving that pile of musty old papers a moment of my time. I take it you have a suggestion?”
“Correct again. You cede the whole estate to me. I take care of the boring end of things, and you get a cut. A bigger cut than you’re getting now, because dad is incompetent. You get to keep… having sex and failing to enjoy chocolates. Or whatever it is you do. I don’t care, honestly.”
“Yes. Dad wants you to take the business because he knows you won’t do anything with it, and he’ll get to enjoy his chain of posthumous phallic monuments in major cities. I’m just going to make money, pure and simple. Well, it’s actually rather complex, but you don’t need to worry about that part. If we leave all the other arrangements in place, we both come out on top. Everyone wins.”
His elder brother seemed to think that he would be willing to leave his money in the hands of somebody who both openly loathed him and openly loved the acquisition of wealth. Poor Lucas. The fact that he was genuinely quite good at some things had been shockingly effective at blinding him to the many, many things at which he was risibly poor. Henry held no such pretensions. He was arrogant, true, and proudly so. But his air of superiority did not come from any heightened perception of his own abilities. It came from the fact that it simply didn’t matter how competent he was. Whatever he did, be it a stroke of genius or a feat of dazzling idiocy, the outcome was the same. He would still find himself laying in the sun, with another fond memory in his brain and another box of chocolates on his lap.
Almond praline. Ridiculous.
“Well?” Asked Lucas, impatience straining through the sieve of his demeanour.
“Hmm? Oh, I drifted off. What do you want?”
“I know you heard me the first time.”
“… fine. I refuse.”
“What.” Lucas was being confronted with his plan’s failure. His outward features grew all the more staid, which was a sure indicator that he was internally distraught. At times like these, Henry found imitation to be the highest form of mockery.
“I know you heard me the first time.”
Walnut praline. At this point, it was clear that he was the victim of some grand cosmic joke.
“Of course I did.” Lucas’s voice was at a half-snarl. “I’m taking this seriously. Perhaps you should do the same. I’m offering you large profits for no labour. That’s the holy grail. I appreciate that your mind is about as rancid as your personality, but even you can’t be that stupid.”
“Large profits for no labour? You mean… like this?” He made a floppy waving gesture with his hand, to indicate all the chintz and splendour of their surroundings. “Sorry, Lucas. Already got that. You’re coming at me with an offer that I can easily, easily refuse.”
Lucas sighed again. The second sigh was the finishing line. He had given up on attempting to regulate his emotions, even if he was yet to realise it himself. As he always did, he had lost both his cool and his negotiating position.
“Henry, there’s something wrong with you. I swear to god. You must be the only person I know who took their silver spoon and cashed out on day one. Look at you! You’re completely inert. You don’t create anything, say anything, do anything. You’re not real! You don’t exist. You’ve got no…“
“Ambition? Ambition, dear brother, is for people who don’t already have what they want. If you actually want ambition, you’re screwed.”
He picked an insufferable grin from his repertoire and made sure to hold it for long enough that Lucas had time truly to appreciate the craftsmanship
“Well, it’s been working just fine for me so far.” Lucas’ attempts to regain his idea of a strong, composed persona were frankly adorable. Ever since they were children, he’d made a big show out of being above it all. Henry had a lifetime’s experience of deconstructing those particular sleights of hand – not that it was really needed. “Care to look at my portfolio?”
“I think I’ll pass. Tell me – you really think you’re happier than me?”
“Of course. I have purpose. Dignity. I’m a model citizen, a model businessman. You’re… you.”
“And yet I’m the one sitting here, having a nice time. Lazing, you could say, on this sunny afternoon. And you’re the one who came all the way out here to try and con his brother out of an inheritance that you don’t even need.”
“That is not…”
“Yes, it is. I get it. You’re smarter than me. You could easily outmanoeuvre me, but you’ve convinced yourself that it would be so easy that you don’t even have to try. Leave the not trying to me, man. You’re clearly not cut out for it.”
Time, he felt, for a victory chocolate.
80% cacao. The absolute worst. The snake lurking in the confectionery-themed Garden of Eden. This was no mere champagne truffle, no trifling praline. There was simply no way to endure such torment. He spat the partly-chewed mess out with such force that it arced gracefully over his shirt, leaving a trail of dark, brown rainfall from his chin to his knee before reaching its final rest in the shallow end of the pool.
At that point, quite unexpectedly, Lucas’ entire form seemed to pulse with rage.
“That…” rasped Lucas. “That right there is everything I hate about you and your shameless little world. You’ve got no tolerance for anything with character, anything with substance, anything even a little bit bitter to go with the constant, nauseating torrent of saccharine bullshit that you insist on guzzling down. Saccharine bullshit that you don’t even like! Your whole lifestyle is based on the idea that everything needs to be sweet, fluffy and free of substance, except, of course, for whatever substance you’ve chosen to abuse that day. The idea that whoever is living with the fewest savoury notes in their life is somehow winning. And you all just play along with it! What? Who made the decision and why are you all so content to eat it up?”
Henry was forced to raise an eyebrow. This really was a step or two above the usual results for baiting Lucas.
“Let me give you a quick history lesson. Your favourite little treat there started life in central America as a vessel for heat and bitterness. Something that was thought of as medicinal, spiritual. That’s the world people used to live in. And now look! We’ve built ourselves a world of glittery champagne truffles and people like you are tricking yourselves into thinking it’s paradise. Well fuck that, and fuck you. I’m done trying to communicate with you and your gaggle of selfish imbeciles. Dad’s going to give me the assets anyway if I give him a token show of filial piety. Then we’ll see how much allowance I think you deserve. Have a nice day.”
With that, he stood, turned, and stormed away, in the manner of somebody who wasn’t at all accustomed to putting on such displays. So, Lucas had another way of screwing him after all. To Henry’s mind, that fact made the whole song and dance preceding it seem a little pointless, but he had never claimed to understand his brother’s perspective. Perhaps it would work, and he would be left destitute, broken and alone. Lucas almost certainly hoped so, moral titan that he was. Perhaps it would fail, and business would carry on as usual. Either way, he wasn’t about to do anything about it. He had his principles, and he would not be moved.