If You Can't Take The Heat...
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"I'm sorry, you're doing what?" a baffled Chaz Ambrose asked in confused awe.

"Look, Chaz, it's nothin' personal, man. The Foundies have been ridin' my ass recently, and you heard about what happened at my marina…" a heavily bearded man dressed in dock workers overalls reasoned.

"Yes, yes, I know. I've seen the photos… Pretty ragged shooting, if I'm being honest. Foundation's really lost their touch with boom-and-zooms." An image of a fishing pier riddled with burning shell holes and lifeless bodies entered Chaz's mind, two black objects moving away in the distance, their rotors still audible and their cannons steaming in the cold November air. Just as quickly as the image entered his mind, it was gone. Just another business opportunity waiting to be stamped out by the Foundation. Add it to the list he thought to himself.

Chaz shook himself slightly, a vain attempt to uproot the stress of the Foundation out of his mind. "Darrel, you understand that the Seance Soup is the most popular starter on our menu, right?" Chaz asked, his tone far more severe than his usually happy, money-making tone he wore for his customers, business partners and everyone in between.

It troubled Darrel deeply.

"Y-yeah, I know Chaz, but it's a very delicate process to remove Soul Striders from the lake without killin' 'em. Then there's transportin' 'em here, which is a whole other can of worms, and just those two together come up to a' least a couple grand in expenses, then on top a' that there's the whole "dead workers" debacle, body disposal, paying off the local pigs, rebuildin' the docks and… "

Darrel's voice faded to a whimper as he met eyes with Chaz, who traded back a powerful death-stare in response to his concerns. Chaz believed that sometimes saying nothing can convey more than words ever could, and he was right. To Darrel, the silence was deafening; he glanced around the room in which he sat, a VIP area within the Ambrose Restaurante. The restaurant was well decorated in its entirety, to be sure, but this rooms reds and golds shined brighter than the rest of the building.

The room terrified Darrel, and the ever-encroaching feeling that something more sinister lay beyond the well-decorated interior haunted him. He was being watched, his actions monitored by someone other than Chaz Ambrose. He began to receive the impression this was less of a meeting between business partners and more of a negotiation between a hostage and his abductee.

This made Darrel much more attentive to what Chaz had to say.

"You see, Darrel," Chaz Ambrose started, turning his death glare to his perfectly manicured nails, "Seance Soup makes quite a bit of money for me, guess how much."

"Uh, a-a lot?" Darrel stuttered as he slid lower and lower in his seat.

"More than just 'a lot', Darrel. This soup is worth more than you are, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that. So, if you think you can't be replaced by someone who does your exact job for far less and produces far more Soul Striders, then you are sadly mistaken." Chaz stated matter-of-factly.

Darrel was practically shaking, and sweating buckets, "O-ok, how 'bout this, I've still got one or two shipments of Soul Striders on ice. I'll send 'em over an' begin to rebuild the docks ASAP. Should only take, umm, three weeks?" He said, forming what sounded more like a question than a statement with a nervous smile stretching across his face.

Chaz rubbed his chin in thought, then tapped the table. "Make it two or your out."

"Done!" Darrel shouted as he launched himself from his chair, knocking the soft velvet seat backward. He held his hand out across the table, which Chaz shook half-heartedly. "I'm glad we could reach an agreement that mutually beneficial, you may go no-" Darrel was already out the door and sprinting down the street before he could finish his sentence.

Chaz sat there for a moment, making sure that Darrel had left the restaurant and wasn't collapsed on the floor outside or listening in on him. When he was sure Darrel was long gone, he couldn't help but snicker and smile. That smile turned into a chuckle, which turned into a series of snorts before eventually escalating to Chaz being practically breathless with laughter.

"Haha! You can come out now, Marius! Oh, that was simply brilliant!" he cheered, as his hidden companion closed the door to the VIP area, revealing his hiding spot behind it. Marius emerged with a slow clap and an emotionless expression on his face.

"Nice job, Chaz."

"Why thank you, Marius, you were excellent as well!"

"I didn't do anything."

"I know, but your ability to fit seamlessly into small places will never cease to amaze me."

"Thanks, and hey, you owe me ten bucks."

"I- Wait, what? Why?"

"The bet, remember?"

"The bet… But I won the bet! I got Darrel to get production back on track in under three weeks!"

"No, I won. The bet was that you could convince Darrel to get Soul Striders coming in again in under three weeks without threatening him for his life."

"Pah! Fine… You're quite aggravating sometimes; you know that? I mean, where am I going to find ten bucks! Finding ten deer his hard enough as it is…"

"Yeah, and you're just a treat to be around, Chaz."

"My pleasure! Anywho, do you think I got my point across to Darrel?"

"I think he pissed himself on the way out…"

"Sooooo… is that a 'yes'?"

"…Yes."

"Excellent! I didn't want to go so hard on the poor bastard, but you know what they say, Marius: If you can't handle the heat, turn off the cooker!"

"Isn't it 'If you can't handle the heat, get out of the kitchen'?"

"Oh, Potatoe-Tomato!"

"Those aren't the same vegetables, Chaz."

"Whatever! Come along, Marius. We open in ten!"

With that, Chaz Ambrose practically skipped out of the VIP area, with a happy hum and anticipation for the day to come. Marius followed behind with a heavy sigh, and as the two left the room, Marius turned around, gave the room a quick look, and shut the doors behind him.

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