Zachary's face crumpled a little and his hand shook, spilling water into the pot of one of the ferns.
"I'm sorry," said Andi swiftly, "I wasn't thinking. How did it happen?"
"A mirror fell on him, miss," said Zachary, his voice sounding liquid and slightly strangled as he fought back the tears. "The outfitters for Mr. James's new office wouldn't hang it; they said a thirty-foot mirror was too much trouble to put up. Mr. James started shouting and howling and stamping his feet, and there was plaster dust raining down on him from the ceiling, and the designers were laughing over by the blue-prints--"
"And the mirror?" Andi was well aware that Zachary tended to ramble off the point, sometimes for hours on end. She had, on occasion, had to send her assistant down to find a visitor who was too polite to extricate themselves from Zachary's monologues.
"Well, Michael said that he'd hang it if no-one else would, but then he went and slipped on the step-ladder, grabbed at the mirror and pulled it off the wall, because he was only up the step-ladder to secure to the wall in the first place, so he hits the floor with a whimper and then the mirror topples on top of him and crushes him flat. We had to scrape him up before he could stain the carpet permanently."
"I am sorry," said Andi, who knew that Michael was Zachary's adopted son. "I will see that... well, that something is done." She patted Zachary on the shoulder, a little uncomfortable with touching another person, and pressed the elevator button. The doors slid open with a satisfying silence, and she was inside and on her way up to the top floor of the building before Zachary could regain his composure enough to start another monologue.
At the top floor the doors opened again, and she stepped out onto a carpet patterned with a zig-zag that stretched away down the corridor. Polished wooden doors at regular intervals offered ingress into offices; up here was the Chief Financial Officer, the Company Secretary and various other people whose titles always seemed to need capitalising. And somewhere towards the end, creeping ever nearer to the grand office of the Company President, was her brother's new office. She tried not to stalk as she made her way down the corridor, but every time she relaxed her stance she could feel her shoulders rising up like the hackles on an angry dog.
The door to James's office was open and he was stood by an ornate mahogany desk that reminded her of the top of One, Wall Street, all crags and crenellations and far too grand for him. He was gesticulating frantically at a window-cleaner who was attempting to remove a six-foot smear from the thirty-foot mirror behind his desk.
"Oh James," was all Andi could say, her words small in the vastness of the room. They were enough, he turned, words dying on his lips and panic filling his eyes. Then he recovered himself, and his lips twisted into a sneer.
"Has Oskar told you, Andi? We're having to close down the Atlas and the line it runs on. All that work you did, all that expense, and now it's going to waste. I wouldn't like to be you stood before the board tomorrow."
"We're not closing down the Atlas, James, and yes, Oskar did speak to me. The Atlas is too important now, it's a symbol of the future--"
"Hah! What future is that Andi? Do you really think that the board will let you run this company into the ground? You're not President yet, and with that kind of attitude I shouldn't think you ever will be. Clean, damn you man!" His last sentence was hurled at the window-cleaner who was frantically scrubbing at the glass already.
"Oskar said you were looking into other options," said Andi.
"I was, and now I'm not. There are limits, sister, and a man must know his own. There's no point trying to go beyond them. Besides, there are laws being passed that--" He stopped abruptly as though his brain had finally got control of his mouth and pushed the off-switch.
"Laws? Are you still hanging around with those so-called friends of yours in Washington, James?" Andi hid her disgust, knowing it would only anger her brother, but he was staying close-lipped.
"Get out, Andi!" he said. "You're a manager and nothing more until you turn twenty-one."
Andi turned on one heel and left, now allowing herself to stalk to conceal that she was shaking with rage. James had leveraged his filial relationship to take an office at the top of Braggart without any effort at all, whereas Andi had ignored her mother's lamentations and her father's recriminations and started at the bottom of the company and worked her way up. There were layers of the company that James had never heard of that Andi still listened to in order to know how it was working. The injustice of his words was like a slap in the face.