Standing in freezing winter darkness on a run down street I summoned my courage; repressed painful memories of my last encounter with my families old firm, lately acquired by a mysterious venture capitalist and relocated from its stolid offices in the Gunther Building to a sketchy warehouse district next to a slum; opened the reinforced door discretely labelled “Black Consulting” and was swallowed by a short stairwell. Disgorged into the warmth of a reception area I advanced into the cool blonde intensity of the receptionists unnerving stare to announce myself as Daniel Black and my business as a job interview.
“Take a seat Mr. Black. Mr. Chunava will be with you shortly” she stated dismissively.
Disturbed by the reception and atmosphere I removed my coat and sat, nervous sweat breaking out as warmth slowly replaced the bone deep chill. An unfamiliar plant, dark green, twisted, and with small, intensely red flowers gave off an exotic, spicy scent from a table to my right. My eyes drifted across the pictures on the opposite wall as hoof-like clicking and murmuring drifted in a pacifying haze from the cube farm behind the receptionist station. The photos of my uncle shaking hands with obese and forgotten civic leaders had been replaced by dark abstract landscapes vaguely suggesting clouds shaped like obscure religious symbols looming over a tormented countryside. The familiar landmarks of the corporate world seemed almost to be window dressing presenting a facade for something ancient, ominous and of mysterious purpose.
Clearing my mind I reviewed the points I would make in the coming encounter with the enigmatic Mr. Chunava; my background as a business and systems analyst; my work with the local city and provincial governments as a consultant; my expertise in telecommunications and security technology and my extensive contacts among the local community. Hopefully Chunava would be unaware of the regrettable history of my recent Silicon Valley startup whose brief rise and fall had forced my return to my changed and now unfamiliar home city. Soothed by this exercise I was startled by a soft, firm and commanding voice from my left where a slim and dapper individual who must be Chunava had appeared as though he had just flung aside a cloak of invisibility.
“Mr. Black?” he inquired.
I carefully rose and faced him before I replied “Yes” and accepted a hand surprisingly strong, cold and leathery. I shuddered as the impact of his appraisal swept over me; then a sense of acceptance and security replaced my fear. Without a thought I followed him past the clicking and murmuring of my unseen companions and into my new life.