Table of Contents
The Moral Hazard
By Arjun Vivekananda
Copyright © 2017 by Arjun Vivekananda
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This story takes place in the fictional city of New Lyonesse in the fictional state of Narragansett. New Lyonesse replaces the city of Providence, Rhode Island while Narragansett state encompasses both Rhode Island and Connecticut. Locations mentioned have real world analogues in order to give the fictional world a more vibrant and realistic feel.
However, this is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Eris Lisbeth Benson watched her older sister Persephone tap her pen on her desk. As long as Eris could remember, Persephone had that habit when she was bored. Listening to the Taggart Group’s Chief Operating Officer Lai Zhen’s quarterly report was boring for her to bring it back.
“Really fascinating stuff,” Persephone said, yawning a little bit. “Are we done with the bean counting? Can we get to real business?” Persephone picked up her hundred dollar booze glass and shook it in Eris’ direction, the rattling of the melting ice reverberating in the cavernous corner office. “Eris, you’re twenty one now right? Get me a vodka rocks. Make it a double.”
Sitting in her black satin cocktail dress and wide studded leather cuffs, with a fur-lined coat draped over the arm of her chair, Eris could only scowl at the request. “Oh, sorry sis, I’m not nearly as deep in the sauce as you are. So I think I’ll make something you’ll hate so much you’ll just toss it across the room.”
Persephone didn’t flinch. “I’m willing to take that risk.”
“Maybe you should get Yolanda in here to wait on you hand and foot. She’s not bright enough to understand anything that we’re saying anyway.” Eris’ scowl morphed into a smirk. “What? Not all us blondes are as dumb as she is.”
There were a lot of things Eris had always been good at: math, technology, strategy, subterfuge, but she had never developed a skill sharper than her ability to make her oldest sister pissed as all hell. Of course, Persephone was so tense these days that it was almost too easy. Just any mention of her private life and—
Lai stood up and took the glass out of Persephone’s hand. “I’ll get you the drink. And I’ll make it a single. We’re still having a meeting here.” Persephone didn’t give the COO a death glare. More of a terrible maiming glare. Lai didn’t seem to mind. At least not anymore than she seemed to mind that she was forty nine and was answering to a woman half her age. The same woman who was the daughter of her former lover/boss.
Not for the first time, Eris marveled at how the two billion dollar conglomerate was just as screwed up as the Benson family that owned it.
“Whatever,” Persephone said, surrendering the glass. The awkward silence was just starting to settle before she broke it. “Numbers are nice but I want to know what’s going on with all those idiots Dad hired.”
Lai came back to the desk and handed Persephone the glass before pushing away her stylishly cut black hair from her eyes. “If you’re referring to all the executives we have with all those valuable connections then I don’t think you have much to worry about. The whole point is that they’re just there to smooth feathers, open accounts, give us access to people, that kind of thing. What does having you as CEO do to change that?”
Persephone drank half her drink. “Because they don’t respect me like they did Dad. Because they think they’re more important than they are. Because—”
Lai held up a hand to stop Persephone from talking. “Listen, when Victor and I started this company we had our fair share of disrespectful subordinates and they bucked too. Once you wow them with your—”
Persephone brought the glass down on the desk so loudly it made Eris jump a bit. “The memo!” she said. “‘The Disney Princess Memo.’ You’re not going to sit there and tell me that you haven’t heard about it!”
“I’ve heard about it,” Eris said. “‘What To Do When You Work For Cinderella and Snow White.’ I guess you’re Snow White with those brunette locks of yours while I’m Cinderella.” She took the opportunity to flip her back length blonde hair. “They got the hair color right but can you think of a less apt comparison to us than those happy and carefree little bitches?”
“Accuracy isn’t the point Eris.” Persephone’s grip on her booze glass got tighter. “It’s about these useless assholes thinking of us as ditzy and privileged little girls playing at being the boss in Daddy’s office.”
Well. Eris hated to admit but, on occasion, her big sister actually made a good point. Lai didn’t seem to think about it in those terms, though. “Harmless office banter. Stuff like that circulates all the time. Victor never let it concern him.”
“Yeah Dad wouldn’t have done anything to somebody calling him a pretty princess would he?” Persephone said. “Don’t answer that. Just go. I need to talk to Eris. Alone.” She gave a flap of her hand at Lai.
“Shorter meeting than usual Persephone? You won’t hear me complain.” Lai stood up. “Call me if you need me this weekend and try not to do anything too wild and crazy while I’m not around will you girls?” Eris didn’t like the tone Lai used or the ghost of a smile across her face. On the one hand Victor had trusted Lai for nearly thirty years. And, without her, there wouldn’t be a Taggart Group.
But that was then and this was now.
Persephone stood up as soon as the door closed and stormed back to the bar to make another drink. “I don’t trust that cunt.”
Eris clucked her tongue. “Good thing we paid for those bug sweeps. You probably don’t want to be caught on tape saying that.”
“Well I’m paying good money to make sure I can say whatever the fuck I want in here. Cunt, slut, whore, bitch, dyke—”
“I don’t need your curriculum vitae. I do need to know what you want to talk to me about.”
“This ‘Disney Princess Memo’. Find out who wrote it then tell me. Nobody else, not even Lai.”
That didn’t surprise Eris at all. Getting Lai to go through big hoops for something this inconsequential would be like pulling teeth. Unfortunately, Persephone had an ego that was half the size of New Lyonesse and as fragile as a little crystal statuette.
“What makes you think I can do it?”
Persephone took a sip from the drink as she sat back at her desk, looking much more focused than she had when Lai had been there. “Please. You think I don’t know what you’re doing with all that ‘surplus’ IT budget?”
“If you did then it would mean I’m not using it right.”
Persephone laughed. “Give me some evidence about who did this shit and I can grow that little surplus into that big secretive ‘business intelligence’ proof of concept you’ve been asking about since day one.”
“Three million for a name? Generous offer. I can’t say no but—” Eris’ eyes narrowed. “Why do you want to know about this shit anyway?”
Persephone was studying the bottom of the empty glass. “By the way, don’t bother saying hi to that bitch for me when you see her this weekend.”
There could have been a dozen women labeled “that bitch” but that venomous tone was only reserved for one. Eris hadn’t told Persephone that she was driving out to see their mother this weekend and she didn’t like that Persephone knew about it. “If it makes you feel better, the subject of Her Royal Highness Princess Persephone of House Benson never comes up.” Eris stood up. “Give me a few days. You’ll have your info.” She glanced at the empty vodka glass. “And I know you won’t listen but it might behoove you to take it easy on the alcohol.”
“Just as soon as you take it easy on the amphetamines. Bye Eris.”
Shit. Persephone knew that too. Eris was far more annoyed with herself than she was with her sister. It was bad enough when most of her weekend was going to be spent finding the Rogue Memo Writer. Now she also had to find all the holes in her security and plug them. Marvelous.
Eris knocked on the door of the modest suburban house in eastern Narragansett. She loved getting out of New Lyonesse, even if it was just an hour’s drive to Hartford, but after her last meeting with Persephone this particular trip had enough foreboding to make it less enjoyable.
“Eris!” The eleven-year-old girl shouted as soon as she opened the door to assault Eris with a hug.
“Oof!” Eris took an exaggerated breath, pretending to be knocked back by Irene’s embrace. “You’re going to knock me off the steps one of these times, girl!”
“Shut up! If you don’t want me to be so happy when you come here then you should come here more often.” Irene then remembered that at some point she had to actually let Eris in the house. She released Eris and opened the door wider. “Mom! Ellen!” she said. “Eris is here!”
Eris stepped into the well-kept house before seeing her mother, Ellen, and a stunning brunette woman in her late thirties emerging from the hallway together. The sight was so foreign to Eris that it took a moment for her to remember the events of the past year.
“Hey Mom. Hey Lynn.” Lynn, sweet as sugar as always, embraced Eris with less vigor than her daughter Irene had.
“Hi Eris. It’s good to see you again. I—”
Lynn wasn’t able to finish her thought before Irene piped up. “Mom, is it okay if I show Eris my new game?” Irene turned to Eris. “Have you played ‘Need For Speed’ Eris? It’s—”
Lynn laughed. “Irene, don’t be rude. Eris came by to talk to Ellen for a little bit.”
Ellen gently put her hand on Lynn’s arm. “No, it’s okay Lynn. Eris is here all day.”
“Nonsense, Ellie,” Lynn said. “Irene, why don’t we do some shopping and let Eris spend some time with Ellen, hm?”
Irene deflated at the news but knew better than to argue. “We’re all still going out to dinner tonight, right?”
Eris mussed up Irene’s hair to the young girl’s squealing protest. “If I didn’t I’d have to expect another assault by you so what choice do I have?” That seemed to satisfy Lynn and Irene who said their goodbyes before leaving. Ellen was already in the cupboards of the kitchen before the garage door of the house could close.
“Do you want something to drink Eris? Lynn and I just bought one of those new K-Cup machines. I wanted to get Starbucks K-Cups but we found a much better deal on these organic San Francisco Bay brands. And they’re biodegradable. I can put it in right now and—”
“I’m fine Mom, I’m not a coffee person. Soda’s fine. Cola if you have it.” Eris sat down at the kitchen table.
“Oh sure sweetie. How could I forget?” Ellen said as she took down two glasses from the cupboard. She opened the fridge, took out a two liter bottle of Coke, and poured. “Let me guess, you still have that little bottle of vanilla in your purse, right?”
Eris laughed as she pulled out the bottle and shook it in her fingers. “Guilty as charged. Jeez, you’d think you were my mother or something.”
Ellen put the glasses on the table and sat down. She watched Eris put a few drops of vanilla in her Coke. “You know, when you were all girls Perse and Andy were the ones always clamoring for coffee but you were different, of course. The youngest is always different.” She chuckled. “And the whole vanilla thing… Do you remember that I first caught you stealing vanilla out of the cabinet when you were ten?”
Eris smiled. “I remember. That was the day after the babysitter had caught me taking apart the DVD player right?”
It was Ellen’s turn to laugh. “Oh God, poor Sara! We were so scared of what else you could possibly take apart after that. I was kind of mad at you but your father just waved it off.”
There was a pause as Ellen took a sip from her own glass of Coke. “So how’s work? How’s your sister doing?”
Between having your drinking problem and Dad’s narcissism it’s a miracle she hasn’t drowned in the deep end that she got tossed her in.
Eris pulled the tips of her fingers thinking back to the last conversation she had had with Persephone. “Work’s busy and Persephone’s okay. She’s under a lot of pressure, you know? But she can handle it.”
“That’s good. How are you two getting along?”
Eris shifted in her chair. “We clench our teeth and bear it, I guess. It’s only been a few months though so—”
So one day something’s going to snap and we’re going to be at each other’s throats. Thanks for reminding me.
“Mom, why are you asking all of this?”
“It’s just that I’ve been thinking about her lately and—” Ellen looked past Eris to stare out the patio door that led to the house’s deck. “It’s just that being here with Lynn and Irene makes me regret how I left things with Perse. Next time you see her, can you ask her to call me… If she wants?”
Ellen shook her head. “I know that you two haven’t gotten along but it’s different for me. I don’t like leaving this sort of thing open.”
Eris snorted. “Yeah, if there’s one person who’s treated you as badly as Dad, it’s Persephone. I can see why you’re in a hurry to patch things up.”
Ellen flinched. Her eyes went from Eris to her glass, studying the condensation dripping down it.
Jesus, it’s like smacking around a kitten.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. It’s just that I was so happy when you cut Dad out of your life like you should have. And now you have me, Andromeda, Lynn, and Irene. Why are you still trying to keep your attachment to somebody who hates you?”
Ellen rubbed her thumbs against the condensation on the glass. She glanced over to a liquor cabinet before realizing that she was tipping her hand at what she’d rather be drinking instead of Coke.
Eris sighed. “Forget it. It’s okay, I’ll let Persephone know.” Actually, Eris had no intention of bringing this up to her eldest sister. She had no problem needling Persephone but there were limits and, as their last meeting had made clear, their mother was one of them.
“But let’s change the subject. Did you find a new job yet?”
Oh great. Let’s leave the topic of her sociopathic bitch of a daughter and move on to the fact that she’s unemployed. Smooth move, Eris.
“Well close. I have an interview for a job at Macy’s as a sales girl. It’s really the only thing you can get when you’re a forty-eight year old woman and have a twenty-five year gap in your resume.” Ellen gave a little laugh like it was a joke. “Part-time at first. Probably second shift which means I’ll get to be home during the summer to keep an eye on Irene during the day.” She reached over and patted Eris’ hand. “It’ll be nice. Bring me back to the old days. And looking after Irene will be a lot easier than the three of you girls running around.”
Especially when Daddy Dearest was having us go at each other’s throats for no other reason than to make him laugh.
“Mom, are you sure you don’t want some money? I mean I’m happy that you’re independent but I don’t want you and Lynn losing the house. My guess is that part time work at Macy’s won’t help enough.”
“It’s not that dire,” Ellen said, looking up to match her blue eyes to Eris’ hazels. “But I don’t want your money or anyone else’s. We’ll make do.”
The confidence in her mother’s eyes and tone shocked Eris. Ever since she could remember, Ellen had been a weak, soft, easily-manipulated puppet with a smile sewed on to her pretty face, dancing to Dad’s tune. But now—
The burner phone in Eris’ pocket inserted itself in the conversation. She took it out and scowled. “Sorry Mom, I have to take this.”
Ellen nodded as she picked up her empty glass and took it to the kitchen. Eris stood up and started walking towards the deck. “Speak.”
“Yeah, Discordia? You said to call you when—”
“Hold on.” Eris opened the sliding door and stepped outside, shutting it behind her. “Sorry about that, Plague. You caught me at a bad time.”
“It’s okay. Well I finally found the PC where that shit was printed from. Took a while to check out all those files in the printer queues and, of course, I had to go through three quarters of them before I found the asshole. Tied it back to the login just like you asked.”
Eris listened to the name as she glanced back at Ellen who was putting her glass away in the dishwasher. “Okay fine. Thanks for your help and wait for the money. I’ll have it by the end of next week. Get things in motion on your end.”
“Oui, mon capitaine!” Eris’ best friend said before hanging up the phone. Eris pocketed the burner and went back inside.
“Sorry Mom, it was a business call.”
Ellen closed the dishwasher and turned back to Eris. “Taking business calls at the age of twenty one as Chief Technology Officer.” She shook her head. “I always knew you were cut out for something big but not in a million years did I think it would come so soon.”
Eris shrugged. “What can I say? I’ve been training for this job my whole life.”
The weight of Persephone Patricia Benson’s Coach tote dug into her shoulder as she stared at the entrance of the restaurant Benson’s. For most of her life, Benson’s was like the rest of Daddy’s empire: something wonderful that she would have someday when the time came. This wouldn’t be the first time she had been to the place since Daddy left everything to her five months ago but it would be the first time she would go in for Business rather than Pleasure.
Persephone went into the restaurant and saw Ilsa, Benson’s senior manager, waiting for her. “Miss Benson, it’s always nice to see you. Your guest is waiting for you. May I take you to her now?”
“Please,” Persephone said. Ilsa led her to a secluded table that already had two empty wine glasses and an outrageously-priced bottle of wine on the table, and a thirty-something, angel-faced brunette with a gymnast’s body sitting at it.
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Wealth. Beauty. Youth. Power. Persephone and Eris Benson have it all ever since their father, Victor, unexpectedly handed them the keys to his billion dollar company. Being in the city of New Lyonesse, a city filled with honest criminals, crooked politicians, and vicious corporate executives, the sisters find that being at the top makes them objects of desire... and tempting targets. And when an unexpected and dangerous enemy comes gunning for them, Persephone and Eris must confront their past to make sure they have a future.