The Hostile Takeover of Tiber Septim’s Teahouse
I’ve been on a bit of a fantasy bend lately. And when you’re in the mood for an epic quest, nothing sates that thirst quite like an Elder Scrolls game.
For reasons unknown, instead of old favourite Skyrim, I hit up Oblivion, starting a new game with a new character: Eren Moop, the 14 year old Imperial blondie, terrified of everything and yet surprisingly competent on the battlefield.
All this got me to thinking that Oblivion’s main storyline would be perfect as a thriller set in a high-flying business world, a la Disclosure or Company Man. Just perfect. And so Moop got his own story, set not in Cyrodiil but in London, in the final, alarming days of Tiber Septim’s Teahouse (PTY LTD.)
If you’re keen, here it is.
Uriel Septimus gazed from his teacup to the view of London through his sixty-first floor office window.
“So it’s come to this.”
Thirty years as company president, no heirs, and as the letter on the desk said, his last attorney was dead. The agents of O’Blivion were on his doorstep.
The age of Tiber Septim’s Teahouse was at an end.
Moop sat behind the desk of his tiny cubicle, staring into the eyes of the man across the hallway.
The florescent lights striping the ceiling were green with age, dim and flickering like sunlight filtered through algae. They turned the skin of the man opposite into something gross and nightmarish, a grubby little man blotted with budding plant life.
Moop shook his head and the impression dissipated, but not before he had the chance to ask himself: just how long had the man been down here?
“Hey, Englishman.” The grubby man was Australian. His accent was nasal and grating. Moop imagined he was there on a transfer, but had no way to know for sure. “You better hope they fire you. Else you’re gonna rot down here. Rot.”
Like vegetable matter.
Moop shivered. He looked away from the grubby man. On his desk was a small computer cased in grey-white plastic and a monitor box with an eight inch display. There was a floppy disc in the single desk drawer, but Moop had been born some years after floppy discs went out of fashion and had no idea how to use one. There were several blank sheets of paper with the company header beside the computer. Beneath them was a manila folder and a couple of bull clips. There was also a stuttering pen, a large, greasy keyboard, and a mouse on a very tight cable.
It was the end of Moop’s second week of work for Tiber Septim’s Teahouse Propriety Limited (TST PTY LTD.) He still had no idea what he was doing.
And, he feared, now that there were only forty five minutes left of his trial time with the company’s head London office, he would very soon be fired.
Of course, he also wasn’t sure why he had been hired, or if he wanted to work in a green basement for the rest of his life, or to forever stare into the beetly eyes of the grubby Australian transfer. So maybe being fired wouldn’t be all that bad. A slap on the shoulder, and they’d let him go.
The grubby man lifted his head, one ear tilted to the ceiling. “D’you hear that, Englishman?”
Moop’s eyes slid involuntarily sideways. Footsteps. One tread belonged to the floor supervisor, Mr Barry, heavy but sharp. There was at least one other set of feet, and Moop didn’t recognise them. He glanced at the grubby man.
“They’re coming for you,” the grubby man said, with a smirk that showed off his cancelled dental plan, “this is it for you. Fired. Guess at least I can’t complain they show favouritism to their countrymen.”
Then again. Moop was also dirt poor, and whatever bag of coins the office job paid, it was more than the paper round had done. He looked around the cubicle for somewhere to hide. There was nowhere. Nor was there any way to hide his lack of work. Urgently, he pushed his chair back against the unpainted concrete wall and sprung up and peered over the plastic cubicle divide.
He and the grubby Australian had the honour of the last two cubicles in a very long row of tiny cramped basement cells. A thin corridor snaked down the middle of what might have been a hundred cells – cubicles, accessed by a single, rickety elevator at the opposite end. Any footsteps on the central aisle were huge, claps of thunder banging around the concrete press of the office sublevels. Three people marching in smart business shoes, and it was the war gongs bearing down on those banished to the basement.
Moop had a glimpse of a hundred other heads peering over their cubicle walls, and then the huge angry face of the supervisor appeared in front of him and he fell backwards with a yelp.
“Back up against yer desk!” Mr Barry barked, blocking Moop’s skittering escape from his cubicle. He was surrounded by two concrete walls, the plastic divide and the desk, on which rested Mr Barry’s beefy hip. “You! Intern, yes, you! Get back up against your desk!”
Moop cowered against the desk, then cowered under it. He peered fearfully over the desktop as Mr Barry strode into his cubicle, fierce face burning, staring this way and that. The huge man stepped closer to Moop, turning his back to the wall. Mr Barry was dressed all in black, black suit, black tie, black shirt, shiny black shoes, slicked back black hair and close-to black skin. The one colourful thing about him was his bloodshot eyes. He bowed stiffly to a frail old man in a burgundy suit and suede loafers ambling into the cubicle.
Some of Moop’s apprehension gave way to curiosity. He recognised the old man. He was in that video they made you watch before they sent you down to the basement. He was the – the – the company President! Mr Uriel Septimus himself!
“Sir,” said Moop gravely, from under the desk, a hand to his breast, “it is my honour and privilege.”
Septimus looked around sharply. “What was that?”
“One of your desk monkeys, sir,” said Mr Barry dryly. “He’s under here.”
“Oh, well,” Septimus peered under the desk. He said to Moop’s terrified smile, “Hello lad. What are you doing under there?”
“I was asked to move aside, sir, and this was the only place left to go.”
There was another pair of legs beside the desk now. These were also suited. Female. Moop heard the waxy clicking of his keyboard and assumed it was being hacked. He also assumed that if the fifty thousand MS Paint dicks he’d drawn were found that he’d be fired immediately.
But it seemed Moop’s dicks were safe for another day. The second suit, the woman, said, “Protocol initiated, sir. Stand by for escape hatch opening.”
From somewhere very close by came a heavy clunk and a harsh grating, and a rush of musty air into the cubicle. Moop watched through a grove of legs as the concrete side wall indented and then was dragged roughly aside.
“The assassins have come for me,” Septimus said to Moop, stooped over the desk. “O’Blivion Beverage International has been after my company for years. Now I’m old they think one push down the stairs will do me in. And today’s the day, lad! I saw it in my tealeaves. With me out of the way, the company will be put to auction and no one will stand against O’Blivion’s takeover. It’ll be the end of us.”
“Yes, sir,” said Moop. “What do you mean, sir?”
“Assassins, lad! They’re onto me! Make it look like an accident, they will. They’re all through the building, imposters posed as ordinary office girls. But I won’t let them take me. I’ll fight them to the bitter end.” The old man bared his teeth.
“Sir,” the female bodyguard laid her hand on Septimus’s thin shoulder. Behind her, Barry was slipping on a pair of shades. In that swift motion he went from supervisor to bodyguard. “We have to go. The hitmen will be down here any moment. We can’t keep them from committing manslaughter forever.”
“What are you waiting for?” called a voice from across the aisle. “He hasn’t done any work in two weeks! Fire him!”
Moop could not see the grubby Australian transfer’s face from his position under the desk, but he imagined it wore an expression of both horror and wrath.
The bodyguards, alarmed at this threat, caught the President by both arms and whisked him away into the escape passage. Moop rose cautiously from under his desk. He took one look at the madman across the aisle, shouting threats and jabbing a finger a Moop, then to basement employees crowded around his cubicle, muttering in a low drone about what was going on.
“Fire him! Fire him – kill the Englishman!” the transfer roared.
Moop took one last frightened look at the crowd and darted into the escape passage. He tried in vain to close it behind him. The concrete wall was porous and poorly made but still too heavy for him to budge. He ran into the darkness after the President.
The passage was narrow, lined with pipes and lit a sicker shade of green than the basement. It was four sides concrete. Their footsteps slapped up a storm in the small confines.
The female bodyguard reached an iron door and ushered Mr Barry and Septimus in ahead of her. With a backwards glance she noticed Moop. “Oh, hold up! The kid followed us.”
Mr Barry squeezed past Septimus and joined the other bodyguard. He pulled a handgun from the breast of his jacket. “Mr Septimus, Lisa; you two go ahead. I’ll shoot him.”
Moop turned back towards the basement.
“No!” cried Septimus. He laid a hand on Mr Barry’s arm. “The lad’s face is familiar. I have no doubt he will play some role in this.”
“He works here,” said Lisa. “Of course he’s familiar.”
His heart fluttering like a caged thing in his chest, Moop risked a few sideways steps towards the President. “Yes, ma’am,” he tried to avoid seeing the gun. “But I’ve only been here for two weeks. And I’ve never met the President before.”
Septimus silenced Mr Barry. “I see. And what do you do here, young man?”
Moop dared take another step. “I’m an intern, sir. My name’s Eren Moop. I’m here on a two week trial basis. Today’s my last day. I hope I do all right.”
“But what do you do here?”
Oh, that. Moop couldn’t think of any lies, and so, unfortunately, he said, “I was hoping you could tell me, sir. Because I have no idea.”
The President treated each of his bodyguards to a particular stare. Neither of them dared speak a word. “Is that so. Why are you working for me, Mr Moop?”
Moop scratched his head. This was a little easier. “I was doing my paper round in town the day they were running the recruitment drive. They recruitment people said I belonged in a cubicle. And so they gave me a desk in the basement and a meal ticket, sir.”
Septimus nodded slowly. “Yes, I see. And any signs of promotion or performance reviewal in your future?”
“Yes sir,” Moop answered more confidently. “That was going to be at the end of today sir. In about thirty five minutes. Mr Barry was going to do it.”
“I was going to shoot him,” said Mr Barry.
Septimus raised a white eyebrow. “I’m sure you mean ‘fire.’ Never mind, Mr Moop. Consider yourself promoted. I’d like for you to be my personal assistant.”
Moop shook his head. “Oh no, sir, I couldn’t. I haven’t any experience-”
“It’s not a request, Mr Moop. It’s rather a demand.” Septimus gazed down his nose at the intern. “You will be my PA. There are certain things I cannot do, especially since I am so soon for the grave. You will do these things for me. It’s destiny. I know where I saw your face now. It was in my tealeaves.”
“Sir?” said Moop, while they bodyguards coughed. “Your tealeaves, sir?”
“Of course. I do all my business by tealeaves. Here. I even brought the cup along. See for yourself: your own face, drawn by the hand of fate.”
Septimus prompted Mr Barry for a briefcase, and from it removed a fine porcelain teacup. He extended the cup to Moop. Moop peered in, and indeed there were tealeaves in the bottom of the cup. But unlike Septimus, Moop did not see his face. All he saw were tealeaves.
“That’s very nice, sir,” he said, valiantly rallying against all odds, “but perhaps we ought to be evading your assassins?”
Septimus put the teacup away. “Indeed, young man. You are already proving yourself invaluable.”
Tight-lipped, Mr Barry guided him through the iron door, and Lisa allowed Moop to follow before shutting the door heavily behind them. They had not gone twelve paces when shadows darted across the passageway ahead. Mr Barry drew his gun.
“For the President!” he bellowed, and charged in firing wildly at the shadows.
One of the dark figures went down. Moop pushed desperately ahead, trying to cover the President. A bullet ricocheted off the wall and buried itself in Lisa’s heart.
“Ah,” she said, and dropped lifeless to the floor.
“You bastards!” Mr Barry roared, discharging his pistol into the one remaining figure. Moop grabbed the President in both arms and dragged him to the ground.
“Cover your head, sir!”
A few bursts later, it was over.
Mr Barry limped panting to the President and Moop. He reached down a hand. His other hand, resting against his thigh, held the smoking pistol.
“Sorry about that, sir. The bastards got Lisa.”
Septimus took the proffered hand. He gently dusted off his burgundy coat. “That’s not your fault, Barry,” he said, despite the evidence, “we must press on without her.”
Mr Barry nodded. He caught Moop’s eye as the boy lifted himself carefully from the floor. “You, intern. Take Lisa’s gun. Protect the President with your life.”
“Yes, Mr Barry.”
Moop lingered over Lisa’s body. He could still feel the heat radiating from her. He could also see the spreading pool of blood underneath her, and the small, fatal hole in her chest. Where did she keep her gun? Under her jacket? Moop had never stolen from a corpse before.
“Jacket,” said Mr Barry, as Moop debated the morality of looting for the greater good, “just feel her up and you’ll find it.”
Moop blanched. He squeezed his eyes shut and felt around Lisa’s belly until he grasped the edge of her jacket, then he flipped it open and grabbed the gun without looking. Mr Barry slapped him so hard on the back he almost fell onto the corpse.
“That’s the stuff, kid. Now, you ready to kill with that?”
Moop just tried not to be sick. He stepped gingerly over the fallen hitmen. Strangely enough, they weren’t bald or wearing black, as he had always imagined. They both had the red hats and T-shirts of O’Blivion Beverage International. They weren’t hitmen, he realised: they were PR men.
He followed Mr Barry and the President through a maze of passageways, which sounds trite but is actually very daunting when it’s happening to you. Mr Barry kept talking about attorneys; surely the President had one tucked away he’d forgotten about. But Septimus denied it. The one that had died that morning had been the last. And it was no one’s guess who had killed him.
Moop was feeling altogether in over his head when Mr Barry opened another iron door and the trio spilled out into a parking lot.
It was underground, of course, and there were no lights aside from the few artificial ones dotted around. There weren’t many cars, either. It must have been a private parking lot, as the floors were rather clean and the lot was quite small. They had almost a clear run to the pair of elevators sitting in the middle of the lot.
“This is it,” said Mr Barry. “In those elevators and we’re home free. Sir, I called ahead to make sure there was a limousine waiting for you.”
“Cancel it,” Septimus said. He started for the elevators. “I’ll be dead by then. No use endangering my valet.”
Mr Barry nodded, the lines on his face growing deeper. “Yes, sir.”
They reached the elevators with a growing tension between them. It was quiet in the lot, not a mouse nor a roach nor a driver stirred. And empty; Moop had anticipated by now they’d have encountered more assassins. Perhaps the President was wrong. Perhaps they really would be all right.
It struck him that there was no music. Usually, in these kinds of posh lots, and always near elevators, there was some nothing kind of music playing. Here there was only silence and their feet squeaking against the polished concrete.
As their footsteps fell silent, Mr Barry removed a key from his pocket and inserted it into the panel by the elevator. A few seconds passed. The lights above the elevator did not come on.
“Damn it,” Mr Barry hissed. He glanced at Septimus. “They may have overridden the lot’s security. We can take the fire stairs. I’ll make sure they’re safe.”
He jogged off to the yellow-lit door on the other side of the lot.
Septimus turned grimly to Moop. “I fear my time has come. This is it, lad. The end of Tiber Septim’s Teahouse. What a glorious two centuries it’s been. This business has been in our family even since old Tiber kicked it off with a mule, a cart and a hundred pounds of stolen tea.”
Moop wasn’t sure he should agree to that. “I don’t think you’re going to die, sir,” he said instead. “We’ll take the stairs. You’ll be in that cab in no time.”
The President managed a smile. “You’re a sweet PA. If I weren’t on my last breath I’d probably actually promote you. But here. I know I can trust you. You’re strong of spirit, you’re a man of the old ways. You spent two weeks in a bloody basement on an internship you didn’t ask for. That’s what overseas pressure has done to our company. We used to be a family. Now we’re a corporation.” Septimus held one gnarled finger in Moop’s face, and Moop noticed that the finger was bound in a gold and purple ring. “I don’t know if it’s possible to bring back the old ways, Mr Moop, but I want you to promise me one thing.”
Cross-eyed on the ring, Moop stammered, “Y-yes sir?”
“Don’t let the company fall into the hands of those O’Blivion bastards. Promise me you’ll fight them to the bitter end.”
“I- I can’t shoot everyone in Beverage International, sir,” Moop protested. He jumped at a shout from across the lot. A gun went off. Moop’s hand fluttered to the pistol in his pocket, and Septimus’s hand clamped around his wrist.
“Listen! This is it!” the old man cried. “I’m going to tell you something I never told anyone. Largely because it would have been hell for my reputation. Well, that doesn’t matter any more. Let them not speak ill of the dead. When I was a young man,” he began pulling frantically at the ring on his index finger, “I played college football. I lived in a frat house, all of us lads there were on the team. We all got one of these to celebrate the spirit of men coming together over a couple of posts and a ball, and a lot of beer and some women. The spirit of brotherhood is in this ring. The thing is,”
Figures in red shirts and caps were spilling from the fire stairs into the shadowy lot. Moop pulled the gun from his pocket and fired into their ranks. A bullet glanced off the ceiling and struck one in the knee. The PR man dropped jerking and screaming to the ground.
“Listen!” Septimus slapped Moop open palmed across the face. “Take this ring, and seek out an accountant named Jeffrey in Lancashire. Show him the ring. He’ll know immediately that I sent you. He used to be my frat buddy back in the day – and about forty years ago we used the same solicitor to get out of some trouble with a waitress. She had connections with the mob; it stood to get quite prickly. You don’t need to know about that. But if you can find that solicitor-! His name is Martin. In light of the case at the time, I gave him legal permission to act on my behalf in event of my death by murder. Find Martin, and stop the takeover!”
Moop stuffed the ring into his pocket and screamed, the gun firing continually into the PR men now firing on them, “What the hell is a solicitor you knew forty years ago going to do about this?”
The last of the PR men fell. The elevator behind Septimus dinged, and B2 lit up in yellow.
“Martin can act as President until a replacement is found,” said Septimus, as the doors opened behind him, “he can stop the company from going to auction. He can stop the takeov-agh!”
The PR man stepped from the elevator, clapping a hand to either side of Septimus’s withered head. With one sharp twist, it was over for the President.
“Oops,” said the PR man, “guess he tripped getting onto the elevator.”
“No! You bastard!” Moop smashed the gun into the PR man’s face. He stumbled back, spat blood and a tooth onto the concrete.
“Why you!” he snarled, lunging at Moop.
A shot exploded through the parking lot. The PR man jerked aside, brains bursting through his ear, red cap spiralling into the air. Moop lurched backwards and the PR man dropped bodily into a puddle of his own grey matter. His cap pattered to the concrete.
Mr Barry rushed across the lot. “Finally, I got rid of those suckers. Is the President – oh my God!”
He dropped to his knees by Septimus. The old man would have looked almost peaceful spread out on the polished cement, if it wasn’t for the encroaching pool of blood and the ungainly angle of his neck.
“I’m sorry, Mr Barry,” Moop choked. “I thought I got the last of them.”
Mr Barry shook his head, the dim light catching on the tears sliding down his cheeks. “No, I’m sorry. This never should have happened. But he knew this was the end. By whatever fate, he knew.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Moop repeated what the President had told him. He showed Mr Barry the ring.
“He saw something in you,” said Mr Barry, passing back the ring. “He knew you were someone to be trusted. I’ve never heard of this illegitimate solicitor, and maybe the old man just had bats in the belfry. But if this Martin can really stop the takeover, then we need to find him. O’Blivion won’t stop at this.”
No, thought Moop. O’Blivion wouldn’t stop until everyone on Earth was drinking their beverages.
“I’m going to wait here with the body,” said Mr Barry. “I want you to go upstairs and ring the police. If we both leave the scene of the crime it’s only going to look like one of us murdered the President.”
“And then, Mr Barry?”
But Mr Barry shook his head. “No more Mr Barry. Just Barry is fine. Mr Septimus trusted you and that’s enough for me. Once you’ve called the police, I want you to go straight to Lancashire and find this Jeffrey. Make him help you track down Martin. Don’t rest until you find him.”
Moop nodded slowly. “Yes, Mr Barry. Yes, Barry. I’ll find Martin. You can trust me.”
He left the elevators, Barry, Septimus and the fallen PR man behind, crossing to the fire stairs, to freedom, and to destiny.
Take it, leave it? Sugar, milk?