Lost in the Apocalypse - Chapter 1
It had been a mistake to become so complacent. To accept the servant mentality with little hesitation. I know that now. Unfortunately, the knowledge isn’t worth the weight in blood it took to earn.
I’d always had protection. Always some guard or team member who watched my back. And never once, in this highly secured life, had I needed to think about what kind of danger the outer world could be. Or, the inner for that matter…
I was my father’s secretary, his go between. The large middle finger he used when he was done with someone. As such, it had been my job to meet with any potential business partners he didn’t want to deal with or to realign a current partner who had overstepped their bounds. He didn’t care how it was done. Just that he didn’t have to do it.
In my current position I’d found myself with meeting after meeting. My father preferred to lord from his high office in favor of open handed mediation on even the simplest of problems. I tried to be kind. To let the other in attendance down gently. To give them a semblance of professionalism even while I hid behind the safety curtain my lineage afforded me. A petty and selfish thing I was.
The worst of these meetings came as a hard hit when even Evan Richards earned no exception.
Richards was placed as CEO of his mother’s spa chain the moment he was old enough to legally take charge. Because he was young, and everything was built for him, there was little Evan wanted for. This was the issue. Keen to make deals and decisions he neglected to realize he was leader in name only and dear mommy still pulled the strings.
He’d done fine with the contracts, many earned through tips I’d given him, but he’d gotten a bit presumptuous when he dealt with my father.
Secretive and conservative, who cared not a bit for my relationship with Evan, father wanted nothing to do with Richards or his brash schemes.
You see, small deals were one thing, but Richards and his mother Sarah had been known to cause trouble. This was known to happen on random occasions especially if one or the other was in a foul mood. They would sabotage the outcome of contracts for little more than spite, just to make a point that they could. A loss on our end if we became her target. To cut the chance, father decided he wouldn’t deal with Richards. If only to ensure Sarah had no leverage on our profits.
So, father sent me once more and I agreed. My intention had been to gently inform my fiancé that our company held no interest in his proposal for the health bar line and he needed to first shore up his own company before father would even think of a deal.
And he was late. He hadn’t called. And I was losing my nerve.
“Another tea Miss Rivers,” the attractive and very attentive waitress offered as she checked on my table. I’d been there for some time and had nursed the one I’d ordered for a while now. Well more like fumed into the few cold dregs left.
“No Rachel.” I waved her offer off with as polite of a decline as I could muster. “I’ll be on my way soon if my client doesn’t show. Though I would like to place an order for your Cheese Danish, to go.”
“Your regular then?” She happily jotted down the order and gave me a bright smile.
“Extra blueberries,” She asked.
“I believe you know that answer,” I chuckled.
The warmth she brought to the conversation was welcomed, it was a privilege I enjoyed every time I brought a client to the Haverstead. It let me pretend to be a normal person. To talk to a normal person. Even if there were two bodyguards standing near the door and a handful more waiting in the wind to be called.
“I’ll get that ready for you.” She swept away and I was left to wait.
Time pandered on and I found my attention slipping. I eventually landed sight on the flat screen near the bar. It flickered between rioting mobs on a news channel and some weather report. Both looked bad.
There was an illness that went around the city. It’d gotten so bad that officials had placed a quarantine on certain areas. Even so people didn’t seem to understand the necessity to isolate their sick family members and had taken to violence in the scummier parts of the city in protest.
My mother was head of the Masson Valley Hospital OR and had even said there were people who attacked doctors and nurses over the quarantine. They had broken windows in the hospital and stolen anything left near the ER doors.
If that wasn’t bad enough there were the reports of a large storm front that moved in on us and would be here within the next week. From what I had heard it could be enough to take down power and flood the Masson River. That, in turn, would mean a good chunk of the outer city would be flooded too. A real mess.
Luckily most of that chaos and worry hadn’t bled over to the upper parts of the city. At least not too severely.
I started with a small sharp intake of breath. I’d been too taken in by the violence on the television to avoid surprise when a male voice, that bore a slight Russian accent, addressed me.
I turned to find a tall blond man in a casual grey sweater and dark jeans. He wore a pair of sunglasses that sat perched high on the scarred bridge of his nose. It wasn’t professional attire. Aside from that, he looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t place him.
I glanced to my guards for a safety confirmation. They looked alerted but didn’t move to intercept him so he’d likely passed whatever identification check they’d issued. That meant he’d been sent.
“My name is Keagan Zakharov. I’m afraid Mr. Richards is not able to make it to your meeting and sent me in his place.”
“I see.” A bit odd. Evan played with fire. Something he rarely did. “Might I ask under what authority you’re working?”
“Secretary.” The smile I received radiated cold patience. Practiced. At least this stranger seemed versed in the ways of business.
The man seated himself and leaned into his chair with a relaxed posture. To anyone else he’d have appeared comfortable, but I could see the tightness of his shoulders and the way his chin moved just enough to show he had scanned the room. My bodyguards did this often, not so much with my clients. Who had Evan sent to me?
“Might I ask what has become of Anita?” Evan’s actual secretary, or the one I knew, had been an elderly lady. She’d been his mother’s nanny growing up. I couldn’t imagine Sarah would be happy she’d been replaced. Or that Evan had been able to climb out from her skirt tales long enough for her to leave.
“Retired,” he answered simply, placing folded hands on the table as he did.
I could see a large manila envelope curled tightly in his fingers. My heart sank when I saw the branding.
“I suppose Mr. Richards told you what this meeting is about?” Unlikely, I could see this was a snub meeting. I should have known he wouldn’t come.
“Other than he happened to be too busy to come himself? No.” The man spoke like he mocked me but his expression didn’t change. He was as blank as stone. I didn’t believe he joked.
“Then that’ll make this easier.” I tried to keep the dejection out of my voice. I had hoped to avoid this but it had been a long time coming. Arranged or not, I had cared for Evan.
I removed an envelope of my own and placed it on the table.
A pure white thing it was with odd sparkles and swirls of glitter that decorated it. Even a small glance at the thing made the little sparkly abominations get on you. Evan had insisted we buy one for every invitation.
“As Mr. Richards has refused to speak with me on the phone, and now in person, on every occasion I’ve tried to reach him. I now leave this message to you to pass on.” I pushed the envelope across the table and happily watched as Mr. Zakharov inched away from it. “That is the engagement contract, signed and dated for one year. That year has passed. Mr. Richards has broken two of the agreements signed upon and thus has rendered our engagement null. Please do inform him of such.”
Rachel passed by and handed me the bag of Danish I’d ordered and my receipt from my tab’s card. I’d sat here and waited to try and fix something I’d not broken only to have this happen?
No. I stood and, in an effort to try and remain cordial despite the tears burning at my eyes, gave Mr. Zakharov a smile.
“Oh, and River’s Food and Pharmacy will no longer hold contracts with Sanctity.” I looked down at the envelope he still held, the emblem emblazoned on it from Goldenrod Inc., a rival supplier of ours. “Though I don’t think that’ll be an issue for him.”
I walked away, saddened and somewhat incensed at the audacity of Evan to even dare pull something like this. I’d went out of my way to let him down easy. To try and fix the contract and explain to him the better way to go about dealing with father, but now? Now he’d not only sent a stranger to our meeting but he’d sent an underhanded jab too.
“Miss Rivers!” Mr. Zakharov followed me out of the main room with quick strides. His height had given him an advantage.
I didn’t want to stop, but it wasn’t his fault Evan had sent him. Like me, he had only been doing his job. I paused shy of the door, where my guards waited, and turned back to allow the man to speak.
He held up the envelope for me to take. “Mr. Richard’s purpose in sending me was to escort you to him, not to fully ignore your meeting. His invitation is in the envelope.”
“I’ve no interest in meeting Mr. Richards on his terms.” I wasn’t interested in seeing him at all now. “There is nothing left for he and I to discuss.”
He didn’t press, instead he smiled at me and opened the door. “I’ll make sure Mr. Richards receives every word of your message. For what it’s worth, I told him he was being an ass.”
I almost returned his smile. Had I not been so upset I might have. “Thank you.” Was what I managed before I walked past him to find my bodyguards, who had the decency to pretend to stand at attention.
“Meeting done,” Kristoff asked. He side-eyed Zakharov but didn’t say anything else.
Kristoff had been with me for most of my life. At least since I could remember and he tended to be the most laid back with me as a person. He was also the first to react if something went wrong. His lack of action held promise.
“If by ‘meeting’, you mean her giving me a glitter bomb and stomping off, then yes. Our meeting is done,” Zakharov answered. His expression remained cold in spite of his tone or words.
“Sounds about right.” Kristoff stretched and gathered up his jacket as I handed him the danish I’d ordered for him. “Thought that dick Richards was the one supposed to come? You new,” He asked Zakharov.
“Not particularly. I’ve worked for Sanctity for almost a year now. I’ve only served as secretary for a few weeks though.” He spoke easily but with a guarded smile.
“Well it was nice to meet you, probably won’t again.” Kristoff gave Zakharov a wave before he turned to me as Lensi got his gear together. “If you’re ready we still got a lot of work to do today and I want a nap.”
“You can nap in the car old man,” I muttered but obliged and walked towards the elevator after offering Mr. Zakharov a handshake. His hand had been surprisingly much warmer than his expressions.
The ride down was tense.
“You going to be okay kid,” Kristoff asked once the door was shut and we were on our way.
“Eventually.” I knew I was being petulant. It made me feel even worse. “I had hoped it would of went differently. As it stands I’ll have to admit to father he was right.”
“Bitter pill if I ever saw one,” Lensi said as offered condolences while we filed out into the lobby and made our way to the car.
“You have no idea,” I muttered.
We make it well into traffic before my cell phone went off. I hadn’t expected anyone to call as Father had a few meetings and mother had been scheduled in the OR all day. I looked down at it. Evan’s number flashed across the screen. So Zakharov must have called and informed him of the meeting. Little good calling me now would do.
I thought about not answering but it wouldn’t help the situation. Ignore them while you smile and agree, father had always said. Keep the peace but let them know they mean nothing. He was much better at it than I. I had to try though. What little pride I had left demanded it.
So, I bite my tongue and clicked the answer button.
“Allison?” Before I could even say hello, Evan’s voice blasted in my ear. “Please say what you did was out of anger and not official!”
“It’s official. Father already signed off on the final and sent it to the lawyers with a clause placed on our meeting.” Stick to the facts Allison don’t let him drag it anywhere else.
“You can’t be serious! We need to talk! Where are you? I’ll have Keagan bring you to me.” He sounded desperate.
“No Mr. Richards. I have tried to talk to you and to see you. I am not expelling anymore energy on this now you suddenly don’t like the repercussions. The engagement is off.” I hung up and chucked my phone onto the opposing seat beside Kristoff. He gave me a measured look, the expression familiar to me as his ‘I told you so’ face.
“It’s for the best girl. You’ve been miserable and working yourself sick since this all started. You can’t say you’d be any happier keeping the engagement,” He rumbled.
I pouted. “Yeah I know.” He was right of course, but I was a bit too depressed to really accept it. I hit the radio button on my side of the console and switched it to my bluegrass collection. Kristoff knew not to push it when that came on.
It seemed to be a busy day with traffic and the going slow. Much slower than usual and with my current bratty mood I wasn’t too happy with the speed. I piped up after we’d sit still for about ten minutes and hit the intercom for the driver.
“Is there a traffic accident?” My nosiness srung in since I couldn’t see out the front of the tinted separation glass, I needed details.
“Sorry Miss, looks like it. It’s backed up bad but I can’t see the problem from where we’re at.” A bit of a brief pause then the radio clicked over from my collection to the news station. “Looks like there is a nasty warning on the news. Might be better to walk Ma’am.”
Static screeched out of the radio for a moment then a loud beep followed by a woman’s computerized voice. “Attention. Please remain calm. There are reports of riots on the following streets.” A list of local avenues and boulevards rang out followed by. “Please avoid these areas if possible. Deadly force has been authorized. All civilians are to avoid rioters and to report to the evacuation points closest to their current position,” again she rattled off a list of spots along the outer edges of the city proper. “Please be sure to have ID ready. As there is a quarantine in effect please notify any relief personnel if you are displaying symptoms.” The entire warning repeated twice more before the station resumed.
This wasn’t right. When I’d left the main building, there had been a few groups of people in the street but none of them had seemed like they were picketing. If anything, they had looked rather maudlin and lethargic. I had been in a hurry though and hadn’t really stopped to pay much attention.
“Someone probably farted sideways,” said Kristoff. “If they’re covering all of those streets though we’re not getting anywhere near the main office. Or to those evacuation points. Might need to call your father and see if he’s already been evacuated. No point in heading on if we need to get out.”
He was right. Half of the streets named led right to where we needed to go and if the building was shut down anyway. It’d be a useless struggle to try and get through. I clicked off the radio and dialed father on the car’s conference phone.
I didn’t get a reply.
“Huh.” I set it down. Then I dialed mother at the hospital. It rang a few times before there was an answer.
“Allison?” Mother sounded a bit out of breath. Not unusual, as the head surgeon she was often in a rush. But the way she said my name was off. “Are you okay! Are you still in the commercial district?”
“No. I finished a meeting at the Haverstead. We’re headed back now but I can’t get ahold of father and the streets are backed up. Something about riots and evacuations.”
“The riots? They’re near the corporate office? Shit, are you sure you can’t reach your father?”
“I only tried once.” Not exactly a hard effort on my part. “I can keep trying. I just thought he’d come down to have lunch with you.”
“No, he hasn’t. I’ve been busy dealing with injuries from riots in the slums. Are you sure the commercial district is having riots too? They’re evacuating?”
I rolled down my window and looked out. I could see the flash of lights ahead through the mass of cars and heard yells and screams from what I could only imagine were officers and rioters alike. Gunshots and shrieks and more sirens.
“Sounds like it.” Those were not happy sounds. I had my guards but there were a lot of voices out there. A lot of angry voices. There was really no way out of where we were either. We sat in the dead center of the road and there had been no movement from any of the vehicles. People even started to get out of their cars in an effort to try and see what had happened.
“Allison listen to me.” Mother’s voice was panicked now. “I need you to get out of the city. Stay away from the riots. Get as far as you can and let me know when you’re safe.”
“Mom there is a lot of work I’ve still got to do and what about dad?” Once I heard my mother use that voice I immediately dropped from professional to scared child.
“I’ll get ahold of your father. He’s probably already been evacuated if there are riots so close. Get yourself out safely and call me. Do. Not. Leave. Kristoff’s. Side! Do you understand me? Stay with Kristoff.”
“Okay I’ll head for the lake house and call you when I’m there.” I barely managed to finish my sentence before mother’s end drops the call. Overwhelmed with fear I gripped my phone. I needed think, to sort out what to do first.
“Get anything you can carry from the car,” I instruct Kristoff who gave me a curious look.
“We bailing,” He asked as he threw a glance in exchange with Lensi.
“We’re going on vacation at the lake house.” I grabbed my phone and briefcase and mentally prepared myself for the trek.