Ted was still tapping away on his phone as Alex approached the table. He didn’t look up until she set his cocktail down in front of him.
As soon as he saw her, a smile broke across his face. “Hello, Alex.”
“Hi.” She crossed her arms. “Ted, right?”
“That’s right.” He picked up the glass and took a sip. “Mm. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. What do you want?”
“Like I said, just to talk.” He gestured to the seat across from him. “Would you sit? Please?”
She considered for a few seconds, before sliding the chair out and taking a seat. “Why do you want to talk with me? Do I know you?”
“No, we haven’t met. If you didn’t catch me say it, I just got into town last night.”
“Then why are you looking for me?” She finally checked his shirt, looking at the company name under the logo. “And what’s SubTerra Industries?”
“The company I work for,” he answered plainly. “A mining conglomerate based out of Vancouver, with a number of contracts around Canada and the western United States.”
Mining. Alex sat up straight, her guard rising.
Ted picked up on it right away. “Alex, please. I told your friends that I’m not here to make your life harder.”
“Yea, that’s what the last mining company said.” Alex folded her arms. “Before they tried to kill me. And after they killed my father and brother.”
His face and outer manner didn’t change, but his aura did. Alex saw it flash blue, for an instant, though it dissipated quickly enough.
That’s an odd reaction.
“I am sorry for what Typhon did to your family,” he told her. “That it was even allowed to happen, never mind that they tried to cover it all up… well, I only really know what I read in the news, but it’s very disturbing.”
“Yea.” Alex paused. “What does any of this have to do with you?”
Ted leaned back in his seat and rubbed his chin. “Honestly, I’m surprised you’d have to ask. I figured you’d be following along with Typhon’s misfortunes.”
“I am. But I haven’t read anything about a company named SubTerra being involved.”
“We’re not involved with the investigation. Or we weren’t, anyway, though I suppose we could be now to some degree.”
“Why is that?”
“Typhon, as I’m sure you know, is hemorrhaging money,” he reminded her. “Their board of directors is scrambling, trying to cover those losses, and they’re doing it by selling some of their mining interests. SubTerra has purchased a number of them for excellent prices, including the rights to mine uranium here in Haven Springs.”
Alex blinked. “… SubTerra owns Typhon’s mines now?”
“And the equipment they staged here. Most of the miners will be transferring to us as well, though I understand a few have left for better prospects.”
She absorbed the new knowledge for a moment. “And your role in all this is…”
“I’ve been hired to take over as the local Operations Manager.”
“Ah.” Alex leaned forward, setting her elbows on the table. “So you’re the new Diane Jacobs.”
Once again, Ted’s face didn’t change. But his aura flashed bright red, though it vanished before it affected her.
Woah. Alex blinked in surprise, as he took a slow breath. Did I touch a nerve?
“I’d… much rather not be compared to her,” Ted allowed. “Or associated with her in any way.”
He sighed heavily. “Can I show you something?”
Ted opened his laptop bag on the seat next to him, producing a wrinkled photo and placing it on the table between them. It looked like a family photo; an older man sat beside what looked like his son, a man in his twenties or thirties. Between them was a small boy sitting on the younger man’s knee, wearing a hard hat on his head and flashing a goofy smile for the camera.
“Cute kid,” she observed.
“Thank you.” Ted tapped the photo. “This is me with my father and grandfather, about thirty years ago. It was taken six days before they died in a mining accident.”
Alex was taken aback. “Seriously?”
“Yes. They worked for a mining company in Georgia; my grandfather was a foreman, and my father ran heavy equipment.” Ted’s aura flashed blue as he talked. “The company was running a gold mine a few hours north of Atlanta. But halfway through their last shift, their entire branch of the mine collapsed, killing them and nineteen other people.”
“… I’m sorry.”
“Thank you.” Ted took the photo back. “My mother was told that my grandfather led the team into an area he wasn’t supposed to, and the company blamed the whole tragedy on him. But she knew he never would’ve done that and began relentlessly digging for information about the accident. It took years of legal filings and discovery, but we finally learned that a proper site survey was never done.”
“No. The paperwork and maps the company gave my grandfather were forged, and they led him into an unstable part of the mountain.”
“Shit.” Alex leaned back in her seat. “Did they pay?”
“They did. My mother forced them to publicly admit what they did, absolve my grandfather, and pay severe penalties. The executives who got the team killed are still in prison, just like Diane Jacobs and Jedediah Lucan will be for a long time.”
Alex nodded. “That’s where they belong.”
“Although I’m still not sure about what this has to do with me.”
“I’m getting to that.” He cleared his throat. “Alex, as part of our purchase of the rights here in Haven Springs we performed an operational risk assessment. And while several issues came to light, mostly dealing with Typhon’s policies and standards, the situation involving you and your family was near the top of the list.”
Alex furrowed her brow. “Excuse me? How am I at the top of a risk assessment?”
“Because while the people responsible for the deaths of your father and brother have been arrested, you could still demand a thorough investigation. And based on what happened, we would have to comply, which means keeping the mine shut down for the foreseeable future.” Ted nodded. “You and a good lawyer could stonewall our operations for weeks, maybe months.”
“The government is already investigating what happened,” she said uncertainly. “There’s been a whole thing. I got a bunch of calls from reporters about it.”
“The federal investigation is focused on the decisions Typhon was making at the corporate level that led to them being in a position to cover up such a serious accident. They’re no longer looking at the specific incidents that lead to your brother’s and father’s deaths.”
“I thought they were. Isn’t that why the mining is suspended?”
“Only indirectly. And not for long.” Ted nodded at his phone. “We’ve applied for operations to resume. We have all the proper licenses, and inspectors will be here in a few days; my supervisors expect us to be able to start working within the next two or three weeks.”
He paused. “But again, you could hinder all of that. Your local sheriff’s office did investigate your brother’s death, but they were hampered by Typhon’s political connections, and it was far from thorough. You could demand that outside law enforcement agencies do the work instead, which would force us to close the site until they finished.”
Alex narrowed her eyes. “Given what happened, you’ll forgive me if I couldn’t give less of a shit about a mining company’s bottom line.”
“Unless you weren’t paying attention to my story, Alex, I’m the last person who would take fault with you feeling vindictive.” He shrugged. “Look, can I be frank with you?”
“I thought you preferred Ted.”
He blinked, then snorted in amusement. “That was good.”
“Thanks. What are you being frank about?”
“Alex, we both know what happened to your brother. And your father. They were the victims of a greedy corporation who placed profit margins, efficiency, and their reputation over other people’s lives. And that corporation is going to pay for what they did.”
“And are you going to pretend SubTerra is NOT a greedy corporation?” Alex asked pointedly.
“Of course we are. We’re a business, and businesses exist to make money. But not to the point where human lives can be assigned a dollar value.” Ted held up both hands. “SubTerra had nothing to do with what happened, and neither did most of the people in this town who need to get back to work so they can get paid.”
Alex frowned. “I thought Typhon was still paying them while their license was suspended.”
“As I said, Typhon no longer owns the mine. They cut their employees loose when they sold it.”
“… assholes,” Alex muttered.
“For more reasons than one.” Ted reached back into his laptop bag. “SubTerra doesn’t want to make trouble. We simply want to leave the past behind us, re-open the mine, put people back to work, and get everything back to normal. To that point, I’ve been asked to give you this for your consideration.”
Alex watched him withdraw a manilla envelope and open it, revealing several sheets of paper. “What’s that?”
“An indemnity agreement.” He placed the folder in front of her. “You were never properly made whole for what happened to your family, and you should have been. Signing this paperwork means that you would agree not to re-open the investigation, nor take any other actions to negatively affect SubTerra operations for reasons relating to the deaths of John and Gabriel Chen.”
He flipped to the next page. “In exchange for such, SubTerra is willing to pay you a settlement for your pain and suffering.”
Alex saw the highlighted number on the second page, promising her a payment of two hundred thousand dollars.
“That’s… a lot,” she noted quietly.
“As I said, we want to put the past behind us and move forward.” Ted folded his hands in front of him. “I know better than most, that this money doesn’t negate the deaths of your family. But nothing we do will change what happened. The money is meant to help you make a decision, not make you forget.”
“Mm.” Alex looked between him and the paperwork. “And if I refuse?”
“Then the proper authorities step in and open a long and taxing investigation, after which they will conclude that Typhon was negligent, which we already know. And then they’ll release us to get back to work. You can take their official findings to a lawyer to sue Typhon, and you’ll probably get more money than what we’re offering, but it’ll take years of effort. And they’ll fight you every step of the way with a legal team the size of a small army.”
He gestured out the door of the bar. “On top of all that, while the authorities investigate, we won’t be able to work. Which means that more than two hundred people in this town won’t be paid.”
Alex tried to read him again. He was still lacking an aura that she could pick up on, so she guessed that he didn’t have any strong emotions one way or another. He certainly didn’t seem overly afraid of her, or angry.
Come on, Alex, sign the paperwork.
Please don’t do this the hard way like my mother did.
Hm. Alex looked back at the paperwork, took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. “… do I have time to think about it?”
“Of course. You’re free to take whatever time you need, or have it looked over by your own lawyer if you want.” Ted produced a business card from his pocket. “Call me whenever you make your decision.”
She accepted the card, putting it in the folder before closing it. “Thanks.”
“Sure.” He closed his laptop bag, then quickly downed the rest of his cocktail. “On an unrelated note, I’ve eaten nothing but drive-thru since I left Seattle. Is there a restaurant in town that doesn’t serve fried food?”
Alex smirked. “The diner across the street has some pasta options. Our burgers are better, though.”
“I believe you, and I mean no offense, but I’d really like something that didn’t come off a grill for a change.” He retrieved his wallet and stood, dropping a few bills on the table. “Thank you for the drink.”
With that, he turned and left. Alex watched him go, then stared back at the manilla folder in front of her.
… holy shit.
Two hundred grand. I can barely fathom that much money. I don’t even know what the hell I’d do with it.
And all I have to do is promise to fuck off.
He is right, though. I do know what happened to Gabe and Dad. Plus, I already made Jed and Diane pay for what they did. She bit her lip. Is it fair to put all the miners in town out of work just because I’m feeling vindictive?
Really wish you were here, Gabe. I’d love to know what you want me to do.
Steph and Ryan sliding into the seats across from her finally made Alex look up. “Babe? Are you okay?” her girlfriend asked.
“Yes,” she answered quietly. “I’m fine.”
Ryan leaned forward. “What did he say?”
“… a lot.”