Earl Oldfield stepped out of a jet-black stretch limousine and took his cane from the burly bodyguard who had just received an all-clear from Cliff Daniels, his company’s chief of security. Daniels waved from the door to a funeral home, where all but one of a dozen well-dressed men and women were talking together.


In his mid-nineties, Earl had seen more than his share of funerals and was happy to have missed this one. As the titular head of the company he founded fifty earlier, he barely knew the deceased, having been out of direct involvement in operations for most of the last decade. He was here instead for two reasons: first, to give his condolences to the core friends and family that were sure to be the last to leave; and, second, to assess and possibly discourage any action they might have considered taking against the company.


“Hello,” he said to the middle-aged man standing alone, who had just put away his cell phone. “I’m Earl Oldfield, and I’m sorry for your loss.” He stretched out his hand, noting that the others had stopped talking and were gaping silently at him.


The man took his hand and shook it firmly. “Thank you, Mr. Oldfield. I’m Alex Rideout, David’s cousin.” A pregnant woman standing nearby stepped closer, a tentative look on her face. “And this is my wife Amy,” Alex said.


“Nice to meet you, ma’am,” Earl said, “I apologize for missing the funeral.”


“Did you know David well?” she asked him.


“No, no, I didn’t, but I try to make a point of honoring the passing of members of the biome.”


“The what?” the couple asked simultaneously.


Earl suddenly felt embarrassed. He used the word so comfortably around the company that he sometimes forgot that few others even knew its meaning. “It’s what ecologists call a type of ecosystem, which is how I think of my company. In fact, that’s how I came up with its name, ServoBiome. ‘Servo’ means that it’s changing, and your cousin helped with a lot of that change.”


“So you’re really him?” a man in his sixties asked, moving beside Amy.


“This is David’s father, Mark Nichols,” Alex said, introducing the man.


Earl nodded and shook the man’s hand. “I know what it’s like to lose a son,” he offered.


“I hope my son didn’t cause you too much grief,” Nichols said, referring to the contents of the famous suicide note.


Earl fought to hide how relieved he felt. “At least we know about it now. We all make mistakes, and it’s a shame that your son felt he had to pay for them with his life.”


“Yes, it is,” Nichols admitted, but Earl knew what he was thinking: my son knew what he was doing, and then took the coward’s way out.


Earl suddenly noticed that Alex was watching Daniels suspiciously. “That’s my chief of security,” he said preemptively.


“I know,” Alex said, “he introduced himself earlier. Is he looking for someone in particular?”


He shook his shoulders. “Don’t mind him. He’s always looking for trouble.”


Amy took the cue. “You wouldn’t happen to know where my brother Derek is? Derek Pacer? He works for you.”


“I don’t know, Mrs. Rideout. I’m afraid I don’t spend much time around the office these days. I’ll be happy to look into it, though.”


Amy smiled. “Thank you,” she said graciously.


“What do you think, sir?” Daniels asked twenty minutes later, while they were on their way to Earl’s home.


“There won’t be any problems,” he said. “Do you know anything about Mrs. Rideout’s brother? Derek something?”


“You received a briefing on him yesterday, sir.”


Earl shook his head. “My memory is getting worse, I’m afraid. So, what about him?


Daniels sat back in the seat and set his jaw. “Derek Pacer is the greatest threat the biome has ever faced.”


“I thought Nichols was.”


“We’ve uncovered evidence that Nichols was working for Pacer, instead of the other way around,” Daniels replied in a stoic voice.


Earl looked ahead, and felt a familiar rush of adrenalin. “The survival of the biome comes first,” he recited from habit.



Earl settled into bed for a nap while Daniels finished briefing his doctor and personal assistant Janice Harken in the house’s foyer. “The memory lapses are getting worse,” Daniels told her. “He doesn’t even remember a big meeting yesterday.”


“That matches what I’ve been seeing with his short-term memory in general,” she affirmed, “although his long-term memory is still in pretty good shape.”


Daniels grimaced. “I’m going to suggest to Bob that the company sever all ties with him. Let him retire for good.” Robert Jenkins was the chief operating officer at ServoBiome, as well as its second-largest stockholder. “Will you support me?”


Janice thought about it. “Yes,” she said, looking sadly in the direction of the bedroom. “The biome has been his life. I hope it doesn’t crush him.”


Daniels wasn’t totally unsympathetic. He still had a lot of respect for the old man, but Earl was rapidly becoming a dangerous liability. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, “before his memory’s totally shot, why don’t you debrief him about the history of the company? Record it for posterity. That should buy some time for the transition, and for him to share classified information we may not know about before he loses his clearance.”


The doctor looked puzzled. “Then what?”


“Then,” he said coldly, “we make sure he can’t share it with anyone else.”



© Copyright 2015 Bradley W. Jarvis. All rights reserved.