Chapter Nine

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Five fifty-seven p.m. Stewart glanced at his antique grandfather clock that stood against the wall in the living room, the slender minute and hour hands stretched over the Roman numerals as the second hand visibly moved around the dial. He leaned a...

Five fifty-seven p.m.

Stewart glanced at his antique grandfather clock that stood against the wall in the living room, the slender minute and hour hands stretched over the Roman numerals as the second hand visibly moved around the dial.

He leaned against his kitchen counter, watching the pendulum swing quietly from side to side, its movements synchronized with the soft ticking that silenced his thoughts. In some ways, the sound nursed the dull ache pulsing through his head, the tension the result of Sarah’s predictable accusations of his indifference towards her. Once again, she had hastily stowed her clothing in designer luggage and stormed out of their three-bedroom flat. This recent altercation was only a repeat of what had occurred two months prior. His lover’s words were acidic, yet just as impotent as they were when she left before.

Stewart rarely believed them. He knew she would eventually stand at their doorstep, her accusations of emotional neglect a distant memory in her mind. He ordinarily didn’t harbor much tolerance for his lover’s melodramatics, but Sarah was a clonology professor who assisted Dr. Harrison, who oversaw the lab housing E.T.s. Through her, he gained access to the plethora of rare creatures that generated a lucrative income for him when the breeders were unavailable. Were she not a direct connection to potential merchandise, Stewart would have dissociated himself from Sarah long ago.

Stewart looked at the clock again. Five fifty-nine p.m. He lifted the bottle of Southern Comfort off the counter and poured some of the honey shaded liquid into a whisky glass. He had acquired a predilection for the brand during his vacation to South Carolina as a young man. He recalled how his inhibitions loosened soon after the mixture of spices and citrus touched the back of his throat. Since then, it was often his elixir when he was apprehensive.

Stewart raised the glass to his mouth and emptied it with one swallow. It wasn’t the impending phone call from the Baron that caused this apprehension. In fact, Stewart had learned to tolerate the trafficker’s peculiarities for the time being. What caused it was Rumi Peterson. That half-breed whore and her incessant need to target him was the reason for many of his tribulations. The Vid Reviews and the demonstrations were irritating enough. But this current situation involving the now identified men only introduced complications he could not afford to contend with.

And those two. It took his personal hacker approximately five days to retrieve even the most basic information hidden behind the web blocks—their names, addresses, occupations. As he deliberated on the material Andrew had sent him, Stewart wondered why it was secured to such an extent. Identity theft was commonplace, but the men who entered his shop were far from wealthy, so no avaricious hacker would likely waste their time on them. There was obviously another reason why the men went to great lengths to conceal themselves from the internet.

Stewart placed his glass on the counter and was tipping the bottle of liquor over it once again when the familiar somber ringtone interrupted him. Setting the bottle down, he retrieved his phone and placed it on the kitchen table. Upon activation, the holoscreen appeared, displaying a frequency wave.

“Time’s up, Wayland,” the Baron announced evenly, their artificial voice laced with authority. “What answers do you have for me?”

“Plenty of them,” Stewart replied as he lifted his glass. “I downloaded what was sent to me onto my phone before the email erased itself. According to my associate, it took a significant amount of research to find the persons of interest.”

“Why?”

“Their information was completely web blocked, which I find questionable.” As he spoke, Stewart swiped his finger across the screen, replacing the black screen with the images of the two men who entered his shop.

“It is, actually,” the Baron agreed thoughtfully. “Who are they?”

“One of them is named Martin Benjamin Keating. Age 32, single, attended the Univerisity College London’s School of Technology. Graduated at the top of his class. He’s currently working in London as the Chief IT Technician for Gencore, Inc’s Work-From-Home Program.”

“And the other one?”

“Albert Deleno Winchester. Age 33—also single. Raised in Watford, England where he shares a home with his mother, Cynthia. He also attended UCL, but as a business major. Also graduated with high honors. According to the information here, he’s an entertainment promoter for and co-owner of a night club called Odysseus, which is located in London.”

“Are you certain of their identities?”

“After removing the web blocks, my associate uploaded their images from the surveillance footage into his facial recognition program, which has a ninety-nine point nine percent accuracy rate. The results show that these men are the ones who entered the shop.”

“And considering that Keating is an IT Technician, I assume he is the one with the messenger bag.

“Correct.”

“You mentioned something about their possible association with F.I.T.E. Is there any evidence of this?”

“Unfortunately not. However, it doesn’t mean that none exists. Their information was web blocked, which is typical of Rumi’s accomplices to protect their families.”

“Or they could’ve been protecting themselves from detection.” The Baron paused, giving Stewart enough time to empty his glass for the second time.

Meanwhile, the pictures of Martin Keating and Albert Winchester stared back at him, their individual smiles insulting him. Stewart glared at the picture, studying the faces of the young men while placing his glass on the counter. He’d be damned if they walked away from this unscathed—not when there was so much at stake—especially with Peterson watching his every move. His face relaxed as a realization dawned on him.

“So now that their identities have been recovered, how do we proceed?” the Baron finally asked.

“We don’t,” Stewart responded. “At least for the time being.”

“Come again?”

“I have a proposal, Baron—one that will increase our revenue substantially. But it requires your patience and an even temperament.”

“…Elaborate.”

“Whether or not Keating and Winchester are collaborating with F.I.T.E., they still have the woman. Now I’m sure they’ll most likely contact the group—if they haven’t already. This will involve several meetings with Peterson, who will in turn provide information about you, myself, the Red District, who their supporters are—the names of other traffickers even. In other words, you can eliminate the competition more effectively and discreetly if you use F.I.T.E. to your advantage.”

“They have a master list on their site.”

“Yes, but it provides only the information associated with the shopkeepers, not the crime lords for whom they vend. If we retrieve her now, Baron, we’ll have no way of finding out what they know and how much she’s actually worth. Through them, you will find more tiny people and similar creatures, where they are being distributed and to whom.”

“And what about Dr. Harrison?” the Baron asked. “He’s not exactly pleased with what’s become of his purchase, so he will be seeking an explanation.”

“I can assure him that I am still searching,” Stewart replied. “Besides, I have a meeting with one of my head breeders tonight. He’s more likely to locate a replacement in the Red District and has arranged another visit to Ny VII. So I will make sure the good doctor is our top priority. Meantime, I need to obtain counterfeit documentation for the replacement.”

“As tempting as this plan sounds,” the Baron spoke thoughtfully, “I don’t envision F.I.T.E. members twiddling their thumbs, either. You do realize that once the degree of severity becomes critical, they will probably go into hiding.”

“That’s a guarantee,” Stewart countered with assurance, “especially when Rumi and Company realize the E.T. is undocumented. They wouldn’t dare go public—at least not initially. They will need a solid strategy to keep themselves out of the District Courts and her away from the government.”

“And we cannot allow the latter to occur—especially if she possesses abilities.”

“Precisely. So there needs to be an undercover around them at all times. Someone who can be a fly on the wall, yet trustworthy enough to get close to Keating and members of F.I.T.E. Of course, all information will be fed to us via microphones and hidden cameras to avoid those who become curious. And whatever information he or she gathers will eventually be used against the group.”

“Right…”

Stewart poured himself another drink, ruminating on his employer’s possible apprehension. To him, it seemed logical due to the fact that harboring an undocumented extraterrestrial was considered a felony, which resulted in twenty-five to life in federal prison. At this point, Keating was a felon in every sense and by working with him, Rumi risked becoming an accomplice.

And if the creature had any abilities, they remained unknown. Thus, if the creature harmed anyone and F.I.T.E. was aware of this with no intention of alerting the authorities, F.I.T.E. would be further compromised as they’d be officially considered a terrorist group. It would be a misfortune from which she and her reputation would never recover.

And Stewart needed time and the Baron’s cooperation to see it come into fruition.

“You tend to the documentation while I’ll tend to the fly on the wall,” the Baron finally said.

“Splendid. I’ll have it by this Friday at the latest.”

“Good. And Wayland? Consider this your close call. You won’t get another.”

The holoscreen suddenly went dark and disappeared, indicating that the Baron had ended the call. Stewart remained where he stood, meditating on the probability of annihilating Rumi Peterson.

 

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