Tom took the pen from his father and signed his name quickly, then passed the pen to his brother John.
“Well, go on, sign it.”
John frowned, then started to write his name.
“It’s not like you have a choice anyway.”
“I know. I still wanted to give it a quick read.”
Tom shook his head, “why bother? We both know what it says.”
John put the pen down and handed the contract to his father.
“Good. Now that it’s done, it starts. How about a drink?”
Their father stood and made his way to the small drinks cabinet, he poured a measure of whiskey into each glass, then returned with them.
Tom took his glass but didn’t drink, John downed it in one swallow.
“So who do you think will win?”
“I don’t know. It’s not for me to say. All I know is the best of you will win, as it should be.”
Tom nodded and took a sip of his drink, then after a moments hesitation swallowed it all.
Tom took Johns glass and went to the drinks cabinet.
“I’m not sure if that is bravery, or stupidity.”
“It’s fine Father. Tradition dictates we have twenty four hours.”
“Tradition is not law. The law says it begins once you both sign.”
John shrugged, “I know Tom. He is going to wait the twenty four hours. He won’t lose face like that. Isn’t that right?”
“Why break from tradition? Besides, I know you won’t start until the time is up because of your sense of honour. We’re both safe until tomorrow night.”
“Have you both spoken to your mother?”
“Yes, I have Father.”
“As have I.”
“Good. She wouldn’t be happy if she didn’t get to speak to both of you before it all started. She asked me not to do this you know.”
“Yes. Though of course she knew it was the best option. It’ll save everyone grief and heartache down the road. And it will prevent any major losses. I am sure you have both adequately prepared for this. In case something happens before you can sire a child?”
“Yes. As the contract stipulates we have that all covered. I can’t imagine needing it.”
“Just be thankful its an option. Years ago you would have already have had children by this point. And whoever lost, would have their-”
“We know father. It was much more barbaric back then.”
Their father frowned, “Don’t think that you have become men, purely from signing your name. No. You will not be a man until the terms of the contract have been met. And even then, I will still be your better up until the day I die. Do not interrupt me again. The punishment will be harsher than it was when you were children. You may not be men, but you know enough to know better.”
“I’m sorry father. It was wrong of me to interrupt you.”
Tom handed the glass to John, it was noticeably fuller than when their father had poured the drinks. As he passed it, he turned his head slightly and made a face. John took the glass and raised it to his lips to hide the faint smile.
He would be sad when his brother was gone. They got on very well, better than anyone had expected. Still. That was life. It would play out as it had to. He swallowed a mouthful of the drink, enjoying the heat of it. John knew he was going to succeed, but it was still best not to underestimate his brother. He knew how sly Tom could be. Hell, they had worked together to get Frank out of the running all those years ago. It had been quite simple really and no one had suspected. It had just been a terrible accident. A child too young to have been playing near the pool unattended. A child, naïve enough to trust his brothers until the moment that he fell in. John sometimes wondered if Frank realised what they had done to him in the seconds before the died.
He took another sip of his drink and realised his father was speaking.
“And I hope it won’t be a long, drawn out affair.”
“I don’t think it will be father. We are both eager for this. I don’t think either of us wants to waste time.”
“He’s right. I think it will be done before the year is out.”
Tom looked at his brother and smiled, “Yes, I agree with that. I see no reason to waste time.”
Their father finished his drink and put the glass down, then he stood up.
“I wish you both luck. I will no longer acknowledge your existence until one of you is the winner.”
With that their father left the room.
Tom took another sip of his drink and they sat in silence.
“I’m surprised that it has come to this to be honest. I thought you’d do something reckless and take yourself out of the running years ago.”
“You underestimate me dear brother. I would do no such thing. The risks I take are calculated for the best returns.”
Silence fell again.
“Well, I guess this is the last time we will be able to speak to one another in a relaxed setting. Is there anything that needs to be said between us?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
Tom smiled, “Me neither.”
They drained their drinks and stood, then they shook hands and left through different doors.
Tom sat into his car and drove off, smiling to himself. John had been correct, he would observe the traditional twenty four hour truce. At least, it would appear as though he had observed it. It had been a simple matter to procure a poison that would only visibly take effect after twenty four hours had passed. John would be dead within three days and Tom would receive everything, as the contract stated. He Just had to keep himself out of harms way for two days. Neither could use intermediaries. It had to be done by themselves. Once his brother was dead, he would sneak some food into his house and claim to have poisoned that. They wouldn’t check how much poison was in his system, after all they would have no reason to. Once he was able to prove he had supplied it to his brother, Tom was in the clear.