He was livid, but he could not show it. Horus, his younger brother, had recently established himself as a presidential front-runner. It had been only a matter of days, but he was now fighting for his freedom. Jason walked with Horus ahead of bodyguards and attorneys, pushing past the mob of reporters. One yelled, “Mr. Fitsroy, how well did you know Sam Patterson?”
That started a flood:
“Did you pay for the murder of Apollo Givens?”
“Does Ship and Sail owe reparations to the eighty million African Americans in this country?”
“Mr. Fitsroy, are you innocent?”
There was a sudden stop. Jason pulled at his arm, but Horus stood firm. He was three steps away from the black limousine door that had opened for him. Jason turned to follow Horus’s hickory-brown eyes, which were glaring at the reporter. Her narrow body sandwiched between two men, she fought to hold her position. She was young, ambitious, and naïve. If Jason hadn’t been so keen to get Horus in the limousine, he would have admired her.
Horus answered her. His voice was sturdy and precise. “Yes. Absolutely innocent.”
Seven other reporters yelled inaudible questions, but Horus ignored them. He slipped in the car ahead of Jason. Rashin, their father, sat across from them, peering through glassy eyes. If it were possible for him to cry, he would have. Jason saw through his father’s melancholy and read the anger. Rashin wanted revenge.
“There is no doubt that Senator Cunningham and Congressman Edwards are behind this.” Randel, three years out of Harvard, patted Horus’s knee. “I promise you, we’ll expose them both.”
Horus lived in a gated community where security officers shooed away reporters and photographers. Cassandra was waiting at the front door when the limousine parked. Daphne was standing behind her, her round belly looking as if it would pop any day now. She embraced Horus tightly. When he passed her, his three-year-old niece attacked his leg. She hugged his knee and asked for her usual toss in the air. Horus obliged. Jason watched him feign nonchalance for the sake of the child. He looked at his daughter smiling as Horus tossed her. He envied her innocence to the tumultuous world. She went up and down a few more times. Then Horus kissed her jaw and lowered her to the floor. He looked up, and there stood Jason in front of him.
He wrapped his long arms around Horus’s shoulders before he could stand erect. “Don’t you worry,” he whispered in Horus’s ear. “They will learn what happens when they fuck with our family.”
“I’m so sorry for this,” Horus said, his voice cracking.
“You didn’t do anything.” Jason stepped away and held on to Horus’s shoulders, squeezing them. “You were just being you.”
“I want a shower.” Horus stepped past Jason and ascended the hardwood stairs. He was free from the reporters but not from his father’s men or Jason’s witty lawyers. Jason wanted to set him free, to send him with his wife to the other side of the world. Guilt was heavy on him for having turned his little brother’s life into a soap opera. He told himself that he should have protested more strongly when the idea first came to Ship’s mind. He should have put more effort into convincing Horus to chase love rather than prestige.
He returned to the front room, where Cassandra was sitting with a bowl of chips. Jason remembered she wanted a low-carb diet. Seeing her shy away from it in favor of comfort food, Jason’s heart sank. He hadn’t thought much about how this ploy by the Department of Justice had affected her. She ran a great campaign. She was an awesome lawyer and as insightful as a prophetess. He wanted to tell her as much, but words like that are hard for older brothers to say. He didn’t say anything. Rashin and Randel did most of the talking. Rashin wanted to know where to hit Cunningham.
“We should go with his satanic worship and connections.”
Daphne brought him a glass of wine.
“Not at first,” Randel said. “That would be a good play after the primaries.”
Cassandra cleared her palate with ice water. “I think we should let him think he’s free and clear. Let him get the Democratic nomination. Then hit him with that. The blow will be that much harder. The Christian Right will eat him alive.”
“I agree with that.” Jason leaned his shoulder against the doorpost.
A loud crash stole away their attention. The sound of plastic pieces rolling over a hardwood floor followed. Heads turned toward the stairs. Jason held up a hand. He had wondered how Horus might let the pain and frustration escape him. The sound could have been liquor or tears; instead, it was the laptop he had thrown across the room into the wall.
Jason went to join him. He found Horus in the study. His forehead pressed against a wall, he sniffled. Jason entered cautiously, spying the shattered laptop. “This is where it started,” Horus spoke somberly as if he knew Jason was there. “Right here in this room.”
Jason crept over to the chair at Horus’s desk. He promised himself that he would protect the desktop monitors on it.
Horus continued. “No. Maybe it started when I first knew I could never be the athlete you were.”
Jason always knew that was one of Horus’s few insecurities. His little brother had not inherited their father’s broad hands and long fingers. Jason was the lucky one to get the six-foot wingspan. What Horus never knew was that Jason did not always appreciate those features. Along with their father’s features, Jason had inherited a plethora of athletic expectations. Horus also failed to possess his sister’s charm and astuteness. From time to time, Jason would hear Horus say a witty phrase or make perceptive analogies, but more often, Horus was an introvert.
What Jason admired to the point of envy was Horus’s connection to Althea, their mother. They were twin spirits, he thought. Each took a meticulous approach to every answer. While Rashin had taught Jason to shoot free throws, Althea had taught Horus to play chess. Remembering that, Jason hypothesized that Horus’s journey had started with the state chess championship.
After that, he had won the academic decathlon in consecutive years. No one could say for sure when the journey began. Jason was confident that the presidential campaign had surreptitiously started in that room.
“I spent a hundred hours staring at income statements, cash flow reports, and balance sheets until they blurred my eyes.”
“I think it’s like a dream,” Jason finally spoke. “You never know how it begins. You just realize you’re in it and can’t get out.”
Jason tried to remember a catalyst at the company’s Christmas party that had compelled Horus to work late into the night. He recalled a mix of frontline employees and managers. He remembered forbidding Farooq from speaking of company revenue while the employees celebrated their 3 percent raises. “Not at a Christmas party. Try to enjoy yourself.” Jason straightened. “Allow me to teach the social rules when intermingling with employees.” He patronized. “Rule number one, be humble, take pictures, and thank everyone for a great year.”
Someone passed them.
“You are very much appreciated.” Jason shook his hand. “Thanks for coming.”
Farooq switched the glass of cranberry juice to his left hand. With a broad smile, he extended his hand to the employee and duplicated Jason’s gratitude. No sooner had the employee walked away than Farooq turned to Horus. “Did you see the projected jobs report?”
“It was nice.”
“Nice?” He laughed and sipped. “The best month of the year.”
Jason pretended not to hear them. He stared into the crowd of workers. Someone approached. “Madilyn, it is so nice to see you.” He shook her hand as if she were a dear friend. She said something inaudible. Farooq’s voice distracted him.
“When the report comes out, the market will shoot up,” Farooq said, stating the obvious. “I think we should make some moves in the premarket. You’re frowning. Do you disagree?”
Jason interrupted them. “Madilyn, you remember my brother, don’t you?”
Madilyn sidestepped to Horus.
Jason shook another woman’s hand. Her son stood half a foot taller than she. A loosely fitting suit jacket covered his thin frame. Jason wanted to pass her along to Horus, but she lingered with talk about her son’s athletic success.
When Madilyn walked away, Horus continued with Farooq. “Three consecutive months of positive growth; wages are higher; a lot of midcap companies are taking debt,” Horus explained.
Jason divided his ears, one to Horus and the other to the woman in front of him. Horus’s analyses were priceless, but no matter how Jason wanted to stay in that moment, he couldn’t.
“The table is set for a correction. Inflation is on the rise,” Horus continued.
Jason nodded at the woman. She said something about her son’s basketball game and a college recruiter. Jason only pretended to listen.
Horus spoke louder with conviction. “With so many new jobs, the holidays on us, and credit card debt higher than last year, the Feds are backed into a corner. I want to take profits and play the downside before they meet.”
The woman’s blabbering ended, and Jason wished her son well. Once they had left, he moved to stand between Horus and Farooq. He insisted they follow the social rules. “Rule number two: Make a personal connection to at least two frontline employees.” Then he called Lou, the soon-to-retire man, to him. Lou was wearing a sports jacket and a tie that had a knot as large as his fist. Lou’s gray eyes fixed on Horus, but he reached for Jason’s hand.
“Is this your brother?” he asked.
Jason gripped Horus’s shoulder. “Yes, it is.”
Lou extended his soft, wrinkled hand. Blue veins were visible between his knuckles. “I’ll never forget when your father brought you to work in a stroller.” Lou smiled. “You must have been no older than two.”
Jason saw his brother’s discomfort. Lou was too close.
“Your father said that your mother would kill him if she knew he had brought you to the store. You see, he should have been babysitting.” He giggled. “I knew then that your father was a stand-up guy. He may have had a lot of money, but in here”—he touched Horus’s chest—“he was a grinder, just like us.”
Horus’s awkward smile downgraded to a smirk. Jason thought to rescue him, but Horus needed this.
“So, what are you doing for the company?” Lou asked.
“I manage the funds in your 401(k),” Horus answered.
Lou’s smile widened. “I don’t know what you did, but I am sure happy with it. Up six percent in one year. When it’s your last few years, those numbers matter.”
“I appreciate you saying that.”
Sitting with Horus in that study, Jason remembered how his brother had expressed his gratitude to Lou. Was Lou the catalyst? Jason knew that most ideas are born from seemingly inconsequential moments or statements. Knowing Horus, Jason imagined that he had gotten home from the party and gone to work.
“I think it started with that Christmas party. Was it something Lou said to you?”
Horus turned and rested his back against the wall. Jason watched his brother’s red eyes gleam at him from across the room. Then Horus sighed. “Maybe. It was the whole night. All those people, everyone depending on me. I came home, sat right there, and pulled up a chart on one monitor and a balance sheet on the other. I had ESPN for background noise. I wanted to go to bed, but I just couldn’t pull myself away. Too many green candlesticks.”
Jason smiled and lifted his head. There were other things on his mind that night. Horus had called him at the worst time. Recently passing his wife’s foreplay obligation, Jason had indulged in the main course. When he had answered the phone, Jason had tried to calm his breathing.
Horus, with acute senses, had asked, “Am I interrupting something?”
“I’m a little busy,” Jason answered. He shifted his eyes past Media’s naked body to the clock. It was half past one. Why is he awake? Jason concluded that
Horus needed a woman.
“I’ll be quick,” Horus promised.
“Okay.” Jason reached to his wife for a handful of ass.
“I want to leverage twelve million from the hedge.”
“Horus.” Jason’s disappointment washed over him, to an area he’d wish it hadn’t. “You called me for this? We’re not having this conversation.”
“Say it’s okay, and I’ll let you go.”
“That’s almost fifty percent of our cash. You said you’ll never go over thirty.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“No. We’re not having this conversation now.” The disappointment had settled in his lower region. He had started to fade. Desperate to end the conversation, he mildly muttered, “Fine, do it.”
“Horus,” he called desperately.
Horus heard him before the disconnection. “Yes?”
“Don’t fuck up. You won’t hear the end of it.”
As it turned out, Horus only heard accolades. He had leveraged twelve million dollars on butterflies, iron condors, straddles, and shorts. Within a month, the twelve million was seventy. It was official: Horus was a genius.
Jason remained proud of Horus for seizing the moment that no one but he had seen. Jason stood. “I’ll go tell everyone you’re okay.”
Horus nodded and exhaled.
Jason heard Rashin’s protest before reaching the bottom of the stairs. “There is no way we’ll cower to these people.”
“It’s not cowering, Daddy.” Cassandra’s voice was firm. “It’s tweaking a strategy.” She noticed Jason standing in the entrance; he was leaning against the doorpost. “Ship had contingency plans. Is that right?”
Jason nodded. He watched the wheels turn in her head.
“If you have sensitive information against Cunningham, Edwards, or Elizabeth Horn, we cannot effectively use it while trying to win a nomination. Additionally, kids are still being attacked at the colleges. Pseudorevolutionaries are posting new videos every day. Black people are angry.”
“Don’t call them people.” Rashin’s voice was more submissive. “Attacking kids on college campuses is far from human behavior.”
“My advice is that we choose a candidate to endorse, get him in the office, and let him drain the swamp.”
Jason debated his sister’s advice. He also considered how many times he hadn’t followed her advice and found himself pickled. “Who would we endorse, Gephardt?”
Cassandra bit into a chip. Her eyebrows lifted as if she expected a collaborative rejection.
Jason wanted to say Hell no, but Rashin said it first. Instead, Jason refused to acknowledge Cassandra’s far-fetched suggestion. He needed fresh air. Walking away, he listened to his father’s voice fade. He wished he could rewind time. He would have acted on Apollo Givens when Rashin first spoke of him.