Magic Vs. Money: Part Seven
Part 7: An Acceptable Solution
When Talya saw her parents sitting on the bed in Danil’s hotel room, she immediately ran to them, throwing her arms around her mother’s waist and weeping into her dress. Sophie stayed back at the door for a moment, her face brightened by a satisfied smile. She closed the door behind her and came into the room. Mr. Winters stood up and offered her his hand.
“Thank you so much for doing all of this,” he said. “I never imagined anyone would help us like this. I never thought anyone could.”
Sophie took the offered hand and shook it. “It was my pleasure.”
Mr. Winters went back to his wife and child and wrapped his arms around the both of them. Sophie looked on, a warm feeling coming over her. Against impossible odds, she’d helped reunite Talya with her parents and it felt good.
Just as important, she’d hurt Mr. Mogul. With that thought on her mind, she turned to Danil, who was sitting on the other bed, once again dressed in his trench coat and hat, his fur its normal electric blue. He looked back up at her and she saw a much more grave expression than she’d been expecting. She went over to him.
Danil glanced over at the Winters family for a moment and then looked up at Sophie.
“Thinking back on our conversation earlier, I realized that you knew exactly what Mr. Mogul was holding Mr. Winters for,” he said. “But you didn’t tell me.”
“What difference does it make?” Sophie asked.
Danil glanced back at the Winters family. Talya looked up at them for a moment, concerned. Danil looked to Mrs. Winters and nodded. She lifted Talya up in her arms and carried her outside. Mr. Winters watched them go, then went to join Sophie and Danil.
“We have no case against Mr. Mogul,” the detective said plainly.
“Mr. Winters is the key witness to this case,” he said. “But because of what he was doing there, he doesn’t want to go to court.”
Sophie shot an angry glare at Mr. Winters, who averted his eyes.
“I was stealing company secrets,” the Xweetok scientist said guiltily. “If I went to court against Mr. Mogul, that would come out. I’d be arrested too and I’d be in prison a lot longer than he would.”
Sophie grabbed the chair in the corner and sat down, massaging her forehead with two fingers. She could feel the beginnings of a headache, thinking that all the effort they had gone to was going to be wasted because of this. Her anger simmered just beneath the surface of her consciousness, like a slumbering monster on the edge of awakening; Sophie did her best to soothe it back to sleep.
“So, what he said was true then?” she asked.
Mr. Winters looked at his feet, but said nothing.
“Why?” Sophie demanded.
Mr. Winters was quiet for a moment. “A representative of one of Mr. Mogul’s chief competitors offered me ten thousand NP for every document I could smuggle out and hand over to him. He assured me that it could be done quietly and . . .”
His voice trailed off. Sophie laid her wand on the table, afraid that she might impulsively use it if she had it in her hand. Feeling that might not be enough, she stood up and walked a few steps away from the desk, then turned back to Mr. Winters.
“It was all about money?” she asked, not bothering to conceal her irritation. “You put your family’s safety at risk for money? Please tell me there was more to it than that.”
Mr. Winters said nothing. His silence spoke louder and more clearly than any words he might have said.
“Oh, you idiot!” Sophie hissed. “Weren’t you being paid enough as it was? If you were Mogul’s top research scientist, you had to be making more than enough money. How could you be tempted by more?”
“Hey,” said Danil. “Don’t be so hard on him. Ten thousand is a lot; easily two months wages for your average . . .”
Danil stopped suddenly, seeing the fire in Sophie’s eyes. He felt a bit of relief that Sophie had put some distance between herself and her wand, but it wasn’t nearly enough distance to be all that comforting.
“There’s no excuse,” she said, turning her back Mr. Winters, too disgusted to even look at him. “You put your family in danger over money that you really didn’t need. I went through so much trouble to get you out of NeoCorp headquarters – I even intended to make Mogul face justice for abducting you in the first place – all because I thought you were being unjustly held and mistreated.”
Danil thought to remark on exactly who had really gone to the most effort in getting the Winters family out, but wisely kept his mouth shut.
“And now that we’ve got you out, I learn that you really were stealing from him,” Sophie continued, her fists clenching. “I’ll bet he was telling the truth when he said he wasn’t hurting you. Is that right?”
She glanced back over her shoulder, her glare venomous enough to poison a snake. Mr. Winters nodded sullenly. Sophie turned around and walked over to him, putting her face right against his. He leaned back, eyes wide with fright. Sophie leaned in closer again.
“You understand why I’m angry about this, don’t you?”
Mr. Winters nodded and Sophie backed off, but continued to glare at him for a long moment with her arms folded across her chest. Then she sighed.
“The only reason why you’re not going to spend the rest of your life living on somebody’s petpet as a cooty is because I don’t want to take away Talya’s father so soon after she’s got him back,” she said a little cooler than before. “Be sure you find a good way to thank her for that.”
Mr. Winters nodded again.
“So, where do we go from here?” Sophie asked. “We’re obviously not going after Mogul, but we still have to get Talya and her family out of Neovia.”
“Well,” said Danil, “we should probably wait here for a couple of days. Mr. Mogul probably doesn’t want his security guards wandering around the town causing a panic; it would be bad public relations. We shouldn’t stay here, though. It’s too exposed. Do you have any more invisibility powder?”
Sophie nodded. “I made a batch last night just to be safe.”
“Then we should take them to your place for tonight. Mogul wouldn’t dare send . . .”
Outside, Talya let out a piercing shriek that made Sophie’s heart jump into her throat. Without thinking, she rushed to the door, Danil and Mr. Winters close on her heels, and threw it open. Outside, Mrs. Winters had crouched down with her arms around the weeping Talya. Coming down the hall, almost right on top of them, his cane tapping against the floor with every step, Mr. Mogul was accompanied by four Grarrl bodyguards and Lupe wizard. How had he found them? Sophie instinctively started to reach for her wand, only to realize she’d left it in the room. Mr. Mogul came to a halt right in front of them, leaning heavily on his cane.
“I think it best if we went into Mr. Danil’s room,” he said. “For privacy.”
Sophie thought about her wand sitting on the table. If she could get to it, perhaps she could deal with them. The wizard first, then the bodyguards . . . Sophie didn’t think she had much chance, but it was better than nothing. She nodded to Mr. Mogul.
“Mrs. Winters and her child can stay outside,” he said. “Better if they don’t hear what we have to say.”
Again, Sophie nodded. She went back into the room, Mr. Mogul and his guards following closely behind. Once they were inside, one of the bodyguards closed the door behind them. Sophie took a few more steps toward the desk, then made a leap for it, but just before her hand closed around her wand, Mr. Mogul’s wizard drew his wand and cast a spell, sending it flying under the bed. One of the bodyguards quickly stepped between Sophie and the bed. Sophie turned quickly, thinking what spells she could do without her wand, but the wizard already had his own wand trained on her and Mr. Mogul was holding up his ring, a magic deflecting force field shimmering around him like a red bubble.
“Let’s not make this a violent encounter,” the businessman said. “I see no gain in it for either of us and we both have much to loose.”
Sophie glanced at Danil. The detective’s eyes were darting around, looking for a way out, but not finding one. He looked over at Sophie and shook his head slightly. This wasn’t the time to fight; not now. She looked at Mr. Winters, but he seemed to have already accepted defeat, slumping on the bed and burying his face in his hands. She looked back at Mr. Mogul.
“What do you want?”
Mr. Mogul smiled. “You can relax,” he said. “You’ve already succeeded in getting mister and missus Winters out of my building. I admit defeat on that battle and congratulate you. I’m not here to take them back, or to hurt you, merely to bring this unpleasant situation to an acceptable solution.”
“Acceptable for whom?” Sophie asked.
“Why, for all involved parties,” replied Mr. Mogul. “If I were to take Mr. Winters back with me by force, you would almost certainly resist. There would be a struggle, some of us would be injured, word of it would get out and the whole event would most likely make the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper. I don’t want that; however, knowing what he does, I cannot allow Mr. Winters to run around free to go to my competitors for protection, as I’m sure he was intending as soon as he was out of the city.”
Sophie glanced at Mr. Winters and he averted his eyes. Sophie felt another spike of irritation at that, but kept her attention focused on Mr. Mogul.
“What do you intend?” she asked.
“A compromise,” the businessman replied. “I’m certain that we can arrange for a situation that is mutually beneficial to everyone here. Will you listen?”
“Are you giving us a choice?”
Mr. Mogul smiled. “I’m afraid the alternatives are not very pleasant.”
Sophie sighed. “Alright, we’ll hear your proposal.”
Mr. Mogul turned to Mr. Winters.
“I’m sure you realize that if I were to hand you over to the defenders now, you would be imprisoned for several years for espionage. Everyone would learn of your actions and nobody would be able to trust you; you would never find another job and you and your family would suffer.”
Mr. Winters nodded dejectedly. “Yes.”
“Well, I don’t want that,” said Mr. Mogul. “You have a splendid family and I don’t want to deprive them of their father.”
“And you certainly don’t want what you’ve done to come out either,” Sophie added bitterly.
Mr. Mogul ignored her. “Mr. Winters, you will make a comprehensive list of all the secrets you have stolen and who you have sold them to so that I can deal with them quietly. In my own way.”
Mr. Winters nodded again.
“And in return?” Sophie asked.
“In return, I will not press charges. Of course, to make sure that you don’t make any more trouble for me, you will have to relocate. I have a small shop on Lutari Island that you can take over under an assumed name until such time as the information you have is no longer a threat to my company. A tremendous waste of your talents, I’ll admit, but since you’ve proven I cannot trust you, there is little I can do. It will be a severe cut in pay, but on the other hand, you’ll be able to spend more time in with your family and you won’t spend any in prison.”
“That’s not much of a deal,” Danil said.
“Compared to the alternatives,” said Mr. Mogul, “I think it’s quite satisfactory. Remember, circumstances are far from in his favor right now. Legally, I don’t have to bargain at all and the damage that would be done by the world learning of what really happened are far more devastating for him than for me. I am being quite generous.”
“I’ll agree,” said Mr. Winters.
“Very good,” said Mr. Mogul with a broad grin. “I knew you would. Now, Mr. Danil.”
Danil tensed for a moment, glancing at the Grarrl bodyguard looming over him, then forced himself to relax.
“Mr. Danil, I doubt very much that the defenders would be happy to learn you’ve violated your agreement with them.”
“Hey,” Danil retorted, “I thought I was . . .”
“It really doesn’t matter what you thought,” Mr. Mogul interrupted. “Perhaps the magistrate would be understanding, but perhaps not. Either way, if I were to press charges of trespassing and property damage, it probably would not go well for you.”
“Are you threatening him?” Sophie demanded. “Because if you are . . .”
“No, not threatening,” said Mr. Mogul. “I’m merely making sure he’s aware of the situation.”
Danil put his hand on Sophie’s shoulder. “Let him talk. He’s right.”
“We can’t let him just push us around like this,” she insisted.
“We don’t have much choice right now,” Danil said.
“Ah, but you have plenty of choices right now, Mr. Danil,” the businessman purred. “Certainly more than Mr. Winters. I’ll take you at your word that you didn’t know the whole situation and thought you were doing the right thing. The fact of the matter is that you infiltrated my headquarters and smuggled out two people that I had been holding under tight security. That took skill, ingenuity and, most of all, courage; I admire that. Here is what I will do: provided that you and your friend never speak the truth to anyone, I will report to the papers that I had hired you to test my security for weaknesses. Naturally, I will pay you a generous amount for this so that no one has reason to suspect otherwise.”
Danil’s ears twitched at the mention of pay.
“How does fifty thousand sound?”
Danil pulled his hat down over his eyes and folded his arms. “Sounds like a lot.”
“It is,” said Mr. Mogul. “And once word gets round that you’re willing to do professional infiltration, I think you’ll find plenty of rich customers willing to pay similarly large sums to ensure that they stay rich. All around, this situation is very profitable for you.”
Danil kept his head turned down a moment, appearing to consider the offer. He looked up, a smirk on his face and a gleam in his eye. “I’ll agree to that.”
Sophie shot Danil a furious glare, but the Mynci detective only shrugged.
“It’s a good deal, Sophie,” he said.
The witch threw up her hands in disgust. “It’s always about money, isn’t it?”
“It’s about avoiding trouble.” After a moment, Danil added, “And it is a lot of money.”
Sophie fumed at him for a moment, but it didn’t seem that Danil had any intention of changing his mind. She turned her burning glare on Mr. Mogul.
“Ah,” he said. “Now, you are a bit more difficult.”
“You can’t buy me, Mogul,” she shot back.
“I know,” he replied. “You’re one of the few people in the world that has no interest in money. There are plenty of other things I could offer you, but somehow, I think you’d refuse it all as a matter of pride.”
Sophie nodded. Mimicking his throaty purr, she said “You have the long and short of it.”
“Sophie, think about this,” Danil whispered.
He stopped short when he saw the look on Sophie’s face and quickly decided to keep quiet.
“Still, I suppose I do owe you something for all the unnecessary trouble you’ve gone to,” said the Wocky. “There is nothing you really want of me right now, but if that should ever change, I’ll offer you one favor. Anything in my power to grant, you need only ask and it will be yours. I think that’s more than fair.”
“Huh!” Sophie snorted. “Fair to offer a favor you know I’m not going to collect on?”
“I can only make the offer. It isn’t my fault – or even my concern – if you choose not to accept it.”
The witch turned her nose up at Mr. Mogul, closing her eyes to show how much she simply did not want to look at him. An amused smile found its way to the businessman’s face. He turned to his wizard and snapped his fingers. With a flick of the wrist, the wizard cast a spell that pulled Sophie’s wand out from under the bed. Mr. Mogul reached down and picked it up and held it out to her. She looked at it, then back to Mr. Mogul.
“I do wish you would understand,” he purred. “I am not the monster that you think that I am.”
Sophie barked a short, doubtful laugh.
“I won’t deny that I’m in business for personal profit,” he continued earnestly. “Nobody goes into business for any other reason, but you and I both want the same thing.”
Sophie rolled her eyes and groaned.
“We do! We both want the same thing: prosperity for Neovia. You because it is the home of your family and friends and myself because if Neovia prospers, I prosper. Our motives may be different, but we have a common goal. We could accomplish so much more if we were to work together to achieve it. Think of all we could create together if we were to cooperate.”
Sophie met Mr. Mogul’s gaze evenly. Without looking away, she snatched her wand back.
“Mr. Mogul,” she said. “If we were stranded together on a deserted island and cooperating was the only way we could survive, I’d rather die.”
Mr. Mogul’s smile fell a little, but not completely. “I regret this; however, it is a matter entirely out of my control. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really must go. My precious is back at the office and she gets terribly lonely if I leave her for too long. Good night.”
He turned away and started for the door. Sophie watched him go, the grip on her wand white-knuckled, wanting nothing more than to blast him half way around the world, but she worried that if she did anything, Mr. Mogul would go back on his word with Danil and Talya’s father. Thinking of Mr. Winters, she glanced over to where he was seated on the bed with such a look of misery that painting him gray couldn’t have made him seem any more sad. She looked back at Mr. Mogul.
Mr. Mogul turned on his heel, a pleasant smile on his face. “Yes?”
“You said any one favor?” she asked.
“Anything at all.”
Sophie looked back at Mr. Winters, thinking of Talya and her future.
“This is what I want,” she said. “I want to know exactly where you’re sending Talya and her family and I want to be able to visit them at any time I want, no strings attached.”
Mr. Mogul raised his head a little, squinting at Sophie with an amused grin.
“Just to make sure you keep your end of the bargain,” Sophie explained.
“Is that all?” Mr. Mogul chuckled. “Done.”
Mr. Mogul turned and walked back to the door. He paused with his hand on the latch, then seemed to consider something.
“You are offered any one favor in the world,” he mused. “So you ask for the opportunity to make sure that someone you barely know is taken care of.”
Sophie glared at the businessman’s back, but said nothing.
“Interesting.” Mr. Mogul chuckled. “Perhaps your reputation is ill-deserved.”
With that, he left.
To be continued...