Mr. Bernard S. Heidelbach, Chief Financial Officer of Westfront International Investment Group, stepped out of his taxi in front of its downtown Chicago destination. As he stepped out onto the sidewalk, he looked up at the fifty-story high-rise office building looming before him. He was impressed. The imposing structure looked like it was made entirely of glass, and gave no hint of its structural inner workings.
As he dodged the late afternoon pedestrians crossing through his path to the front door, the man noticed how hot it was. It’s late August; of course, it’s hot, he thought to himself. An inner voice answered back, Yeah, but it’s not the heat making you sweat. The little voice he rarely listened to was right. Despite the oppressive and blistering temperatures radiating off the sidewalk baking the city’s walkers, Heidelbach knew his discomfort was due to the significance of the meeting he was about to have with the individual he had made an appointment to see only that morning.
He crossed the sidewalk and entered the building through its massive revolving doors. As he walked into the lobby, a cool air-conditioned breeze hit him full in the face, which did nothing about his uncomfortably tight collar and the sweat rolling down his back inside his suit. As he walked forward toward the empty hallway in front of him, the man’s nervousness confirmed his problem was anxiety more than the temperature outside. He was worried. He might very well be making a terrible mistake in his approach to his appointment this afternoon. But he needed to understand what was happening. He wanted some answers. He needed somebody to explain what he saw yesterday.
Crossing the immense marble floor, the clacking sound of his leather shoes echoed in the space around him, making it sound like he was part of a larger group. He wished it were true; he could use some help for what he was about to do next. He finally stopped and looked up at a colossal rolling archway above him. Curving round the arch were the words, Cigam Draziw and Associates. He sounded out words, “Ke-gum Dra-zoo. Definitely the right place,” he said apprehensively, to himself. He straightened his tie. He passed beneath the archway and toward the brass elevators waiting on the other side. As he pushed the button and waited for the car to arrive, Mr. Heidelbach realized he didn’t know what floor button to press. He hurriedly reached inside his coat and pulled out a small address book as the elevator doors opened with a snap. He stepped into the car, looking at the name and address of his appointment; he didn’t have the floor number.
“Great!” he said, irritated, as he turned to look at the dark buttons on the panel before him. Which floor? he thought nervously. “Well… he is the Chairman of the bank, isn’t he? So that would put him on — the top floor.” He pushed the button highest up and to the right on the panel. The button’s light glowed bright, but nothing happened. He pushed it again… still the elevator doors would not close. “Hmmmm, now what?” he said, looking at his watch to confirm the time.
“Yes, sir. May I help you?” asked a pleasant voice from above. Mr. Heidelbach spun around quickly.
“Ahhh — yes, please. I’m looking for the office of the Chairman. I have an appointment,” he explained, still looking for the source of the woman’s voice. He saw a small black and white monitor in the corner of the ceiling to his right with a young woman’s face looking down at him.
“What is your name, sir?” asked the woman sharply.
“Oh, of course… Mr. Bernard Heidelbach of the Westfront Group,” he answered, turning to face her image squarely.
“Hold on, Mr. Heidelbach, let me confirm your appointment with Mrs. McConnell, the Chairman’s executive assistant,” she said, and then the monitor went black with a click.
After about thirty seconds, the man began rocking back and forth on his feet and inspecting the walls of the car around him. Stay calm, he thought to himself, think of something totally unrelated. “Hmm, real bird’s wood,” he said, focusing on the walls again inside the car. “Very nice; stuff goes for about two hundred dollars a linear foo...”
“Mr. Heidelbach?” came the voice from the ceiling again.
“Yes…” the man replied with a jolt. This time the woman looking down at him was displaying a very nice smile as she spoke.
“I am very sorry for your wait, sir. I have confirmed your appointment. Please stand clear of the elevator doors, and I’ll bring you up directly to the Chairman’s suite. Would you like some coffee or some tea perhaps? Have you eaten lunch?” she asked amiably, with that unrelenting smile.
“Ah — no. I’m fine, thank you. You say I’ll be going directly to the Chairman’s office from this elevator?” he asked, stretching his neck forward as if to hear her more clearly.
“Yes, sir. Mister Grayson occupies the entire top floor.”
“Okay… well then — that’ll do,” he finished, as he turned to face the doors again. There was a sharp click from behind him, and then a long low buzzing noise. A strong sense of fear began to overtake him as he waited for the elevator doors to close. He allowed his eyes to focus down the hallway from which he had arrived, and realized how strange it was that he hadn’t seen anybody else in the building.
The doors slammed with a thud, which snapped his focus back inside the car again. He could feel a slow build up of speed as the elevator began to rise. Then he felt a strange sensation of floating, which made him extremely dizzy and slightly nauseous. He immediately stuck his right arm out to lean against the wall of the car. The dizziness made him feel very warm again, as cold sweat began pouring into his shirt collar. The car’s walls seemed to blur and distort slightly in front of him, adding to his wooziness. He closed his eyes and leaned harder against the wall. Finally, the car began to slow and eventually stopped. He immediately stood straight and forced his eyes open. He looked at the display above the door and saw he indeed had arrived at the topmost floor. Mr. Heidelbach wiped his forehead with his handkerchief, flattened his hair and adjusted his tie again. He was as ready as he could be. The doors opened.
He stepped into an opening nothing at all like what he expected. There were no windows in the immense space. He thought how strange this was, considering he was on the top floor of an executive suite. The view outside overlooking the city must be fantastic. It was odd that a person in Mister Grayson’s position wouldn’t take advantage of his picturesque location. But compared to what he had recently witnessed, Mr. Heidelbach realized his definition of strange had changed considerably over the last forty-eight hours.
The space was enormous, but clearly partitioned into several unseen areas surrounding what looked like a formal boardroom. A very large highly polished black oval table sat in the middle of the space surrounded by at least fifty chairs. In front of each chair, sitting on the table, was a large stone bowl, large enough for an individual to wash his hands. Although the bowls definitely added to the mystique of the setting, Mr. Heidelbach couldn’t think what in the world they would be used for. At the head of the table, opposite from where he was standing, stood a black stone podium. Behind the podium sat a heavy desk with a small reading lamp and several old scrolls stacked neatly across the table’s top. A black leather chair was pushed against the desk, and at least ten television screens of various sizes were built into the wall behind it. They were all dark.
The room was absolutely spotless and contained four large fireplaces, two on each side of the room, big enough for a man to enter. He thought about how strange it was to have a fireplace in a boardroom, never mind four of this size.
Humph… the Chairman must be cold-blooded, he thought with a smirk, as he walked around the parameter of the office looking at each of the portraits lining the walls and above the mantels.
One picture contained the image of a very prestigious looking gentleman in an ornate frame much bigger than all of the others in the room. Heidelbach knew from the gold etched lettering attached to the bottom of the frame that the person in the portrait was undoubtedly the Chairman’s father. He was stern, very gray, and gave the impression of a powerful man both physically and in spirit. His eyes, bright green in color, were seated deep in his face under eyebrows that betrayed the man’s original red hair color. The eyes were tilted to the right as if contemplating some far-off memory. Heidelbach was glad the portrait’s gaze was not looking directly at him. Those eyes; it would be hard to imagine one surviving the direct stare of a man such as this. He was dressed in what looked like a black robe, but he wasn’t a judge. “What is that he’s holding?” Heidelbach asked himself, as he leaned forward to have a closer look. “A dark wooden stick — like a baton. Hmmmm… maybe he was a conductor of music,” he surmised.
“Screeeeech!” came a loud noise behind him. The man quickly spun around as his heart leaped uncontrollably.
“My God…what?” he said wildly, backing up against the wall as if to protect himself from some unknown assailant. “What in God’s name is that?”
It was an owl, a very large animal, sitting in a black barred cage. Its huge eyes focused on where the man was standing. “Now what is that doing in the city?” the man said, as he walked up to the cage and slowly circled its exterior. “Humph! Must be a pet.” Then, from behind, he heard the sound of a banging door.
“Sidney! How are you?” Mister Grayson walked into the room at a very fast pace. “Sorry I kept you waiting; blasted teleconference with the Federal Reserve ran over. Should always know to double my scheduled time when I’m working with the government,” he said, walking quickly up to Mr. Heidelbach with his hand out-stretched. He shook his visitor’s hand vigorously with a huge smile. He was wearing a very dark suit with a white shirt and silver silk tie. Mister Grayson was impeccably gloomed with jet-black wavy hair. He was a lot taller than Mr. Heidelbach had imagined, but then again, most powerful men were.
“How’s John these days?” Mister Grayson asked, motioning his guest toward the desk and an empty chair while unbuttoning his suit coat.
“Oh…ahh… he’s doing well — thank you. That is, he’s well as can be expected under the present circumstances. His wife has been ill,” Mr. Heidelbach informed him, nervously.
“What? Really? I hadn’t heard. It isn’t serious, I hope?” Mister Grayson said, opening a cigar box on the desk. “Have one?” he asked, tilting the box toward him.
“No, thank you, Mister Grayson,” Heidelbach answered, contemplating how he should start the serious part of their conversation. “Sir… I’ve come to you with some important concerns, and I don’t want to take up too much of your time, so I’ll get directly to the point.”
“Ahh…” Mister Grayson interrupted, “a man respectful of my time — now that’s a rare find indeed. Frankly, I was a bit concerned when I heard you wanted an appointment on such short notice. If there were any problems with our doing business together I would have thought John would have come to me directly. This illness with his wife must be very serious,” he finished, in an assuming tone.
“No, sir,” said Heidelbach, “John…. er…. I mean Mr. Landers doesn’t know I’m here today. As a matter of fact, he told me to drop the matter entirely, so you can imagine the risk I’m taking in coming to you anyway.”
Mister Grayson frowned. “Well, Sidney, I think I might have to re-examine my opinion about you. Going against the wishes of your bank’s President can be a very serious matter. I only hope what you’ve come here for is worth the risk you’re taking. How can I help you?” he asked, putting down his lit cigar. He laced his fingers together in front of him and leaned forward with a confident smile. “What’s the matter, Sidney?”
“Well, sir, as you know, the investors represented by your firm have come to us recently with a substantial amount of — ah — equity. The quantity alone should have raised several alarms in our firm, but they didn’t, despite the,” and here Heidelbach paused, looking for the right words, “method of disbursement.” The man continued, “But, then again, there were never any questions about the source of this equity flowing into my company either. That concerns me, Mister Grayson, and frankly I didn’t reach the position I have in my company by letting this kind of detail slide by me without full disclosure.”
“Equity? Methods of disbursement? Full disclosure?” Mister Grayson repeated with a frown. “What are you talking about?”
Heidelbach leaned forward. “Gold,” he said, with wide eyes. “The disbursement of the equity was done using commodities — in this case, your people brought us gold.”
“So… is… that a problem?”
“Frankly, yes. In the quantities that we’re talking about — yes; I think it should have raised a number of questions. After all, one doesn’t normally see this kind of commodity in the amounts your investors have shared. Where does the gold come from?” Mr. Heidelbach asked, longingly. His face appeared strange, almost expectant of a lie.
Mister Grayson picked up his cigar again without saying a word. He took a draw, and then leaned back and blew out a long steady stream of smoke before answering. “Where the gold comes from, Sidney, is a private matter between myself and the people I represent. Surely you can understand that? This part of the world comes to me because they trust me; they’ve put their faith in me. They know I will keep their privacy secure because… their safety” he leaned forward and dipped his ashes into the glass bowl in the center of his desk, “is most important to me. I will go to any length, you understand, to insure their trust. Do you understand?” Mister Grayson’s eyes were now staring down at Heidelbach with unquestionable authority. It reminded him of the man in the portrait over the fireplace.
Mr. Heidelbach leaned back. “Yes, sir. I do understand — and that is, essentially, Mr. Lander’s view on the matter as well. But again, I’m not the type of person who lets unanswered questions affect the security of my firm. I also have a duty to those who have entrusted our company’s financial welfare with me. I checked into some of your investors, Mister Grayson,” the man declared, with a marked change in his tone. It was now cold and direct.
“What?” Mister Grayson replied, in shock. “What’s that you say? How dare you?” he replied, in surprised indignation. “What gives you the right to invade the privacy of those….” but he was cut off.
“Yes — yes,” Heidelbach interrupted, “I’ve acted outside my normal boundaries. But what I found shocked me, Mister Grayson. I found something — beyond imagination,” he said, looking around the room nervously before turning to face him again. “I’ve seen things… that defy explanation,” he finished, in a much-lowered voice.
Mister Grayson put out his cigar, and sat straight in his seat, his hands clenching the arms of his chair in controlled rage. “Seen things?” he said, through tightly clinched teeth.
“Yes,” explained Heidelbach. “You see, I decided to look into the source of this wealth, and was troubled to find no explanation for it. Well… you can imagine my surprise. I even tried to verify the information of these so-called investors of yours — names, addresses, background checks, etc.”
“Background checks?” Grayson repeated, now applying so much pressure to the arms of his leather chair that it was beginning to emit groaning clicks under his nails.
“I could only find information on two names,” Heidelbach continued. “The first was the Worsten family in Massachusetts. I made a visit to a small suburb outside of Boston, and ended up spending two days searching a remote area of woods. It was there that I finally found them.” He paused, and then, “Mister Grayson — do you know these people?” Heidelbach’s eyes were focused on his lap, listening for a response.
“No — not personally — no,” Mister Grayson answered back.
Heidelbach continued his tale, “The things I saw there in the woods, Mister Grayson, astounded me so much that I never allowed myself to be seen. I continued to watch them all day there in the cold woods and I saw them…” he stopped suddenly, his eyes still down, not looking at the man seated across the desk in front of him. “I saw them flying!” His eyes shot forward, looking directly into Mister Grayson’s face. Grayson matched his stare for a while, and then dropped his focus toward the desk drawer in front of him. He glanced back up at Heidelbach, saying nothing.
“Did you hear me, Mister Grayson?” asked Heidelbach, who didn’t seem at all surprised by Grayson’s lack of reaction to what he had just said. “I said they were flying. Zooming around on the doors of their house. I saw furniture and rugs being cleaned in mid-air without anything to hold them up, and individuals appearing and disappearing from out of thin air. I then found the second investor who goes by the name of Clouts in Hampshire, England. And what I found there was much worse. He was… cohabitating… with indescribable creatures.”
There was a very long pause before Heidelbach finally stood up. “Who are these people you represent, Grayson? What are they?” he suddenly shouted, leaning over the desk in front of him.
“Sit down!” Grayson bellowed, with a look of stern warning in his eyes. He then took a deep breath to calm himself, and reached up to pull down the knot of his tie. He then slumped back into his chair again. “Please Sidney… have a seat,” he said, motioning to the chair behind the man once more. Heidelbach sat down.
“I reported my findings to my President, of course,” Heidelbach said, in a matter-of-fact tone. Then he looked up to meet Grayson’s gaze again. “His response was much the same as your own. He already knew. He didn’t say that, but I could tell he already knew what these people were, and he verified this knowledge by telling me to drop the matter and forget what I saw. But I had to come here today and tell you personally of my findings. I had to see the look on your face. I didn’t know if what I’ve found in these two cases represent all of the clients you manage, Mister Grayson, but now, from your reaction, I believe they do. What are these things I’ve seen, Grayson? Who are you, and what are you really trying to accomplish with my firm?”
There was another long pause between the two men, and then a loud bang at the adjoining door as it suddenly flew open against its stops.
“Mister Grayson…” said a growling voice from across the room, “I forgot to have you sign this parchment concerning the ministry’s holdings in Bulgaria. I…” the voice immediately stopped. Standing there fifteen feet inside the door was a goblin holding two large scrolls. Standing just four feet tall, the creature was dressed in an old velvet green suit coat with tails and a Colonel string tie. His brown eyes darted up to see Mr. Heidelbach, and then over to Mister Grayson who was now slowly laying his face into the palm of one hand.
“My… apologies… sir, I didn’t realize you were entertaining a guest,” the creature said, with a nervous smile, his eyes darting back to Heidelbach again.
“My God…!” said Sidney, jumping out of his chair and backing away from the desk. “It’s… it’s one — one of those creatures I saw in England… with Clouts.” He stepped backwards in obvious fear, and suddenly tripped and fell over his own feet.
The goblin looked up at Mister Grayson, “I’m very sorry sir… I had no idea a Muggle was here,” he said, a sorrow filled draw overlaying his words.
“It’s all right, Greechins,” replied Mister Grayson, raising his head to look at him, “completely my fault. Please stay where you are.” The Goblin nodded uncertainly, looking back at Heidelbach who was trying to stand again.
“WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?” Heidelbach screamed, finally returning to his feet, “WHAT ARE YOU? WHAT DO YOU WANT? WHAT IS THAT THING?” he shrieked, pointing at the figure standing near the door. “It’s a demon — some kind of unholy creature from…”
“Now… hold on, sir,” challenged the goblin. “I’ve been in the service of Mister Grayson for many years now. I am one of his most trusted servants. Demon indeed!” he replied, resentfully.
“Sidney,” Mister Grayson interrupted, a drawn sadness was in his voice, “your boss, Mr. Landers, is a long time friend and advisor. He has been a trusted Muggl… ah… I mean associate for many years. The information he possesses about me, and the people I represent, is safe. He has proven his openness and ability to accept the things around him for what they really are. Unfortunately, you and I are not at that point in our relationship.” Mister Grayson opened his desk drawer and pulled something out, pointing it into the air. Heidelbach recognized it immediately from the portrait of the man holding the same baton-like instrument. He glanced up at the portrait again, and was shocked to see the man in the picture begin to move, now placing that long dreaded green-eyed gaze upon him. He saw the man in the picture point his wooden stick at him.
With a look of horror-filled shock, Heidelbach looked back at Grayson, who was now pointing his stick at him as well. “What is that you’re holding?” Heidelbach asked, taking an unsure step backwards.
Mister Grayson sighed. “It’s… a wand. I’m very sorry about this, Sidney. I truly am.” He stretched out his arm to its fullest extent and shouted, “Obliviate!” Mr. Heidelbach’s eyes immediately glazed over, and his jaw fell slack. An absentminded and faraway look came over his face, as his whole body seemed to rest on the answers finally delivered to him by the wand’s spell. Mister Grayson slumped back into his chair running his other hand through his hair and down the back of his neck.
“What a mess,” he said, in a tired moan.
“I am sorry, sir. I should have knocked first,” said the goblin
“No — no, it had to be done anyway. It’s just… I hate it when I have to do that.” Mister Grayson meant what he said. The Director prided himself on being able to correctly maneuver through the high-level negotiations expected of him everyday without the use of magic to push his will upon others. His dealings with the Muggle world had proven to him that, if done correctly, it was far easier to parley his needs across a common set of goals rather than bend the will of everyone with the use of his wand. While putting a spell on somebody like Sidney seemed the easiest way to handle things, Mister Grayson knew this method required on-going work and maintenance. His way of bargaining produced longer lasting results, and freed more of his creative time to pursue the value in his post.
Grayson quickly stood up. “We have a lot of work to do here, Greechins. I want you to move Sidney’s things into my private study. I will need to begin probing his memory for any information he’s discovered over the last week. I don’t want to wipe out everything, so this will take an extended amount of time. I want you to call his boss, John Landers, in New York. Explain what’s happened, and tell him I’ll be performing another memory altering charm on Sidney immediately. Make sure he understands this was our fault — I don’t want him punishing poor Sidney just for being thorough.
“Then contact the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad, and the Improper Use of Magic Office. Have them contact both the Worsten family in New England and Clouts in Hampshire; have them get these families in line immediately. It’s bad enough they were seen, but they don’t even know they were discovered. Stupid amateurs. Have these offices contact me directly in about an hour. I’ll probably have more detail about any other Muggles with whom Sidney has shared his information.
“Then I want you to go back and clean up these accounts. A Muggle should never be able to purposely find a wizarding family. Although our friend here is extremely intelligent, I get the feeling we’ve probably made his job rather easy through our lack of diligence. Check all of the records for any links to our banks overseas. Have Meredith help you; she has the account numbers in her possession. We also need to find another way to transfer assets into Muggle banks other than sacks full of gold.” Mister Grayson walked over to his chair and sat down again rubbing his forehead.
“I will take care of everything, sir,” said the Goblin, and he turned to leave.
“And one more thing Greechins,” Grayson called out. “Have them take another look at my elevator. The spell used to turn it into a port key still isn’t right. How am I supposed to have a discussion with my Muggle visitors here in the basement of the estate if when they get here, they’re always sick? I almost had to carry Sidney to his chair when I arrived. You will probably get a lot of pretext and complaints about my office and the mix of magic and electricity that we manage here, but I’m tired of their excuses. I want the problems fixed. See to it,” he finished, without looking up for a response.
“Yes, sir,” replied Greechins, “right away, sir.” The goblin left the room.
Grayson looked up, rubbing the back of his neck. Heidelbach was still standing in front of him with a weak smile moving across on his face. “Well, Sidney — lets go,” he said, standing up and walking over to the man. He gently took him by the arm and guided him to the door of his private study. “Through here, there’s a good fellow,” he said, kindly.
“What? Is the meeting over?” asked the Muggle, in a sleepy voice.
“Yes it is, Sidney. Your presentation was first rate. Please come in and let me fix you some tea,” said Mister Grayson. He opened the door to his private study and guided his companion into the adjoining room. “Have a seat there on the couch,” he said, as he slowly closed the door behind them.