“Preposterous!” Chairman Stone balked at the suggestion. His entourage of suits laughed while Howard gritted his teeth and endured. He expected the reaction from the group of old men, but the reality of it made his cheeks burn. “No women allowed,” Chairman Stone said.
“I didn’t say she wanted to join. I’m only betting that she can outdo anyone here, including you, Mr. Chairman. If I win the bet, I take your place. If I lose, not only will I leave the Illuminati; I will surrender all my property, and even forfeit my life in any way you decide. Although, I can understand why even a kernel of doubt is enough to make you cautious.” Chairman Stone narrowed his eyes at Howard.
“I have no doubts, Mr. Duke. The men in this room control the entire Earth. It’s a bit more involved than controlling a kitchen,” the men around him laughed more. “We can take your property and your life without you surrendering it to us; but, it’s much more entertaining to watch you destroy yourself for a woman. I accept your wager. You may bring your girlfriend to the next meeting and we’ll find a suitable contest.”
“She’s already here, one moment,” Howard said. He walked out of the smoke-filled library to sound of confused mumbling. He returned within moments with two women. One was tall and lean wearing a crisp white suit, the other was shorter and plumper wearing a black suit.
“This is Ms. Dana Sharp and her assistant, Melody,” Howard introduced them, then stood aside.
“Of course she couldn’t come alone. She had to bring a friend,” Chairman Stone laughed and his underlings joined in.
“I’m sure you can understand the precautions of bringing along a bodyguard to tense negotiations,” the woman in white said.
“Bodyguard?! What’s she gonna do? Give anyone that threatens you a half-eaten cake?” One of the other old men said to uproarious laughter; he puffed his cheeks out and extended his arms around his stomach. The woman in black kept a straight face, but the woman in white smiled.
“We’d love for you to find out,” Ms. Sharp said. “While you try and build up that stockpile of courage,” she faced Chairman Stone. “We have plenty of time to establish a wager. So, what did you have in mind?”
“We run the world from here, Ms. Sharp. Mr. Greg…,” he pointed at the man that mocked Melody. “…destabilized an entire country last week for a wager. I hope you’re ready to compete on that scale with us. If not, you’d better go on back home,” he glanced at his Rolex. “You still have plenty of time to get dinner on the table for your man.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I plan to get this done early enough to have dinner with my wife,” Ms. Sharp said. “But, we’ll keep things simple. For the sake of your cognitive decline. You don’t have to do anything. Give me a task. If I accomplish it, I win. Obviously, it has to be a task that your little playgroup here can do.”
“Anything we can do?” Chairman Stone grinned. Ms. Sharp gave a curt nod.
“Alright. Take over the world,” he said.
“How do you mean?” Ms. Sharp asked. The men chuckled at her.
“We already run the Earth. Try and take it from us.”
“That’s your choice? You should reconsider; once we both agree to the terms you can’t change your mind.” Chairman Stone laughed.
“Change my mind? Your bluffs need work,” he said between chuckles. “Take over the Earth, if you can. Don’t worry, there’s no time limit on it,” he said and extended his hand. “That’s the wager.” Dana Sharp stepped forward and shook his hand.
“Wager accepted,” she said, then she pulled out of his grip. “And, completed. Thanks for playing gentlemen. I’m sorry you lost, but Howard has a great vision for you all.” The men cackled around her. They carried on obnoxiously for several moments, but finally Chairman Stone spoke.
“You’re a funny lady, Dana,” he said. When he used her name he noticed an unsettling glare from Melody. “But we’re still sitting in this room, and still in charge.”
“You have to stop saying that,” Ms. Sharp replied and crossed her arms impatiently. “You haven’t been in charge since three o’clock this morning, local time. I suggested you change the wager, because I’d already done that.” The men laughed, but not quite as enthusiastically as they did earlier. Some of them sounded nervous.”
“Poppycock! Prove it,” Chairman Stone said.
“You first,” Ms. Sharp smiled.
“I’m sorry?” Chairman Stone asked.
“If you’re in charge, prove it to me. Whatever proof you want from me, I need to see you prove it first.”
“Easy enough,” Chairman Stone reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a cellphone. “In 10 minutes America will announce it’s going to war with the UK,” he said as he navigated through the smartphone. The group of men cheered.
“Mr. President, this is Chairman Stone,” he said into the phone. “The Illuminati need you to announce a war in 10 minutes. You will be attacki-,” he paused mid-sentence. “What? NO! This is an order. What do you mean you need to check?” The moment he finished his question a sharp ringing filled the room. It grew louder when Melanie drew a card-sized pane of glass out of her suit pocket. She swiped it like a smartphone then held it up to her ear.
“Ms. Sharp. What do you need?” she answered. Ms. Sharp shook her head at Melody. “She says no. Don’t announce anything,” Melody replied into the phone. “No. Don’t worry about them, they’re about to realize they’ve lost their power. She already has a replacement in mind, and you’ll listen to him when it’s time. We’ll update you on that later. Thank you,” she said. Then she hung up and put the node away.
“Well, I think that’s proof enough, don’t you? Or would you rather wait the 10 minutes for nothing to happen?” Ms. Sharp asked. The group of men remained silent. “Well then, I’ll leave Chairman Duke in charge,” she turned and gestured at Howard.