Marcus strode up to Eugene Gumble’s desk. His heavy boots struck the tile floor creating deadened echoes in the expansive hall. Eugene sat behind his low metal desk blinking and twitching. Marcus recognized Gumble’s face from the murals hanging on the outside of the building, he was a vain man. Marcus knew the type and he’d learned long ago how to deal with them.
The captain of his first vessel when he entered Sullivan’s fleet was just the same. That captain needed his ego to be bolstered daily. He demanded the crew show him “proper respect” every day, which meant constant saluting and a crew that gave sheepish downcast looks while they shuffled their boots and the captain got his polished. If he perceived any assertive behavior or disgruntled attitudes his face flushed almost purple and his loose jowls shook as he spat insults at the crew. As a young man Marcus hated that captain, but as his first job he did not have the courage or worldly experience to challenge the man. After two long years on that vessel the man passed away into his cup of wine and the crew was reassigned to a new vessels. In that time Marcus had learned how to scrape his boots and swallow his pride enough to survive.
Marcus was a prideful man. He relished his completed works and basked in the compliments that he received. His dead parents had left him nothing with which to find his way in the world and at the age of 17 a young man’s pride is all he has. Having worked hard and steadily rose in the ranks, his pride only grew. His small apartments and his meager possessions were a testament to the years of his hard work. Having to pass off fully half of his wages on to pay his daughter’s medical bills put a damper on his material gains, but he was trying very hard to take some pride in being able to provide for his daughter. He’d heard other people mention a “father’s pride” but it was a concept that he did not understand but yearned for desperately.
Eugene’s pride was transparent and simple. Marcus recognized the look of it immediately in the bare, nearly pristine condition of his self-styled office. Marcus also recognized the kind of twitch that plagued Eugene’s eye. It contracted itself sporadically, sometimes synching with the half curled sneer twitch of his lip. It was the same pattern of ticks that had plagued his mother in the later years of her life. Dementia loomed over Gumble like a playful torturer waiting for the perfect moment to descend.
Marcus breathed deeply, tasting the faint drywall dust that hung in the air. He crushed his pride into a small dark corner of his gut, compressing it into a dense mass that would allow him to do what needed to be done. Light slanted across Gumble’s desk revealing traces of white dust and glinting off the hammer lying near at hand. Marcus spread his face into the most submissive and adoring façade he could muster.
“Mister Gumble sir!” Marcus boomed as he reached for Gumble’s fleshy hand, pumping it vigorously between his own callused mitts. “What a pleasure to meet you good sir. Such an honor to get to see the man- the mastermind behind the Fighting Phils and their works. You see I’ve been doing some work with your men recently and damn- please excuse my language- am I impressed. How do you do it sir? You must truly be of another breed, a higher class of man.” Marcus’ unabashed praise lit up Gumble’s face and smoothed out the creases that divided his brow. The effect on Marcus was quite the opposite. As much as he’d squashed his pride in preparation, it was fighting its confines with equal force. The floor seemed to be spinning away under Marcus’ feet, his eyes became unfocused and the metallic bite of rage began to tickle at the back of his throat. Memories of his brother were clawing their way to the forefront of his mind dispite Marcus’ resolve to keep them locked away. Marcus was standing across from the man who had caused his brother to disappear. Whether directly or indirectly Eugene Gumble had recruited Marcus’ brother into the Fighting Phil many years ago and soon after, engineered his demise, whatever form it eventually took. The years Marcus had spent plotting this man’s death, the ways he would make Gumble suffer under the force of his rage, were not forgotten and hundreds of old plans and fantasies raced through his head. To be standing across from the very same man and tell him he was a paradigm of human quality made his stomach turn. Marcus prayed that Gumble could not feel the sweat that was quickly loosening his grasp on his hand, a hand he could so easily break in so many places if only that loud-mouthed guard would turn around or leave for a moment.
Gumble’s response seemed favorable enough but the specifics of it were lost on Marcus. He was light headed and breathing shallowly as he made grasping motions to try and disperse the sweat on his palms. He was taken aback by the pain he still felt about his brother’s disappearance. Marcus thought he’d dealt with that issue years ago, and hardly thought of it anymore. But being so close to Gumble, who could, maybe, if pressured or tortured if needs be, provide Marucs with the answers he so desperately sought , forced him to recognized some emotions that had been stowed away for so long.
A sharp crack of hammer hitting tile startled Marcus back into the moment. Whatever had transpired had clearly upset Gumble and he was swinging his hammer around wildly. A series of cracks and crunches soon explained the series of holes in the drywall around his desk and the cracked white floor tiles beneath him. Gumble was not only losing it, but he was violent and powerful. Marcus was beginning to think that his brother really had gotten himself in with the wrong sort of people, and Marcus, for better or worse was following right in that trail.