He always treated me like the boy who was left on his doorstep. The way he saw me, I was useless unless I was his shadow. My mother, his girlfriend at the time, left me with Richard Fog four days after I was born and ran away from the responsibility of motherhood. Being my birth father, the financier could not turn me away (not due to compassion, but rather without ruining his reputation). However, that did not mean I could burden him. So rather than take me in as his own, he made me his own.
By age five, I knew what I was going to do with my life. Stocks were all my father exposed me to, and he made it very clear through our brief conversations that there was no other way of living. Before I was teenager, he had forced upon me more tricks of stocks than most brokers knew in their entire careers. Every night, I had to read myself to sleep with the weeks' quotes, just so I would have something to talk about the next morning at breakfast. It was all that there was to discuss, as my father showed little interest in sports, books, or arts, unless they were directly related with stock he planned on purchasing. "Never invest in something you're not absolutely sure about," he would repeat almost every day. That phrase wore a hole in my mind, and every time he spoke this cliché, I'd have to bite my lip to keep from shouting something uncomely.
Though I despised everything my father had embraced me with, I had become very tactful in finances. Every Sunday through my high school years he would take me into work, to observe his transactions and his tactics with partners. What he didn't realize was that I was not searching for his achievements, but rather his flaws. His employees were clearly not devoted to their boss, doing no more than asked, not speaking to him unless absolutely necessary, and at certain times mocking him while he was turned away. One day during a large gathering of all the staff and committee at Fog Financial, I finally found his error. I could see it as plain as day in each worker as he or she was addressed by my father, who resided as president of the company. The fool's eyes had been so clouded with power that he couldn't see where his downfall was. And now that I knew his fault, it was my intention to be behind the fatal blow, when the time was to come.
However, this plan came crashing down the year when I found a passion in something my father very much disapproved of: basketball. I was a lean boy, fit and quick on my feet. The game captured me and a few hours a day were dedicated to practicing- and enjoying- this sport. My athleticism had reached a noticeable peak at the championship game of Redwood VS Lakeside. I was a firecracker, bursting with agility and speed, leaving rivals to gawk as I swept passed them. We won the game, due to my 19-scored points, and for a brief moment in time I was king of the world.
Yet my courtship was immediately overthrown when I was approached by a burly, well-built man. Then and there I was offered a full scholarship to UCLA, a school that had been at that time the best athletics college in the United States.
What should have been the beginning of an endless dream was in fact the start of a nightmare to regret and despise. And the party to blame for this shift in the wind was of course my father. He never attended games, never offered to play one-on-one, or even acknowledged me when I returned home from practice. However, I knew that I could never attend the college without his acceptance. (He had assured me as a child that I would never be able to do anything with his consult, which I found as being his way of keeping me on a leash.) But this experience meant very much to me: possibly my future did not have to consist of seeking revenge on a man I could never call a dad.
So, I tried to explain the importance of the scholarship to him, reciting a long speech about "branching out on my own" and "getting in touch with new surroundings". But I found myself talking to the back of a newspaper, my words seeping into the black ink of the pages, and not so much as grazing my father. He read until I was finished pleading, and after a brief pause began a story about how hard he had worked to get where he was today, how much sacrifice and rejection he had gone through, how much he had risked, but that it had all led to success. And basketball, he told me, would lead to nothing but injuries and retirement at thirty-five. Though he had not official stated it, I knew his rejection was a way of assuring that I would not embarrass him and his precious reputation.
That night, I was filled with such hatred that my heart had literally burst into flame. Taught, or rather instructed, not to cry, my emotions lit inside of me and began to run along a short fuse. I loathed how limited I was, the lack of compassion I received from the man who was supposed to be my supporter, and everything that he said made me want to spit with fury. I was set off by my rage, no longer concerned with basketball. So he wouldn't let me be anything but his follower? Let him think that's what I am. But in fact, I would not be his partner or his robot. I would be better. I knew how to take him down, for he didn't realize that he lacked the respect of his employees. I would play his flaw to work in my favor, and then I would conquer him.
And so began the revenge trek. I went to the finest business college in New York, making sure to visit the company on my father's days off. Each week, I got closer to his partners and workers, making sure to emphasize the difference between my father and me. I joined in on monthly bar outings and baseball games, laughing at the bad jokes and faking an interest in their favorite hobbies. Within a few months, not only had I befriended the committee; I had become the favorite Fog.
And just as planned, the day I graduated with my MBA was the day I entered the world my grandfather had created: Fog Financial. The first years were slow torture, having to work alongside my father, and working as he always expected me to: as his lackey. To hear employees address me as "Fr. Fog" only frustrated me more, for the many years I grew up watching my father; that was his title. Every chance I could I made sure that people didn't forget who they could respect more, who they could trust more, and which Fog wanted the best for them. The subtle hints ended victoriously.
The day I turned 31, I was summoned into the conference room by the financial committee with which my father was lead. He, not incidentally, was absent from the group. I was approached by the executive director, Alan Wryte, a stiff man with a pinched voice and matching thin mouth, who was also a drinking buddy.
By the first word his spoke, I recognized his tone almost instantly. "Carlton, you have done well in following in your father's, and in turn his father's, footsteps. You have succeeded in performing with this company, and it is clear you have its best interests at heart. Therefore, the rest of the committee and I have unanimously voted that you are ready to take over the commission, and to become the new president of Fog Financial."
I kept a straight face and solid nod, though I could have burst into tears of joy as my plan was playing out before me. "Thank you, Alan. However, I understand by the solemn faces your partners hold that there is also a catch to this offer." One aspect my father had taught me well was that happiness was a sign of weakness, and while I wanted these people to believe I was their friend, I needed the respect they wouldn't show my father.
Alan's expression mirrored my own, showing no offense at the accusation. "Naturally, in promoting you to director, this would leave your father out of work. He is elderly now, and not quite as efficient as he used to be. As new director, it will be your job to give him the generous offer of early retirement."
To most, this would have led to a strong objection. But for me it was the moment I dreamed of every night. "Ah. I wonder now whether you omitted me president because you truly see me as a leader, or perhaps because none of you," I gestured toward the committee, "would be willing to fire the residing head."
The corner of Alan's mouth curled up. "I assure you it is the former."
Alan ignored the slight ignorance in my pitch. "So, do you accept the position, Carlton?"
A dozen faces peered from behind the man, all with uniquely different features, but overall the same expecting expressions. I stared down at Alan's now outreached hand, expected to take his palm upon agreement. For a fraction of a second I paused, at something far in the back of my mind trying to speak. But whatever the voice was trying to say, it was inaudible to the glee that sung in my ear. I took the executive's hand and shook it firmly. "Yes."
The awaiting faces now turned to smiles, and as each board member walked by, they gave congratulations on my new position. After the final man left, I pressed firmly on the wall buzzer. When the secretary responded, I asked coolly, "Jenny, please summon Richard Fog to the conference room." I had made a habit of addressing workers by their first name, in order to relax the professional tension aroused with employees and their bosses.
"Right away, sir," came her sweet response.
Taking a slow stroll around the empty room, I gave a faint smile. The large wooden table, a prize to be treasured, was bordered with two dozen chairs: eleven on each long side, and one at each end. Immediately, I pictured myself sitting at the far seat, discussing new stock opportunities with wide-eyed listeners. Walking over to the opposite wall, which was in fact not a wall at all but a glass panel, I looked out over New York. To stand there, fresh with power and anxious with anticipation in my father's arrival, it was a natural instinct to raise my chin a little higher.
I did not turn when I heard the conference door open, nor at the click it made when it sealed again. I had my back to my father, as he had to me so many times in the past. It was too perfect. This new position was an ideal way of revealing to him who I had become; that I was no longer the boy to remain in his shadow.
After a few minutes, Richard Fog cleared his throat. "You summoned me, Carlton?" The emphasis on the word was clear with disdain.
"Yes, dad, I did." My accentuated word bore the same scorn. I finally turned to face the man whom I loathed. As though looking at him for the first time in years, I noticed that time had done its damages on him: silver hair, lightly drawn smudges encircling his eyelids, and wrinkles around every curve of his face. His hands were shaking slightly, whether out of age or anxiety, I could only guess.
"Dad, the committee and I have decided that we cannot dawdle anymore, and that it is time to move this company forward." I paused to notice the flare received by my casual insult. "And in order to do this, we feel it is time for you to resign, so that the next generation of the Fogs can lead this company to bigger and better things. You understand, of course, that this is not personal at all. It is for the interest of the company. And that has always been your number one priority, hasn't it?"
It was so satisfying to see my father biting his tongue, wanting to scream and curse at my arrogance, but no longer having the authority to do so. Multiple times he opened his mouth, every once in awhile managing a syllable, but never completing a full sentence. The man had truly been blind all these years, so much that he couldn't see the son he had expected to be disgraced by was the one to take away all he worked for. After moments, he finally managed to reply, "You can't do this." While in his usual cold manner, the sentence was the closest he had ever come a plea.
I chuckled. "We both know I can." The tone of power had not taken long to form in my voice. "And it would look much better if you were to resign, rather than to be fired, wouldn't you agree?"
I nearly laughed when I saw a look of betrayal in his eyes. As though I had been the one to deceive him. I continued with the speech I had rehearsed since I was fifteen, "Do you know what your flaw was, Richard? You assumed all your life that with power came respect and loyalty. You were too blind to see that those beneath you felt no compassion or care towards you at all. But I saw it. For years, I have noticed them teasing you when you had just left the room. You didn't make the effort that I have, to respect them, and now it is I who carry this company's trust."
He couldn't say anything in response. Not without breaking down the little pride he had left. All he could do was return that icy stare, his face emotionless but his eyes swimming with the anger apparent in his clenched fists. For several seconds he simply stood there, as though hoping that his refusal would be enough to keep me from throwing him out. But when nothing resulted, he gave a sudden glance of surrender, and left, slamming the door so forcefully that the walls shook in response.
My gaze shifted back to the window, completely enthralled in my father's outburst. I recalled it over and over again, loving every second of watching his snide, withering face transform into a twisted pain so unknown to him. I found myself chuckling, as though amused by a private joke. He was gone. Gone from my life, and gone from the company he had wasted his life investing in.
The sight of my reflection caused my indescribable joy to slowly drain out of me. The face that looked at me was so horribly familiar that I almost couldn't believe what I saw. But the glass told no lies: the expression that stared back at me was stone cold, firm, unforgiving, uncompassionate and spiteful. It was a face I had grown to despise, like a photograph locked in my mind; all the features were the same. It was my father.
My blood boiled, and I lashed out in fury, pounding against the window in attempt to disfigure the reflection. I couldn't have become him! I was not him. He was heartless, arrogant, loveless, cruel… No, it couldn't be!
But it was; I could see him within my eyes. Forehead to the glass, I ceased my punching when I realized it was useless to fight. My father wasn't gone. He was the motive behind the past 18 years of my life; it was my hatred for him that brought me here. It didn't matter if I did not see his smug face everyday. It didn't matter that I had broken his spirit by taking away the only thing he cared about. It made no difference; he was still here. I would never be rid of him… because he had become a part of me.