While you don’t need to read anything prior to this, I suggest you check out The Initiative first
Delancey St. Clair hadn’t arrived at the law offices of Holler, Grim, Alberich & Mors later than 7:50 a.m. in five years. On his first day at Holler, Grim, Alberich, & Mors–known by employees as “the Firm”–he was ten minutes late and thought he was going to lose his job and breakfast during the earsplitting lecture from his superior. Since then, come blazing heat, deluge, or freak blizzard, he was on time. The newest receptionist smiled timidly at him, sliding through the elevator doors before they snapped shut. Del smiled back; she was cuter than the last one. He knew he made them nervous, always arriving before they opened the office. A silly tenet of office protocol, really. Some people never left, showering in the company gym’s locker-room and keeping three extra suits around. At the Firm, the lights were always on and the place was never entirely empty.
He winked at the new girl as she settled herself behind the tall mahogany and glass desk. The walls across from her were covered in awards: Boston Business of the year, nine years running, the Beacon Award for Diversity and Inclusion, four years running, and countless other plaques and meticulously framed certificates–all polished to a mirror-like sheen. He wondered briefly when the cleaning staff came in; he never remembered seeing anyone. Shrugging it off as another of the Firm’s many mysteries, he continued down the thickly carpeted hallway to his office. In one of the offices across from his, several men in worker’s coveralls were ripping up the carpet. Del shook his head; they went through too much carpet here–especially with the new Executive Partner. He paused to admire his nameplate–Delancy St. Clair, Associate Partner–the black letters were still bold against the brass plate, barely a month old. Of course, it didn’t matter that there were dozens upon dozens of Associate Partners at the Firm, it was just another rung on the ladder.
Del slid into the buttery-soft leather chair and started up his computer, drumming his fingers on his glass-topped desk. His law degree from Louisiana State University hung on one wall and a bookshelf of various law books lined the other. He had a few decorative items from his travels–some of his more unique cases often took him out of Boston–but no photos. No clutter, he thought, surveying the room. The third wall, behind him, was solid glass and if he glanced over his shoulder, he would see fog draping the buildings in Back Bay. It was his favorite time of year–when fall was flirting with winter and the trees still wore manes of riotous gold and flame.
He skimmed his emails, consigning some to the trash and answering others. he’d wrapped up a tough case the week before–another “W” added to his record–and was grateful it had been a relatively slow week. He could use a few days to unwind. But the week was almost done and Del felt twitchy. He ran a hand through his dark hair–worn longer than most considered professional and certainly long enough to irritate his mother–and adjusted his silk tie. Eyeing his spam folder, he noticed it was fuller than usual and opened it, scanning through misspelled advertisements for porn sites masquerading as online dating services and phishing scams. As he reached the bottom, he saw three emails; each sent a day apart the week before from the same address. He didn’t recognize it–WilhmMurray17@aol.com–but the subject line sent his heart rocketing into his throat before sending it down to rest in the toes of his handmade Italian leather shoes. All three had a single word in the subject line: Budapest.
Del’s mouse hovered over the first message, sent at 4:26 a.m. on October 23rd. He swiveled around to face the Boston skyline instead. The fog blurred the tops of the tallest building into the slate-colored sky and for a moment, instead of the towering glass peak of the John Hancock building, he saw the white spires and brick colored domes of Budapest’s Parliament building, and, just beyond it, the flash of the Danube. He swore suddenly, violently, and glanced over his shoulder at the thick door. Keep it together , he told himself. Turning back to the desk he rubbed his hand roughly across his chin before clicking on the first email.
It’s Budapest all over again, but this time, you’re sleeping with the monsters.
He exhaled slowly, it was more concise than he expected–not that it made much sense. He clicked the second.
I know who you work for. Bastard.
This was was unsigned by even a single letter, but it was unmistakeable. After the first shock of seeing “Budapest” and realizing the sender could only be one person, Del felt calmer. He clicked the final email.
Top of the Hub, 3:00 p.m. November 8th.
He felt chilled as he double checked the date; November 8th. Damn her , he thought. He clicked the reply button. The blinking cursor reminded him of an animated exclamation mark, silently demanding an answer.
Lovely to hear from you. I can’t remember the last time we spoke–must have been at the ballet in Hungary. I apologize for my delayed response; I hope you haven’t made other plans. I will meet you at the Top of the Hub at 3:00 p.m. today.
Delancey St. Clair