It's nothing personal

Submitted into Contest #131 in response to: Set your story in a drawing room.... view prompt


Fiction Horror Suspense

It was about a quarter until six as the Duke impatiently glanced at the grandfather clock against the wall. It was a gift to his grandfather from the duchess of Spain some time ago. The Duke, being nearly 60 years of age, can't remember a time when that old clock wasn't in that exact same spot. He loved the nostalgia that it brought him, but part of him also resented it because he usually only looked at it when he was impatient or not looking forward to a particular moment or engagement. This was one of those times.

After already having dinner with his wife where they spoke of their children studying abroad, it was only the two of them in the manor, minus the help which only consisted of five others who cooked, cleaned and maintained the property. The Duke wasn't a fan of having too much help as he believed it to be haughty by definition, but it was too exhaustive of a manor to maintain without the help and he's usually too busy with business to help with those sort of things.

Sitting there in the drawing room with a scotch in his hand next to the crackling fireplace, he could hear his wife talk to the help in the other room, not too loudly though, as they understand expecting company, but just loud enough that he didn’t feel alone, he hated feeling alone.   

You see, the Duke was the President of a major committee that oversaw new building permits for the county, and his approval or disapproval on many subjects directly affected the lives, and furthermore, the wallets of very powerful men.  That’s just what this meeting was about tonight.  Another dejected business man attempting to convince him that his ruling on this most recent build proposition was wrong and how he should reconsider.  

These sort of meetings were unfortunately common, the Duke has entertained and deflected many previous similar situations such as this.  The Duke smiles to himself at his cunning business acumen and how good he is at what he does.  It’s not that he takes prideful malice in turning down these men, but business is just business, and emotion should never get involved in the decision making process, this he has always been certain of. 

This particular gentleman coming to meet him now did not give him the best first impression when he heard his proposition earlier that week at the committee hearing.  He seemed too pushy, too desperate, too “rough around the edges”, and completely full of emotion while attempting to obtain the committee votes.  The man's pleading to the committee may have swayed some of the other members, but with the Dukes vote being the deciding vote, and after not being fully convinced that the build would benefit the county in any real sense, he voted against it.  After all, it is his duty as the Committee President to make the best decisions as he sees fit, and that was his ruling.  However, outside of being the Committee President, he is also a Duke and must hear the pleas of those who wish to voice their opinion on any matter.  

In the Duke's mind, he’s already made his decision. What kind of man would he be to have his public judgment and decision changed after the fact.  No, that just won’t do.  “I will hear him out and gracefully bid him adieu” he thought to himself.   This meeting was cutting into his evening billiards time that he greatly enjoyed playing while his wife reads and they both listen to the latest sounds off their phonograph.  That’s how he preferred to end most days. 

The door to the drawing rooms opens with a “clack” and jolts the Duke out of his thoughts. “Your Grace, Mr. Rancor has just arrived. Should I send him in?” The Duke sits up and composes himself while he sets down his nearly empty scotch glass and begrudgingly responds “Yes Harry, please send him in.” 

Expecting to see a nervous or somewhat perturbed fellow based on their first forum at the committee hearing, the Duke was taken aback at just how stately Mr. Rancor carried himself when he walked through the door to the drawing room.  “Your Grace!” said Mr. Rancor with his arms raised and smiling as though he was seeing an old friend.  

He walked towards the Duke near the fireplace and eagerly reached out to shake his hand.   “Good Evening Mr. Rancor, how do you do this evening?” the Duke responds, extending his hand with a perplexed expression on his face.  “Is everything ok with your grace?” said Mr. Rancor.  Composing himself, the Duke responds “Um, yes, sorry, I just wasn’t expecting your mood to be quite so jovial given the context of our meeting”.  “Can I get you a Drink Mr. Rancor?”.  “Yes please”, he responds, “Scotch or wine is my preference, but I’ll gladly drink whatever you’re having this evening, it’s a cause for celebration!”    

Looking back at Mr. Rancor while pouring his scotch from the drink cart near the old clock, the Duke replies “Celebration”?  “Is there some happy news that I am unaware of?” Taking the scotch from the Duke, Mr. Rancor replies “Yes!  Yes there is, but, before I get into that, I want to give you a sincere apology for how I acted in this last hearing regarding my build permit. I should have composed myself more”  Raising his eyebrows and pleasantly surprised, the Duke says “Why whatever do you mean?” pretending, as not to be rude.  “Well, your grace, I had an awful lot riding on the success or failure in obtaining the permit for my business.  In a sense, you can say my reputation, my finances and my family's livelihood all depended on what came down to your final vote, and I’ll admit, my emotions got the best of me when I learned just how close the vote was.  For that sir I apologize.” 

Thinking over what Mr. Rancor told him, the Duke was pleasantly relieved and replied “Mr Rancor, it takes a real man to admit when he’s wrong and an even bigger man to take the effort to rectify one's previous actions in order to make amends.  Apology accepted, cheers!”  The two men clinked glasses while standing  in the dim drawing room in front of the fireplace as they drank them completely.   “Another one?” asked the Duke?  “Yes please, this is fine scotch” he replies while excitedly thumbing something in his pocket. 

Pouring their drinks, the Duke says “So what is this “happy news” that has changed your bearing on the matter?”  Smiling, Mr. Rancor replies “I have found a solution to my building permit denial and after lamenting for some time afterwards I decided to take charge of my own destiny instead of relying on others approval.” 

Again, pleasantly surprised by Mr. Rancors change of demeanor, the Duke says “I’m very happy to hear that Mr. Rancor, that sort of mindset is what separates the men from the boys in business.  What solution did you come to?”  Almost arrogantly, but not quite, Mr. Rancor replies “The specifics of my solution I unfortunately cannot reveal at this time, nothing personal, but as you know business is just business, however my efforts will be revealed in due time.”  “I can respect that Mr. Rancor and I’ll ask no further questions on the matter.”  Feeling much relief at the conclusion of this topic, the Duke asks Mr. Rancor “Do you by chance play billiards?”.  “Why yes your grace, and not just by chance, I enjoy it greatly.  There’s something exciting about taking calculated angles to attack an opponent and that just tickles my fancy as of lately”.  “Good” the Duke replies, “let’s play now” as he steps into the billiard room.  

Around half past eight, the Duke's wife and the help could hear the phonograph playing along with their booming banter and could smell cigar smoke coming from the billiards room adjacent to the drawing room.  It always made everyone feel at ease when the Duke and his guests were enjoying each other's company, it improved the overall mood of the night.  

Chuckling back and forth at stories of acquaintances they both are familiar with, they end their last round of billiards.  “Your grace” interjects Mr. Rancor, “I’m sorry but I must start the journey back to the city, I have business that I must attend to early in the morning hours.”  Disappointed the Duke replies “That is understandable, but would you at least join me for one last night cap? “Absolutely” exclaimed Mr. Rancor, “allow me”, grabbing both glasses and heading toward the drink cart.  

Sitting back down at the two chairs facing each other in front of the now smoldering fireplace,  the Duke feels relaxed. “Have you found everything over there?” said the Duke”.   “Yes, yes, I have everything under control here, please relax, you have been a very gracious host tonight.  Handing the drink to the Duke, Mr. Rancor proposes a toast, “Here’s to removing obstacles and building your own future, no matter what gets in the way!”.  “Now that’s my kind of toast, '' chuckled the Duke, both finishing their glasses. 

Giving the Duke one last smile, Mr. Rancor sets his glass down “I must now bid you adieu your grace”, I wish you  the deepest of slumbers tonight” he said as he exited the room, “Safe travels Mr. Rancor” replied the Duke. 

Sitting again by himself, but in a much better mood than before, the Duke recalls the evening and how it went from one thing to something else completely unexpected.  “Sometimes the anticipation of an event is more worrisome than the actual event itself and one would do well to remember that for future reference” he thought to himself.    

Unbeknownst to the Duke there would be no future reference to apply this newfound revelation.  Strychnine poison currently worked its way into his system and in only a matter of fifteen to twenty minutes would the onset of symptoms begin and result in a seemingly natural death. 

Mr. Rancor laughed to himself in the dark carriage on his way back to the city, knowing that in only a month's time, after the Duke’s committee seat is filled he will be able to appeal the previous ruling and get his life's work back on track.  

Sort of saddened by the soon demise of the Duke, Mr. Rancor partly wished that he could come back to the manor and enjoy another scotch with the Duke and maybe play another round of billiards together as he genuinely enjoyed the company, but remembering the cold but true lesson he learned from the Duke he sighed and said “It’s nothing personal, but business is business.”

February 04, 2022 17:03

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Hannah Barrett
03:49 Feb 11, 2022

Hi Gary! I was paired up with you for peer critique. I really enjoyed this story! I liked how Mr. Rancor mirroring the Duke's presiding attitude on business is ultimately his demise. My only real critique is to be careful with tense. Well done!


Gary Phipps
17:25 Feb 11, 2022

Thanks for the feedback Hannah! I'm a little new to all of this and welcome any suggestions you might have. Can you break down what you mean about being careful with tense?


Hannah Barrett
18:17 Feb 11, 2022

Hi! And welcome! And great debut story! So you mostly use present tense for the story - he "says", he "does", etc., but occasionally slip into past - he "said", he "did", etc. I think this story would work great in either, but you'll want to pick a tense and stick to your guns. And if you go with present and are referencing past events, I'd go with he "had said" rather than he "said", for example, to make clear that your character is looking back on a past event and not just slipping out of tense. Does that make sense?


Gary Phipps
20:08 Feb 11, 2022

Thank you for that Hannah. That makes perfect sense. I'll make sure and pay attention to that this next go around. I'm looking forward to learning more and more as I use these short stories as practice.


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