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Authors: Patrick E. McLean

Hostile Takeover

BOOK: Hostile Takeover
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CONTENTS

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Aftermatter

The World's Most Dangerous Blurb

copyright

For all the Underdogs

CHAPTER ONE

A small man sat manacled to a metal chair in a dark room. He was wearing the tattered remnants of a child's superhero costume. The skintight suit was not flattering. The cape was torn and there were burn marks in several places. Clearly, the recent past had not been kind to Topper Haggleblat.

The present wasn't holding much promise either. Topper didn't know where he was, he didn't know how he had gotten there, but he knew what was coming next. As a criminal defense attorney, he knew all the tricks the law dogs used when they had a man in an interrogation room. All two of them.

The point of an interrogation isn't to learn something new. Topper knew that they didn't even start asking questions until they had their story figured out. That makes the point of an interrogation to break a suspect.

There was a time in his life when Topper would have cursed and spit in their eye. Told them in colorful, high-pitched shrieks where they could put their questions and which way they could twist them after they had been properly inserted. There was a time when Topper would have fought them so hard that at the end of the day the guy asking the questions would have gone home feeling like he had been beaten with clubs, while Topper would have gone back to his cell and masturbated just to make his jailers uncomfortable.

Throughout his interrogation, he would have told them, again and again, that they better let him go. Because his employer was Edwin Windsor. And nobody who crossed Edwin Windsor ever got away with it.

But that wasn't true anymore. Those days had passed. Edwin had been crossed, and Edwin had been killed. And Topper, well, this was all that was left of him.

The little man hung his head, and wiped away tears. If you had asked him why he was crying, he would have snarled, "Take your pick." It was the lowest moment of his life. Well, so far.

On the other side of the room, Topper heard a door open. This sound was followed closely by the scrape of a wooden chair on the cold concrete floor. That would be the interrogator, thought Topper. But he wasn't the person to worry about. Somewhere in this dark room there was a mirror. And behind that mirror was a guy. The guy behind the guy. If Topper cared, that would be the guy he would worry about. But Topper didn't care.

When the bright spotlight flooded his face, Topper thought, ah, screw this. They're all a bunch of douchebags anyway. Why should I let them have any fun?

"I confess," said Topper. "I confess to it all."

"Confess to what?" asked the interrogator.

"Whatever you got," sneered Topper.

"We want you to tell us what happened."

"You know what happened. And if you don't, then go screw, I'm not here to entertain you."

"I have lots of time," said the interrogator.

"You think I got someplace to be?" asked Topper. "You think I got a girlfriend or a cocktail party or a bowling league or a bar mitzvah I'm missing? You think my Mary Kay sales are really gonna slump this quarter? Pfaahhh! Just lock me away. Quit wasting my time."

"Do you know what we can do to you?" asked the interrogator.

"I don't know and I don't care. Just lock me in a hole in the earth. There's nothing you can do to me that's worse than what I've done to myself."

"Then tell us what happened to Edwin Windsor."

And that's what tore it. With the mention of Edwin's name, Topper convulsed with sobs. The interrogator waited patiently. After a time Topper said, "What happened to Edwin? His heart died with Agnes. All the rest was inevitable."

CHAPTER TWO

There are hangovers and then there are Hangovers. Topper was suffering from the second kind. Adrift in his oversized bed, he had created a womb of soft sheets, pillows and comforters that had been warmed to the temperature of an incubator by the boozy and possibly combustible fumes of his own liquory breath. So Topper was as content as he could possibly be.

Oh, sure, there would be pain and suffering to face when he woke up. But a hot shower and a few curative libations would make that go away. And then Topper would continue on his path of creative hedonism. At least, that was his plan.

To look at his bed from the outside you would have thought no one was in it. That's because Topper was very small. He claimed he was 4'5", but his driver's license read 4'4''. When confronted with this discrepancy, he had shrieked, "Four-four and a half!" But mighty is the bureaucracy of the DMV; they round for no man.

Topper's custom-built bed was bigger than a California king. In fact, the model name for the bed was the Sultan. The only thing bigger was the Caliphate and the only reason Topper didn't have one was that it hadn't been available when he was shopping for a bed.

BZZZZZAAAAAAH!

The cruel sound of the intercom buzzer sliced into Topper's inner ear. The inner ear passed it up the chain of command, washing its hands of the whole mess. Neurons fired across the corpus callosum, signals were sent and received, and by the time the buzzer went off again...

BZZZZZZZAAAAAH!

Topper was able to answer, "aaaaaaaaahhhhhh" which was meant to convey a wish to dissolve into the memory-foam mattress.

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZAHHHHHHHH!

In the middle of the bed, Topper's head emerged from the womb. His hair was proudly displayed in a configuration as yet unknown to modern geometers. One eye was still closed. The marks of his 1000 thread-count sheets were tastefully pressed into his face.

To no one in particular he said, "Ya spend $11 million for a penthouse apartment and ya still get the same crappy buzzer as everybody else." Squinting into the honest and unfamiliar light of morning, Topper waited for the buzzer to sound again. If he could locate it, he could kill it and go back to sleep. But now that he was ready for it, the buzzer did not sound.

To break the suspense, Topper said, "Maybe they left." Believing that the coast was clear, he lowered his head back down into his cocoon. Then, just as he closed his eyes, someone kicked his door in.

Topper's eyes snapped open, and he froze in place like an alcoholic rabbit. He heard footsteps echoing off the expensive pink marble of his penthouse. Perhaps he could stay hidden. Perhaps they wouldn't find him. Perhaps he should have slept in a comfortable ditch last night.

The footsteps came closer and closer. At the edge of his bed, they stopped.

"Mr. Haggleblat," said a perfectly polite and professional voice, "Mr. Windsor has sent us to help you keep your appointment."

Topper's fear turned to rage. He knew exactly who these pricks were and, in Topper's mind at least, he didn't have to take this kind of crap from the hired help.

"WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU? CAN'T YA SEE I'M SLEEPING HERE!?!" Topper yelled, immediately regretting it as his yell reverberated through his head.

As Topper collapsed back into his bed racked by terrible pain, the two men picked him up and deposited him in the shower. These men were dressed in identical black suits and moved with brutal efficiency. Their voices were polite, but their hands were not.

As the cold water from the nine-headed shower ran over Topper and ruined his custom-tailored silk pajamas, he started to scream a universe of obscenities. But when the pain returned to his head, he lowered his voice to a foul whisper. The variations were endless, but the theme was the same: Topper hated these guys.

These guys were Adjustors. They worked for Edwin. Technically, they worked for the insurance company that Edwin and Topper had created. But as the shower washed over him and the horror of a new day sank in, Topper had to admit they really worked for Edwin. And so did he.

When Topper emerged from the shower, one of the Adjustors had a suit laid out for him. The other one jabbed him in the shoulder with a needle. "AHHHHH!" Topper shouted, hurting himself again.

"B-12 shot, sir. Better than a pot of coffee," said the Adjustor with no enthusiasm whatsoever.

Topper glared at the man. He didn't know his name. Hell, except for a very few, he could barely tell the Adjustors apart. They were all tall. They were all impeccably dressed. They rarely displayed emotions. And they all had a broken look in their eyes. The Adjustors were either the best of the best or the best of the worst, depending on how you wanted to look at it. But they certainly prided themselves on being superlative in everything they did.

As they dragged Topper back through his bedroom, Topper said, "Hang on. I need a coat." They let him go long enough for him to grab the oversized comforter from his bed and wrap it around himself.

"What?" snapped Topper, "For a day this shitty, I'm gonna need my blankey."

The adjustors said nothing and dragged Topper and his comforter into the elevator.

As Topper crossed the lobby, he dragged the bulk of his comforter behind him. Outside, he saw his driver Stevie holding the door open. Thank God, thought Topper. Stevie was okay. Best of all, there was a minibar in Stevie's car. The hopeful thought of liquor propelled him across the lobby.

The concierge noticed Topper's unusual procession, but betrayed no reaction. It was not the first time the small tenant on the top of the building had displayed strange behavior. As Topper passed, he held up a corner of the comforter, "Order me another one of these, wouldja? This one is going to be ruined."

"Yes, sir."

How was it, Topper wondered, that now that he was on top of the world, everyone called him “Sir” and he had absolutely no control over his life. Back when he was struggling, nobody called him “Sir” and he got to do whatever he damn well pleased. Now all he had were obligations.

Even with the comforter wrapped tightly around him, Topper shivered against the winter wind. The sidewalk had been scraped and sanded, but still a thin film of grey slush covered the sidewalk. It soaked into the comforter. It turned the rushing sound of cars passing by into an irritating slushy roar. Topper didn't like winter.

When he struggled to climb up into the car wrapped in his now-ruined comforter, the Adjustors picked him up and tossed him into the plush back seat.

"Assholes!" Topper cried as he bounced off the upholstery.

"You know where you're taking him?" one of them asked Stevie with an aggressive chin-jutting motion.

“Yeah,” Stevie said.

"Well, don't make any mistakes. The tall man is sick of this little prick being late."

Stevie's round face opened into a lopsided smile. "That little prick is your boss." But the Adjustors were already walking away.

"Don't fuck it up," one of them called out over his shoulder. Stevie shook his head and got in the car.

From the back seat, Topper said, "Ahhhhhhhhhhh."

"Yeah," said Stevie. He was running to fat and, although he was professional enough, he was the kind of guy who had never worked a day he didn’t have to. Topper thought he was a right enough fella. At least he had blood in his veins. Way better than those soulless Adjustors.

Topper worked his arms free of his cocoon and reached towards the minibar. But it wasn't there.

"Stevie, stop the car, we've got an emergency. Somebody stole the bar."

"Sorry, Mr. Topper, the bar was removed per orders of the Chairman and CEO himself."

"Enh?"

"Mr. Windsor said to take it out."

"How am I supposed to survive without sustenance?"

"I got bacon and egg on a roll," said Stevie, as he held up a brown paper bag.

"Jesus, Stevie! You know food just makes me sick."

Stevie shrugged and eased the car out into traffic.

CHAPTER THREE

The car ride was long enough that Topper had time to remember the meeting he was being shanghaied for. To be honest, the play shouldn't be that hard, it was the same one that they had been making all along. Except that recently, it seemed like Edwin was sucking all the fun out of it. It seemed like Edwin was sucking all the fun out of Topper’s whole life. Sure, they were making money hand over fist, but Topper knew that there was more to life than money. Like the things that money could buy. And the leisure time to enjoy them.

But Edwin never seemed to buy anything. Or take any time off.

For Topper, the action was the juice. But he hadn't seen any real action since he had bounced a few rockets off the Cromoglodon's head. That had been fun. That was the way evil was supposed to be. But an insurance company? Sure, insurance companies were evil, but it was evil with a lowercase “e.” Topper wanted to be Evil with the big “E.” He wanted to be able do whatever the hell he wanted and laugh maniacally while doing it. In short, to indulge all the perverse whims and appetites contained in his libidinous little heart.

But that hadn't happened. Something far, far worse had happened. Something far more sinister. It had all turned into a job—a corporate job. Topper hated jobs. Corporate jobs, most of all.

So he hid in the comforter and alternated between sleeping and feeling sorry for himself. Two hours later, Stevie wheeled the car up to a large manufacturing facility. He parked behind an identical Town Car that belonged to Edwin. The tall man was obsessed with standardization and the economies of scale that came with fleet management.

Topper fought his way free from the comforter cocoon exactly the way a butterfly doesn't.

"How do I look?" he asked.

"Like hell," said Stevie.

"Thanks, asshole."

"Sorry, sorry, you look like a million bucks. Please marry my daughter," the chauffeur responded, not changing tone or inflection. Topper grabbed his tiny, custom-made leather briefcase and got out of the car. The little man wasn't rested. He wasn't ready. But he had a full head of steam that was looking for a place to blow. Today, that would be enough.

Edwin was waiting for him in the lobby. He was a tall man, of course, but in addition to his great height, there was something else. It was as if he had been constructed on a different scale than other men. Fashioned by an artist who worked in the finest materials and liked to work big. Topper stopped when there was still a substantial distance between him and his friend. He was in no mood to crane his neck back to talk to anybody. His head hurt enough already.

"What gives? Why do you disturb my beauty rest, Beanpole?"

"Good morning, Topper," said Edwin.

"Not from where I'm standing."

"Please, Topper, your protests grow tiring, we have work to do. Do you have the contract?"

"Yeah, I have the contract. You had Stevie print it out and bring it to me."

"Very good."

"No, it's not very good. If you can have Stevie print out the contract, then why do you need to send two guys to haul my small but shapely ass out of bed when I'm clearly busy with more important things?"

"A hangover is of small importance."

"Yeah? How would you know?"

Edwin had no answer. He said, "I need you here in case anything unexpected pops up. In case they make a counter-offer."

"Counter-offer? We're running an extortion racket! There is no counter-offer. Ya pay, or we breaka you face. Or building, or whatever."

"We are not in any racket. We are selling insurance. And there is a way that these things should be done."

"Eh-henh, well, your way isn't very efficient." The words hung in the air like a curse. Neither man said anything. Neither man looked away.

The stare-down was interrupted when a receptionist entered the lobby and said, "Mr. Windsor? Mr. DeTsavo will see you now."

"Are you with me?" Edwin asked.

"Yeah, yeah," said Topper, as he walked across the expanse of lobby. "But you gotta learn to respect the hours of a gentleman of leisure."

"Gentleman?" asked Edwin.

"Yeah, I'm a gentleman 'cause I'm rich enough to sue the pants off anybody who says otherwise."

From the moment they were shown into the office, Topper had an urge to smash the beautiful model that occupied the left side of the room. It was a scale replica of a brand new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. Its prominence showed that Leo DeTsavo, the CEO of General Business Machines, loved it very much.

As Edwin made the introductions and the nice-nice with the fat man who didn't get up from behind his desk, Topper could barely take his eyes off of the model. It was a thing that could be beautiful only to model makers and corporate drones. All function, no style. Not even the style of elegant functionality. It was a box. A really big box, painted General Business Machines Blue with a band of General Business Machines Off-White #3 running around the top.

"And this is my attorney, Topper Haggleblat," said Edwin.

"How ya doing?" Topper asked, absent-mindedly. He was so preoccupied with the model he missed the unhappy look Edwin shot him.

"Would you gentleman care for anything to drink?" asked DeTsavo, his finger hovering over a button that would summon a person to take care of anything he wanted.

Before Edwin could cut him off, Topper blurted, "Scotch."

"Scotch?"

"Yeah, whiskey, brown stuff. Comes in a glass. Before that it's usually in a bottle."

"It's 8:15 in the morning."

"Okay, Bloody Mary? Mimosa? Anything!” Topper said with glee.

DeTsavo looked to Edwin for some kind of context. Wasn't this a business meeting?

Edwin shook his head slightly, as if to say, just ignore the little man.

Bored already, Topper walked to the horrid model.

Trying to salvage the small-talk portion of the meeting, DeTsavo asked, "You are an admirer of models, Mr. Haggleblat?"

"Nah, I just like blue things," answered Topper. Screw this guy, thought Topper, anybody who thinks this thing is beautiful deserves what he gets. Why is Edwin wasting time like this? Just extort the bastard and get on with it.

What had happened to the tall guy? When had he turned respectable? Or soft, or, or—Topper didn't even know. Topper stared at the model and hoped that the meeting would be over soon.

In the background, Edwin and DeTsavo carried on while some drone brought coffee and/or tea. Topper and Edwin had done at least a hundred of these meetings. The set up was always the same. And the best part was, most of it was legal.

It worked like this: about 50 years ago, a few people developed superpowers. Call it mutation, government experimentation, the next stage of evolution, whatever—everybody had a theory. Topper didn't care about the how, what he cared about was the law.

Superpowered people had introduced a giant loophole in insurance law. While a villain would be held liable for the damage he or she caused, a hero wouldn’t. And between the two of them, heroes and villains managed to bust up a lot of real estate. They were like human natural disasters. After one insurance company had gone bankrupt from a battle between a superhero and a supervillain, no other company would offer that kind of coverage again. The risk was just too high. All policies were amended so such battles were deemed uninsurable risks as “Force Majeure”—acts of God and superpowered persons.

That had given Edwin the loophole.

When Topper felt the floor shake he realized that DeTsavo had struggled out from behind his desk and was waddling towards his model as gracefully as he could manage.

"It's a marvel," Leo DeTsavo said, “85% automation. In fact we run two of our shifts with nothing more than a team of engineers and a few security guards. Far cry from when I started with the company."

"Ah, you started in manufacturing then?" Edwin said, feigning interest to smooth the deal.

"Oh, no, no, no. Finance. But we've had terrible trouble with our pension liabilities. Unions and such. Actual people are difficult to deal with. Machines for me. Machines and robots. When you're done you just switch them off. And you get to amortize the cost of them. You can't amortize a person, you know."

Amortize, a legal term from Latin, meaning literally, to kill off over time. When Edwin said, "Oh, I don't know. Not in the traditional sense, surely..." Topper had to give a wry smile, even as unhappy as he was. Amortization was exactly the kind of thing Edwin did with people. And had done it more often and with greater enthusiasm since Agnes had passed.

"Machines don't file workers compensation," DeTsavo continued, "Machines don't sue for age discrimination or sexual harassment. Yes, machines for me."

Edwin nodded at the logic. "Total capitalization of the facility?"

"Still putting the finishing touches on it. Something on the order of $3.2 billion."

"That's quite a lot of money."

"It's nothing compared to the ROI."

"It is a marvelous facility. It would be a shame if anything were to happen to it," Edwin said, as he threw the hook in the water. "But, I'm sure you have plenty of coverage."

DeTsavo heaved his bulk to face Edwin. "Are you trying to sell me insurance? Is that what you and your little monkey came here for?"

Topper felt his jaw quiver as the old anger flooded into him. That fat bastard was calling him short. Oh, now he really didn't like him. Before, it had just been business. Now, it was something else. What was that word he was looking for?

"That is precisely what I am selling," continued Edwin, "My company, Omdemnity Insurance, is prepared to indemnify you against all acts of persons of a superpowered nature."

This was Topper's big moment. He was supposed to take the contract out from the briefcase and lay it on the table. It was a tiny little part. And Topper was sick to death of his tiny parts. The way he saw it, it you don't give a little part to a guy with a big soul. And if you do, you deserve what you get.

Topper heaved his briefcase up onto the model table. It wiped out some lovely landscape miniatures near a depressingly functional looking parking lot.

"CareFUL!" rumbled DeTsavo.

Topper plunged his hand into his case and came out with the contract.

"Standard package, indemnifying you against all acts of superpowered people or animals of all known and yet to be discovered powers," said Topper in bored monotone. "Sign, here, here and here." Topper indicated the little sticky tabs that highlighted the important parts of the contract. All business, no pleasure.

PLEASURE! That was it. That was the word he had been searching for. The joy had gone out of Topper's life. How long had he just been going through the motions? As he watched DeTsavo smear his fat hand across the pages of the contract, Topper remembered—knew down the pit of his black little soul—that this wasn't the kind of fun that he had signed on for.

In fact, none of this was what he'd had in mind when convinced Edwin to stop advising villains and become one. Topper had been hoping for car chases, shootouts, maniacal schemes, pretty girls who liked bad boys and most of all, getting to do whatever the hell he wanted. What the hell happened? He didn't get to do ANYthing. Now it was all this briefcase, that form contract, and meetings like this.

DeTsavo was red in the face. Even before he spoke, Topper knew he wasn't going to go for it. The fat CEO bellowed at Edwin "No, insurance company in the world will provide this kind of coverage. Windsor, what's your racket?"

"It is no racket. As you will see from the policy we are more than adequately capitalized to carry this kind of risk. Per our calculations..."

And here it started again, the droning business talk. Topper was so bored with it. How many times had he sat through the same meeting with Edwin? How many times had he listened to him use his cold, geometric intellect to bludgeon someone into submission, hammering them and hammering them with logic until they had no choice but to sign.

As the two bigger men went back and forth and back and forth, Topper's attention strayed to the model once again.

Maybe it was because Topper was smaller than actual size that he imagined he could see inside the square blue and off-white building. Inside that featureless utilitarian box, he could imagine, were other featureless, utilitarian boxes. Row upon row of cubes, which would house row upon row of featureless, utilitarian workers, performing featureless utilitarian tasks before they returned to their featureless, utilitarian little lives at the end of each day.

"Hey, Bob, I put in a pool!"

"That's great, Steve; I'm doing that next month."

"Gee, Bob, then we'll be completely the same."

Topper realized that his sad, silly imagining was far too close to what his life had become. Where had the passion gone? Where was the fun? He could restrain himself no longer and raised his voice in song—

"Hey, asshole. Ya need insurance!"

DeTsavo, the Chief Executive Officer of one of the largest computer companies in the world, was not accustomed to being spoken to in this way. His brain could find no adequate response for an angry little dwarf, so it dispensed with a number of non-crucial functions. Like keeping his jaw shut.

Edwin also stared at Topper, not so much in shock as in knowing exasperation.

Since Topper had the floor, he continued, "Okay, since you're a busy man, and my tall friend seems to be through dicking around, I’m gonna tell you how this works," he warbled in his high, New York-accented falsetto. "This is your building."

Topper climbed up on the table. As he held his foot over the northeast corner of the model, he said, "I am a fucking giant!" Then Topper slammed his foot down on the corner of the building sending splinters and shards of it everywhere.

A tiny cry of distress issued forth from between DeTsavo's wide open teeth. Let's call it an “eep!” Edwin just buried his face in his hand.

"If that happens and you're not covered, ya screwed. You know, screwed like an ordinary person who has to pay taxes and obey the law and stuff like that?"

"Topper, that's quite enough," Edwin said, trying to salvage the situation while some dignity remained. But Topper was having none of it.

Screw it, thought Topper, if this is a shakedown operation, then let's shake 'em down. "So here's the deal, Fat Money, you buy an," and here Topper made large air quotes with his fingers, "'Insurance Policy’ from us or," Topper stomped his foot and destroyed more painstakingly arranged balsa wood and poster-board, "we're actually going to send a giant," CRUNCH, "like me, but to scale, and crush your entire magic robot factory." CRUNCH, CRUNCH. "And then you're gonna see what it's like to get screwed by the little guy for a change." CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH. "Ahhhh? Ahhhh?"

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