Chapter 21: A pity party
“Got beat up by a steel plated sociopath. Good times.”
~ Barry Allen (The Flash)
Trevor Rossi stood at the entrance to his overhanging tower in downtown Kingdom City as the limos pulled up to the curb. Guest after guest dressed in their very best were greeted by him at the door. He saw the mayor and her wife, the Schow Corporation chairman and CEO with his wife, the Police Captain and her husband, and many other influential people in the city pass him by, happy to shake the hand of the Rossi Corp CEO. By the end of the night Rossi Corp would make many beneficial connections.
No one knew that the smile he was putting on for show was masking the recent pain inside his chest. No one knew how much Trevor Rossi would be trying to avoid Lacey Carlton that night.
Another limo pulled up, this time with two teenagers getting out. The boy was in a crisp suit with light brown hair effortlessly styled to look messy but nice. The girl on his arm was wearing a deep red dress with dark hair tied back in a loose bun. Her dark skin juxtaposed to her partner’s lighter shade. She seemed vaguely familiar, but so was everyone who came to these events.
“And who may this be?” Trevor asked as the young couple came up to him. No doubt they were the children of some of the patrons tonight, taking their own car to avoid hanging around their parents. Trever remembered those days.
The boy handed him their tickets, “Ross Gustin and Raven Schmitz at your service.”
“Schmitz as in the publishing house?” Trevor asked the girl, now assuming the boy was her date. She was the one whose parents would be donating the money today.
“Oh, yes. My parents were very grateful to be invited today. They’ve always wanted to come to these events you host,” she replied ever so gracefully.
They walked right by Trevor as the next couple walked up to him. The boy let out a deep breath once they were in the doors safely. “Do you think he recognized you?”
Mera Deauxma shook her head. “This time I’m caked in makeup with my hair actually up for once. Besides, he met me for like a millisecond at a coffee shop. Would you have rather had Taylor to hang out with tonight?”
Ross laughed, the first smile to grace his face since he stumbled in to headquarters with his crush’s unconscious body in his arms.
“She probably would’ve beat up Trevor before we got in the door.”
“Hey,” a voice came in over their ears, “I can hear you perfectly fine on my end.”
Mera stopped smiling at the sound of Taylor’s voice.
“Now, do you both remember where you have to go?” Ian Thompson’s voice floated over their ears, “We can’t afford any mistakes.”
“Yes, they know,” Taylor replied, “it’s not like you didn’t tell them fifty times before letting them go out to the Charity Ball. They could probably recite your exact instructions from memory three times fast.”
Ian mumbled something incomprehensible through the mics.
The party was in full swing, which meant the aristocrats were all joyfully drinking champagne and making conversation with other powerhouses to the background of a jazz band. They were only dealing with each other so that they could use each other later on for connections, it was how the business world worked.
Mera and Ross were hanging out by the bar, not drinking anything but water and club soda, when Trevor Rossi took the stage. Now was their chance to squeeze through the breaks in security while everyone was distracted by the host of the party.
“I must first start by thanking everyone who decided to come tonight. This new age of Rossi Corp will be a glorious one with you powerful oligarchs leading the charge with me . . .”
“I thought this was a Charity Ball,” Xander asked through the mic, “Why is he acting like these companies are donating him money? He doesn’t need charity.”
The inconspicuous teens drifted through the crowd, aiming for an exit into the rest of the building that a guard had momentarily abandoned.
“. . . Once,” Trevor continued, “when I was a young boy, my father told me that I would one day take over his business from him. Neither of us realized just how soon that day would be, but, all the same, I know this was what he always wanted . . .”
Ian answered Xander’s question with a sigh of static. “Sure, they’re all technically donating to a range of charities that Rossi Corp supports, but these parties are really about the under the table deals between companies. If you can make friends with and pay off the right people, you can be practically undefeatable in Kingdom City and beyond. They’ll be giving him connections and slipping money into his accounts through shell corporations like Paramount Pharmaceuticals.”
“. . . and as I stand here today, I realize why my father cared so much about this company. It’s not just about making money. It’s about helping those in need and lending a hand to get startups on their feet. It’s about making the world a safer place . . .”
Ross and Mera slipped through the exit and into the hall, Trevor’s voice slowly fading away into a faint echo.
“You’re in the East Wing,” Ian assured, “you’ll need to take the elevator up to the forty third floor and then take a left.”
Taylor must’ve held back any comment she wanted to make.
The elevator required a code, which Ian gave to them. The ride was quiet. Neither passenger had really tried to talk about the night before. About Arctic Frost and what Ross was planning to do from that point on with her. Taylor had babysat the villain during the day and assured them she was secured enough for everyone to come on the mission. Despite Ross voicing how he wanted to see her when she awoke, he hadn’t made the effort since the original request to do anything but shrug when Taylor asked. When he went to get his Wild Fire costume to wear under his suit his arch nemesis was apparently asleep. Or, at least she seemed to be.
Mera sincerely doubted the villain had really been sleeping. She knew she wouldn’t want to speak to Ross just yet if Mera was in the super villain’s situation. How would you even recover from something like that?
When they got off the elevator they weren’t as lucky as they had been so far.
The guard noticed them right away, curiously walking toward the couple who should’ve been downstairs at the party having drinks and rubbing shoulders. “I think you’ve got the wrong place.”
Mera thought quickly and let her legs wobble under her weight. Ross thankfully caught her, caught on to her line of thought, and smiled sheepishly at the guard, “I think my date had a little bit too much to drink.”
Mera nodded in a big motion and poked Ross’s face, “He’s my hero.”
The guard relaxed. They were just another harmless drunk teenage couple who were trying to get away from the party, not delinquents. “You do know this is a restricted area, right?”
Mera frowned, “But we only wanted to use the restroom, Officer.” She stifled a hiccup and stage whispered, “I have to go pee.”
Ross convincingly sighed and gave the guard a knowing look. The guard laughed.
“Alright you two. The bathroom is to the right, just be quick.” He winked and walked down the hall out of their sight.
Mera picked herself up from Ross’s arms and grinned widely and full of joy. “That reminded me of the time we raided your mom’s liquor cabinet in middle school.”
“Middle school?” Xander’s voice filled their ears, “You got drunk in middle school?”
Mera shrugged though Xander wouldn’t be able to see. “We each had like one sip and it burned too much, but we sure did think we were drunk. Placebo Effect.”
It had been so long since the two old friends had actually hung out when not catching super villains that Mera had almost forgotten how fun it was to be around Ross. When she moved schools into the rougher part of town, Mera thought she would never see her old friend again. But then he approached her to help him in his superhero act and she got to see Ross almost every day. Even when she and Taylor fought about their differing views and broke things off for good, Ross was there for her as a good friend. With his crush on the weird badass in his class, she never had to worry about him trying to take advantage of their friendship.
She was glad she had the opportunity to recognize how special their friendship was.
“Don’t get distracted,” Ian warned.
Mera sighed and they headed off down the hall. In no time the security office Ian had told them about was in front of them. Another code fed by the MASKED agent got them in the room, which was temporarily abandoned by the security guard patrolling the halls. A quick scan of the feeds told them that Trevor was done with his speech and was heading up an elevator, probably up to his penthouse suite to escape the party down below. Mera sat at the computer and with a quick bit of typing she found the security code she would need to disable the alarms near the air vents, where everyone else would be entering.
“Ian, what’s the password?”
“What? There’s a password?”
Ross and Mera shared grave expressions. They had gotten this far due to his extensive knowledge of how Rossi Corp ran, but now they were stuck.
“It’s eleven characters long,” Ross offered.
Ian sighed. “It’s my name. Ian Thompson. He probably hasn’t had time to change it since . . .”
Ross lifted his eyebrows, but didn’t say anything.
The password seemed to be right because a green checkmark appeared alerting them to the relieved security protocols near the air vents.
“You guys are safe to come in now. We’ll meet you in the Scientific Research wing.”
Trevor Rossi stepped off the elevator, followed by some advisors and guards. Normally a certain redhead would be a part of the troupe, but Trevor knew Ian would never be coming back now.
He had just been told that a certain CEO was waiting for him in his conference room, someone who definitely hadn’t been invited to the party downstairs, but had assured him anyways that she’d try and show up.
Lacey Carlton was dressed in a gown that would’ve flattered her if her expression wasn’t as cold as ice. She was surrounded by her own team of advisors and Trevor was surprised to see her husband, Chase Carlton, in the mix. He was under the impression that the bow and arrow slinging vigilante was no longer involved in Carlton Laboratories business ventures.
“Trevor, we have something urgent to discuss.”
He laughed. “Sure, but I can have you kicked off my premises before you even utter another word. The days of you barging in here unannounced are over, Miss Waters,” Trevor used the name just to irk her. Remind her that she did not have the real biological claim to her company like Trevor had to his. “I see you even need your husband here to assist you.”
Her vulture-like eyes only sharpened at his harsh words. “And I can assure you my husband only came as my guest to the Ball. He needs a break once in a while from saving innocent people from villains like the ones you hire.”
“You have nothing, Lacey.” Trevor opened his arms and smiled carelessly. “I already got the information I needed from them, and you helped in a way. Had you not opened my eyes to some traitors in my midst, I would be much further in the dark than I am now.”
Her face showed color for the first time. Trevor knew she was scared of what he may know, and especially scared if it was her fault that Ian was revealed.
But the CEO recovered quickly. Quicker than she should have. “No matter, whatever damage you may have done I can easily fix.”
“How so?” Trevor was now wary of what she was suggesting.
A satisfied grin passed over the woman’s lips. “As of tonight, Rossi Corp is now in the process of being dissolved into a subsidiary of Carlton Laboratories.”
Trevor’s superior smirk fell for a second. “No, you’re lying. I would know.”
“That’s why I’m here now. I’m here to tell you I was able to convince your board the benefits of a merger despite your attempts to derail me. It was what your father wanted, Trevor.”
No. It couldn’t be.
Chase Carlton stepped forward. It was now clear as to why he was here. A hero ready to keep Trevor in line if he overreacted to the news of Lacey’s supposed takeover. Because there was no way it was true. It didn’t make sense to Trevor’s view of the world. Lacey Carlton would not win against him.
“You’re trying to trick me.”
Lacey sighed and crossed her arms. He saw her advisors tensing up. “This is no trick. You answer to me now.”
“I see. You think if you can convince me that it’s already happened that I’ll give in, right? You think I’m just going to hand my father’s legacy over because you told me to? I’m not as dumb as you may think, Carlton. I know what you’re up to!”
Lacy backed up a step as her husband stepped forward. Who could blame her? Trevor’s eyes had gone wide and it seemed like something had clicked behind the curtain. He couldn’t register his world falling around him into ashes, not when he had tried too hard to convince himself it wasn’t nearing. If he abandoned his version of reality now, he wouldn’t be able to take it.
Trevor messed with his hair and started to pace. “First you corrupt my best friend into killing my father, and then you work with MASKED to get Ian close to me just to spy on me and break my spirit, and now you’ve gone and tried to take my company away from me – my birthright! You’re more of a villain than you think I am!”
“What are you going on about?” Lacey asked, “I haven’t done half of those things.”
“Ah!” Trevor yelled aloud. “So you admit to some of them?”
Lacey shook her head, confused. She knew something wasn’t all right with Trevor. Maybe she should’ve tried to ease the information on him more slowly. “Trevor, you have to calm down and act like a real adult here. This is how the business world works.”
He shook his head. “No, you only did this to stop my company from doing something. You probably don’t even know what it is that you’re trying to stop, just the fact that I’m doing it is enough for you to try and stop me, right?”
He wasn’t wrong.
“It doesn’t matter now,” Chase spoke for the first time, “you’re to lament control over Rossi Corp immediately.”
Then the alarm rang out over the building.