Sidney was sitting at a bar in an unfamiliar section of town. Although he had lived in the city his entire life, Chicago was far too big to say he’d seen everything, been everywhere. He didn’t know anybody in this place except for his bartender of the last five minutes. He heard somebody behind him call the burly barman Lightie, obviously a nickname; Sidney didn’t really care. He sat alone on his stool, mindlessly stirring the contents in his glass. He stabbed at the ice and watched it bob within the amber fluid, listening to it crackle against the side of the tumbler. It was his first drink in more than twenty years.
The room was dark and exceedingly gloomy as compared to his normal taste in establishments, but that didn’t seem to matter tonight either. The jukebox didn’t commit itself to any particular genre, just a random array of pop and the occasional twang of country. Sidney peeked into the mirror behind the bar and stared at himself looking back. There was something unfamiliar and odd in that face he thought he knew so well. It wasn’t because of the multi-colored bulbs surrounding the mirror that were ugly anytime outside the Christmas holiday –– no. It was… his eyes. They looked distant and blank, as if too tired to bring forth the effort necessary to focus. His eyes looked the way his mind felt, lost and vacant.
His wife had noticed it too and she did ask what was troubling him, but instead of telling her something he knew would ease her mind, he simply told her he didn’t know. He wasn’t lying. Like his wife, he knew something wasn’t right, but Sidney couldn’t say what it might be and was almost too afraid to describe how it made him feel.
His analytical mind was normally very sharp, set in the ways of cause and effect. That’s the way it had always been. He could depend on his intellect, his ability to set aside the trivial and focus on the root-cause of things. Many were the times that his underlings at work would come into his office in a state of panic to tell him about some crisis of monumental impact to his firm. And those same employees never left of his office without marveling at Sidney’s ability to focus on the true issue and then redirect his team’s efforts toward the proper solution. He was very good at what he did; the kind of person his employees wanted to emulate.
He fished a chunk of ice from out of his glass and popped it into his mouth. Although the alcohol was minimal, it tasted like he had taken a swig straight out of the bottle. It felt like his throat was on fire and he almost choked.
“Maybe that’ll wake me up,” he wheezed, looking at himself in the mirror again through his watered eyes.
It would have been accurate to say his feelings of strangeness were frightening enough, but there was more. Two months ago he found ticket stubs in his briefcase from a flight to Boston and then to England. Normally this wouldn’t have seemed strange. After all, men in his position travel for their employers all of the time. The problem was he didn’t remember taking the trip or even going to the airport. His wallet also contained restaurant and hotel receipts from places that he couldn’t recall visiting at all. In fact, he couldn’t remember anything about the dates he was to have been abroad.
“Why can’t I remember?” Sidney said, frustratedly, rubbing his forehead. What happened to me?
When he first realized that he was missing these days from his memory, Sidney was terrified. He thought he might have suffered a stroke. That’s how his father had died, and he was now exactly the same age as his father when he was struck down. But as the days slowly passed, there were no more blackouts, nothing to suggest there were continuing problems with his health. He even had an MRI done by a family doctor he hadn’t seen in nearly twenty years. He didn’t tell his wife, of course. No use worrying her unless it turned out something was definitely wrong.
After reviewing the results, it was concluded that he was in no immediate danger, no blood-filled shadows in the film anywhere across his brain. In fact, there were no signs of trouble at all, but neither was there anything to explain his loss of time. His doctor finally pronounced the problems were probably due to stress, or perhaps a lack of sleep. Nonsense; although the scans and tests were normal, Sidney knew there was definitely something wrong. He could feel it, weighing on his brain like a large brick sitting in the place where his memories should have been, and every time he tried to think about those missing days, the brick seemed to become heavier and much more painful to carry.
After two frustrating months trying to remember, the only thing he could recall was that he was supposed to have met with a very important client in Chicago after his return from England. Eventually, he was even able to summon the idea that it was imperative he speak to this person at the time. But who was it? And why can’t I remember?
Sidney stabbed at his ice again. His boss, John Landers, knew something was wrong too. The President of his bank had been acting very strange toward Sidney lately. Every time he looked, it seemed Mr. Landers was watching him closely. Then his boss did something he had never done in Sidney’s twenty-six years at the firm. He relieved Sidney of an important client. Landers said he wanted to take personal control of the Grayson account. He told Sidney that Boris Grayson was a close, personal friend of his, and that he, Mr. Landers, wanted to insure the Grayson investments were managed with the utmost care. But if Grayson and Landers were friends, all the more reason the bank’s president should stay away from the account, leaving any hint of impropriety aside. And ever since Sidney had been relieved of the Grayson portfolio, something about that action made him feel farther away from understanding the missing pieces of his memory.
His personal journal should have filled in most of the blanks. After all, he carried it with him everywhere he went. Looking through his notes, he found something truly startling. Some of the pages were missing. Not a lot, just one here and there, hardly noticeable to anybody but Sidney himself. And it wasn’t that the pages were torn from his book… that would have been too obvious. He noticed certain pages were repeated, almost photocopied, with the same thoughts from previous dates. Even some of his doodles were copied and placed into the missing gaps.
Once he noticed this remarkable bit of disguise, Sidney set about the task of finding out what was missing from the pages of his journal. He sat down and went through his notes, page by page, three hundred in all, looking for any references to people, places, and the times they were together. He listed out the names, addresses, and appointments, whom he had met and why. He started to build a separate list summarizing everybody within his journal. Once again, Sidney’s analytical brain was in overdrive, looking to find what was missing.
When he finished going through the journal, he compared this summary to his personal files. They were all there, of course: The Randolph account, the Bradleys of Dallas, the Hutsons in San Francisco, the Baker investments, the Kesslers, the Morgans, Smid, R.A. Bosley, Cartwright, Marts, the Bernteins –– everybody was there. Everybody, that is, except for one… the Grayson account. There was no mention of it anywhere in his journal. How could it be that I wouldn’t have any notes on such an important account? And why can’t I remember anything about it? Why wasn’t it there? Had he somehow forgotten that he, Sidney, was in charge of the account? Was his lack of attention the real reason Mr. Landers had moved this client out from under his responsibility? The situation reminded him of his college days when, after staying up night after long night studying, he would have these terrible dreams about sleeping through his most important exams. The Grayson account seemed to be Sidney’s recurring nightmare of forgetfulness.
And then yesterday, from out of the blue, he was hit with a letter. He meant that literally, because the letter seemed to fall straight out of the sky with only the slightest breeze of something he thought flew by to drop it upon his head.
To Mr. Sidney Heidelbach, The Cobblestone Alleyway near Lexington Market, Chicago.
The note, scribbled in a jerky almost frantic style of writing, had told him to meet with somebody here in this tumbled-down bar on an urgent matter involving one of his clients. The note didn’t say which client, and Sidney’s first thought was to throw the letter away as a prank. But the writer also said they were disappointed Sidney had not acted after their first meeting in August. What meeting? What was this person talking about? Blaming his faulty memory again, Sidney felt a guilt-ridden obligation to be here and to offer what he could of an explanation for his failings.
So here he sat, staring at himself in the ugly-colored glow of the mirror, waiting for somebody he didn’t know, and hoping whoever it was could help him find the missing pieces of this life. He looked determinedly at his own face again. He was going to take this drink, even though he promised himself and his wife two decades ago that he would never drink again. He wanted the strong smell of it so bad. After all, an analytical mind in a dull haze would be far better than one with gaps.
“Hello, M…M…Mr. Heidelbach.”
Sidney was startled at his name and looked around. A very short, round man was standing there in a dirty cloak and hood.
“Ah… hello. Have… we met? Are you the one who wrote the letter?”
“Yes,” said the man, nervously. “M…m…my name is Peter. We m…met last summer.” The man circled around to sit on the stool next to him. He lowered his hood and waved to the bartender.
“F…f…fire whisky, please.”
“How about Jimmy Beam?” Lightie growled, slamming a tumbler down on the bar. The man calling himself Peter jumped slightly in his stool.
“Thank you. That w…w…will be fine.”
Sidney frowned. He couldn’t remember anything about the man. “My apologies, mister… um…”
“Peter…” Sidney repeated slowly, rechecking his memory. “I’m very sorry, Peter, but… I’m afraid I don’t recall our first meeting at all. I’ve been… um… a little out of sorts lately.” The man sitting next to him looked skeptical.
“Yes… well, I wouldn’t know about that, but that’s w…w…why I’ve come here.”
Sidney stared at the stranger. The man was sweating profusely from his balding head. His beady, black eyes avoided any long lasting contact, and this alone told Sidney the man was somebody that shouldn’t be trusted. His accent was British, but there was something in the stranger’s manner that concerned him; something Sidney saw many times in men entering his office just before they knew they were about to be terminated. It was fear.
“Are you all right?” Sidney asked him, trying to be polite. The man ignored the question.
“The first time we m…m…met, I gave you some important information that my mast… ah… the man I serve… knew would be of interest to you. You must understand, the m…m…man I serve is very powerful, and does not share his wealth, gold or otherwise, with just anyone. He is upset that you have not yet p…p…put this information to good use.”
“I… have no idea what you’re talking about,” Sidney replied honestly. “Listen… you should know that… I’ve been a little ill lately. There are many things that I seem to have forgotten during the time you mentioned. If you gave me something important…” Sidney hesitated, hanging his head in obvious bewilderment, “I… just don’t remember anything about it.”
Peter seemed even more anxious than before. “Oh… my m…m…master will be very angry,” he shuddered, in a squeaky-little voice. Sidney looked at the man and watched him drink his whisky down in three shaking gulps.
“Another?” barked Lightie. Peter nodded before looking back to Sidney again.
“Three months ago, I told you about … ah… what was it you called it? An acc…cc…acc…”
“Yes — yes. An account, yes.”
“Was it a personal account or a business account?”
“B…b…business. The account was attached to a very powerful family in our world. The person in charge of this account represents many families in our world.”
Our world? Sidney thought. What was he talking about?
“M…m…my m…m…master wants… no… he DEMANDS… that the interaction between our two worlds remain separate. He is most unrelenting about this. We should not be in contact with your kind.”
Sidney frowned, but his business savvy was already kicking into high gear. Loss of memory or not, he was still a strong advocate for his company’s capabilities.
“I… can understand that in some parts of the world, there exists cultural differences that must be preserved. I can assure you, my firm is most respectful of these differences.”
“Our dealings with you will be severed!” Peter insisted.
Sidney was taken aback. “You mean… you wish to have the account closed?”
“Yes — yes. Close it. Remove it. Stop it!” The stranger reached out just short of grabbing Sidney.
“But, if the account is as large as you say it is, and if this person in charge of the account represents many, I don’t know that we would just close our business with them without cause.”
Peter’s eyes widened. “But we talked about this last summer. Don’t you remember?” he said in a panicked voice. “That is exactly what my m…m…master gave to you, a cause to c…c…close the account. He gave you vital information about some of the assets being delivered to your firm. These assets were illegally acquired. My m…m…master gave me the information to give to you. Ohhh… he is going to be very angry with us…” Peter said. He raised his drink and the glass rattled violently in his trembling hand as he swallowed it down.
Sidney had seen men like this before. In fact, he had hired an army of private investigators over the years to help his company track down the accuracy of information given to them by men such as this. His investigators had a name for people like Peter; they would have called him a fink, a snitch, a rat.
Sidney could see the man was distraught; he tried to reach out. “If you’re telling me an account we manage is doing something illegal on behalf of others, then… of course, that cannot be ignored. Maybe if you told me the name of the account, I could check into it again. But you have to understand; I can’t just take your word on it. I must have a reason to investigate one of our clients.”
“BUT MY MASTER GAVE YOU THOSE REASONS,” Peter insisted, almost yelling before jerking around to insure he hadn’t drawn anybody’s attention. “The owner of this account is a very evil man,” he said, rocking back and forth nervously. “He has stolen the riches he gives to you from many in our world! My master says he has killed many! He must be stopped!”
Sidney looked skeptical. It wasn’t what Peter was saying that bothered him, but rather, the panicked way in which he was saying it. Sidney was an expert is reading people accurately. It was a necessary quality for a man in his position working for a major investment firm. The understanding of information, be it real or not, was in reality what set good investment companies apart from their competition. Sidney was very good at getting to a person’s hidden motives, and one thing was sure in this case; this man Peter, whoever he was, was lying to him. But this man was also frightened beyond measure. The panicked fear he was now displaying surely wasn’t an act. He was physically shaking and his eyes were almost wild in anxious distress. At this point, Sidney knew the man would say almost anything to convince him to act, but who was he really afraid of? Was it this yet unnamed account or the person Peter liked to call his master?
“Maybe if you told me the name of the account, I could do a little checking. I won’t promise you anything, but I’m willing to… ah… take a closer look.”
“Yes — yes — you must act! My master will be most upset if you fail.”
“The account, then?”
Peter looked around them again and then leaned in to whisper. “Grayson,” he said timidly. Sidney jerked back, almost falling off his stool in surprise.
“What did you say? Grayson? Are… are you sure about that?”
“Yes — yes, absolutely sure. You must sever all ties with this man and the people he represents. He is evil.
“He must not be allowed to bring our worlds together. My master won’t stand for it. Your world is inferior, dirty, worthless,” Peter spat.
Sidney scowled. Their obvious societal differences aside, he could see this man was more apt to be labeled a cultural racist than an ambassador of vital information. He got the impression that if Peter and his so called master had their way, Sidney’s world might be terminated in some kind of cultural genocide.
“So… your um… master is part of this world Grayson represents?”
“Grayson DOES NOT represent my master!” Peter yelped, stricken to the point of almost passing out. “My master would kill Grayson if given the opportunity. Grayson must be stopped — he must be stopped! My master insists that you act!”
“Easy –– Peter, easy. I said I’d check into it, I promise.” And this time Sidney meant what he was saying. He didn’t care that the man sitting next to him was lying or afraid of something he didn’t quite understand. All that mattered to Sidney now was getting back to his office and somehow gaining access to the Grayson account once more. The missing pages from his journal were references to Grayson, he was sure of it. His boss, Mr. Landers, removed the Grayson account from him without cause or reason. And now, he was convinced the days missing in his mind were connected to Grayson as well. He now knew, beyond any doubt, that the important client he was to have met in Chicago was none other than Grayson himself. It didn’t make a lot of sense to him at the moment, but Sidney knew one thing for sure: If he was going to get the missing pieces of his mind back, those answers somehow resided in his company’s business dealings with Grayson.
“You promise… this time you will act?” Peter asked him anxiously.
Sidney looked at the man, almost bothered by the fact he was still sitting next to him. “Yes, Peter… I will try and confirm what it is you’ve told me. How can I contact you again?”
“I will contact you. My m…m…master needs my constant care. He only gave me permission to be away for one hour to meet with you. I must return to him now.”
“So… he’s in Chicago, then?”
“No… my master is…” he hesitated, “… abroad,” he finished, evasively. Peter reached out to shake Sidney’s hand, seeking to bond him to the promises just made. Sidney could see the man’s right index finger was missing.
“Goodbye, Mr. Heidelbach. I will be in c…c…contact with you again… probably in the summer. Please, I beg you; stop your dealings with Grayson. My m…m…master will not tolerate your inaction again.”
The man raised the hood of his dirty cloak and then turned to leave, but before he reached the door, Sidney called out to him again.
“You never told me your last name?” But the man calling himself Peter didn’t stop to reply. He moved outside, quickly looked around, and then disappeared into the night.
Sidney sat back down at the bar and shoved his drink away. He didn’t want it anymore. Looking at himself in the mirror once again, the person looking back seemed more familiar this time, more determined. Peter, or whoever he was, had given him a clue, something to help him regain a part of what had been taken away from him. Anger was raging inside Sidney’s heart. Somebody stole a piece of his mind and he wanted it back. How dare somebody do this to him?
“It’s time we met again, Mister… Grayson.”