“You and I both know the truth,” I replied.

“And what is that truth?”

I wasn’t playing this game with him. “I’m not going to say it again, you old, ungrateful bastard,” I explained in no uncertain terms as I turned to face him. “Don’t play stupid with me.”

“Very well then,” he wickedly grinned. “Word is that the king is dying, and the castle will be left woefully unguarded. In fact, judging by the paleness of his face…I’m inclined to believe that the king is dying perhaps a bit ahead of schedule?”

Of course he can see that, I angrily observed.

“It is always such a shame when one so young, so capable, dies before meeting one’s prime,” Coppersmith remarked with a carefree, aloof air. “Tell me, what is your contingency in this matter? Surely you have some sort of plan in mind? Not that it’ll matter in the long run, really.”

“What are you doing to my staff?” I demanded to know.

“You should answer my question first,” the ancient windbag smugly remarked. “It’s only polite, you know. Respecting one’s elders.”

“I sign your checks, old man.”

“Amusingly, it is I who has the luxury of time.”

I glared him down, and his ridiculous grin stretched even wider across his lips. Before I could reply, a coughing fit racked me again, and I pressed a palm down against the desk to steady myself as I withstood a tremendously painful burst of rapid, staggering coughs. My lungs whipped into a furious blaze, the fire flickering up my raw esophagus; my shoulders rocked as my throat struggled desperately for air.


All the while, Coppersmith simply relaxed in his chair, delighting in the front-row seat to my suffering. The smugness was still evident across his face, but his snarky smile slow slid away. Instead, he simply dared to look bored, as if annoyed that I still breathed at all.

I pulled my handkerchief back from my lips, horrified at the sight of bright, copious blood. As I recognized the metallic taste in my mouth, Coppersmith simply sighed.

“You’re on your last days,” he observed calmly. “Not much longer now, is it?”

“What is it that you want?” I demanded between groans. “Whatever you’re doing…why? Haven’t I treated you fairly? Haven’t I bent over backwards to please you?”

Coppersmith leaned in closely, every pretense gone from his sagging, ancient face. There was nothing but cold, dark fury in his eyes as his timbre met a deep growl.

“What do I want, you ask?”

I silently watched him.

“I want every trace of you gone, and my son’s rightful place in this company – his legacy – restored to the proper balance. I want you dead and buried while his work lives on.”

“Your son is dead,” I told him, “and I have dedicated my life to putting his dreams to reality. I have committed every waking hour to lifting his ideas to fruition, and I offered you a place here to honor him. Everything I have done, I did for Hunter. How do you not see that?”

“LIES!” He shrieked, swiping his gnarled arm across the desk and knocking papers, folders, and ornaments to a clatter against the floor. “You dare lie to Devin J. Coppersmith? You bastardized him! You stole from him! You were there! You should have saved him! But no, you filthy, degenerate son of a whore, you weren’t there when he needed you, and in death you betrayed him, you thieving scum!”

“You honestly believe this complete and total fucking bullshit, don’t you?” I asked, my thoughts a mixture of horror and disappointment. “He willed me his work, he asked that I continue it. What sort of depraved monster must you be to punish me for honoring his wishes?”

“It’s a forgery! You put him up to it! Maybe you’re the one who tied the fucking noose.”

I saw Coppersmith for the first time then and there, who he really was. I knew he was still in pain, and he always would be; it was clear as day that he clung to the memory of his son. But I never dreamed that he would fall so low as to blame me for any of this.

Whatever petty little cloud he had cast over the staff, it was born out of this irrational hatred. I should have seen it sooner. I should have known that he was a poisonous firecracker, desperate to set off a chain reaction to undermine me somehow. I still needed answers, and I didn’t have nearly enough information to understand what he was doing, but he was right…

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