Gerhart DeWitt breathed in the fresh country air and let out a contented, if not overindulgent, sigh. “It was very generous of you to invite me to your lovely estate. It isn’t every day I get to dine with a member of the Board.”
Adam Van Hett allowed himself a gentle smile as he admired his surrounded. “You are very kind, Mr. DeWitt. But the honor is mine.” He took a small sip of wine and savored the flavor for a moment before swallowing. “The VOC’s chief enforcer is such a busy man, it is a rarity to get a moment of his time, let alone his presence at dinner.”
“You are lucky I was free, I won’t deny that.” Gerhart confessed with a smirk.
The two men sat in silence for a moment, feasting their eyes on the rolling hills before them, painted in hues of yellow and gold in the Dutch twilight. The small table between them was decorated in light snacks of bread, cheese, and cured meats, each of which had been picked at by Adam and Gerhart while they awaited their dinner. An early summer breeze crawled gently across the grounds, rustling leaves and blowing waves across the hills.
From behind them, the sharp clicking of hard leather on cobbled stone signaled the arrival of Christof, Adam’s butler. “Terribly sorry to interrupt, Mr. Van Hett, but a wire has just arrived.”
Adam let his gaze break away from the landscape, but he did not meet Christof’s. “Inform them we have gone for a walk in the gardens, and shall return within the hour.”
“Of course, sir, but the wire is actually for Mr—”
“Yes, Christof, I am aware. Please, inform them we have gone for a walk in the gardens. We shall return within the hour.” Gerhart stiffened a bit in his chair.
Christof hesitated for only a moment, his powdered wig rustling slightly as he fought the urge to protest further. “Very good, sir.” Without another word, he turned on his heel and excused himself from the two men’s company. Gerhart raised a questioning eyebrow.
Adam adjusted to face Gerhart more directly before speaking. “I suppose that is as apt a segue as I could ask for.” He took another brief sip of his wine before setting the glass down. “Mr. DeWitt, I was hoping to speak business with you for a bit this evening.”
Gerhart let his curious face drop, and replaced it with a more pleasant one. “As both your guest and subordinate, it would be horribly rude of me to deny you that, sir.” His smirk had returned, and his posture began to relax. “What is it you wish to discuss?”
“The wire Christof came to inform us of would be Carolien.”
Gerhart hesitated. “Carolien, my boss?”
“The very same,” Adam replied. Gerhart made to ask further questions, but Adam gently signalled to listen. “That she is looking for you here means that she is already on your trail, and will likely be sending a man on foot. I’d guess we have only a few minutes to speak before he arrives.”
Adam took a brief moment to spread some cheese on bread before taking a small bite, savoring both its delicious flavor and the tension he could see etched in Gerhart’s face.
After letting the man suffer for a beat, he swallowed his bite and continued. “You are going to be asked to head home immediately and pack for several weeks away.” Noticing the confusion on Gerhart’s face, he added “on a mission.”
Understanding washed over Gerhart as he leaned back, realizing he’d been on the edge of his seat. “I see.”
“Not yet, you don’t,” Adam interjected. “Carolien is going to give you detailed information on an A.L.A.N. unit. It was spotted attempting to infiltrate a VOC facility in the caribbean a few hours ago.”
“An A.L.A.N. unit? Aren’t black ops a bit outside of their wheelhouse?”
“This is no ordinary A.L.A.N unit. This one has a bit of a reputation as a troublemaker, and keeping other troublemakers as company. It’s also fully self-aware, and insists on being recognized as a person, not a gad.”
Gerhart felt his confusion wash away for the second time this conversation. “I am familiar with him. I haven’t interacted with him directly before, but he’s part of a group I’ve been tracking for some time.”
“Yes, I’m aware of this,” Adam said. “And that familiarity is exactly why this mission is being handed to you. Alan’s actions this afternoon earned him a VOC-sized target on his back, and you’re being sent to deactivate him by—”
“Wait, deactivate him?” Gerhart interrupted.
“—by any means necessary,” Adam continued, his voice stern. “Congratulations, in a few minutes, you are going to be a contract killer.”
Gerhart swirled his wine idly, his gaze unfocused as he worked his way through everything. After a moment, he drew in a breath to speak. “So, why are you telling me all this, if I’m minutes away from hearing it directly from Carolien?”
“Because,” Adam said, his tone calmer, “You’re not going to find him.”
Gerhart’s eyebrow shot up in curiosity. “I think you underestimate me, sir.”
“I do not,” Adam said reassuringly. “In fact, I think I know you better than anyone else on the Board. But you still aren’t going to find him.”
“And why is that?” Gerhart asked
“Because you’re not going to look for him.”
“No. You’re going to fall extremely ill upon your arrival to the caribbean, and will remain bed bound until the VOC gets frustrated and pulls you home.”
“How do you know this?”
Adam reached into his pocket and retrieved a small vial. “Because you’re going to poison yourself with this. One sip at dinner will have you looking nice and miserable by morning, and will keep you that way until bed the next night. Simply keep sipping at it for as long as you need.” He judged the vial for a moment before offering it across the table. “I’m told the symptoms are far more comfortable than they look.”
Gerhart looked at the vial for a moment, then back at Adam, utterly baffled. “Why, on heaven or earth, would I do this?”
Adam, shrugged a bit, placing the vial on the table in front of Gerhart before scooping up his wine. “Because you really like money, Mr. DeWitt, and this is an easy way to make a lot. By the time you get back, I wouldn’t be surprised if your accounts had an extra two-hundred thousand guilders in them.”
Gerhart blinked a bit in approving contemplation; it was a lot of money. “Won’t that look suspicious?”
Adam regarded his wine as though he hadn’t heard the question. “I work in mergers and acquisitions. If my team didn’t know how to cook books, the company wouldn’t function.”
Gerhart nodded, conceding the point. “Okay, I’ll think about it.” He noticed something over Adam’s shoulder, and Adam turned to see what he was looking at. An approaching courier waved at their notice, and picked up his pace.
Adam turned back to Gerhart and lowered his voice. “You will do no such thing. I only have room on my team for men of action, not hesitance and contemplation. You will answer me now.”
Gerhart’s eyes widened slightly at this new intensity. “Why do you want this?”
“Because, the VOC is—” Adam straightened up slightly as he heard the courier come within earshot. He frowned briefly at the new member of their conversation, but quickly adopted a more genial facade. “Simply put, the bitch was too old and sick to keep living a life of comfort, and keeping her around was making everyone else miserable.” He paused for a moment, and waited until Gerhart’s gaze had locked with his.
“So I decided to put her down.”