His eyes were fixed on the surveillance recording playing on the computer monitor. The images were sharp enough to define every costumer’s distinct features and the movement of every creature in its cage. Three cameras covered the shop—sm...
His eyes were fixed on the surveillance recording playing on the computer monitor. The images were sharp enough to define every costumer’s distinct features and the movement of every creature in its cage. Three cameras covered the shop—small circular devises mounted near the doors and the counter—observing with a critical lens.
Stewart expected that one of them chronicled the little woman’s last steps, revealing to him her whereabouts. He presumed that she had escaped from her cage during the night to hide within the shadowy corners, cautiously and unknowingly dodging the electronic watchdogs that protected the shop after hours.
He had discovered her disappearance while he was checking his inventory this morning. As he searched for her, Stewart wondered how the woman had escaped from her cage in the first place. He distinctly recalled confiscating her sword after the bitch slashed his palm with its piercing tip. Even if she did use something concealed on her person, he thought that her interfering with the security pad from the inside was impossible. So when he examined the cage again, his uncertainty turned into anger when he realized that its security pad had malfunctioned.
Stewart sat at his desk, his elbows resting on its surface while his folded hands pressed against his tightened lips. “I know you’re here”, he said, his cold tone sounding deceptively tender. “The watchdogs never lie…”
His voice trailed off as the video showed the tiny woman crawling from beneath the bottom shelves and into the messenger bag belonging to the blonde haired young man who had visited the shop hours before.
Stewart rewound the recording and leaned slightly forward to examine the footage more closely, silently wondering where she had initially hidden. Though he couldn’t determine her initial hiding place, he found that she only needed a few seconds to make her way from under the shelves to her new location without detection.
He then inspected the blonde haired man and his companion, searching for any indication that they were more than who they portrayed themselves to be. Hand signals, a wink and a nod while his back was turned—anything that would ultimately reveal them as imposters.
But Stewart discovered nothing out of the ordinary, nor did he expect to. Some of the greatest infiltrators resembled ordinary people performing ordinary tasks, blending with the masses of personalities that crowd London on a daily basis.
Stewart paused the video and slowly pushed himself away from his desk. Standing, he placed his fingertips on the surface of the desk, bowing his head as he closed his eyes to relieve the stinging. Ordinarily, the darkness behind his eyelids seemed to soothe him as the silence removed from his mind any sliver of irrationality that caused him to react. Yet now the darkness was assaulted by crimson specks, grouped and clotted, while his mind ruminated on the woman’s escape, the two men, and the demonstration. The more he meditated on the circumstances, the more the inevitable irritation engulfed him.
“Damn it,” Stewart muttered icily under his breath as the heat of annoyance rushed to his face. When he opened his eyes again, he shifted his attention to a round glass paperweight. He reached down and brushed his digits against its smooth clear surface, tracing the curvaceous cadet blue streak with the tip of his fingers.
He grasped the paperweight and snatched it off the desk. “DAMN IT TO HELL!!” he roared while hurling the object towards the empty cage that had once held his captive, watching the container explode into shards. The sudden noise startled the creatures in the front end of the shop, high shrieks and crashes against glass and metal filling the shop as they attempted to flee from an invisible enemy.
Stewart glared at the fragments, his entire frame trembling with a sweltering rage. Those men were affiliated with F.I.T.E. They had to be. Why else would they enter his shop armed with false curiosity? It was no coincidence that Rumi and her minions paid their weekly visit soon after the men arrived. The demonstration was a mere distraction, granting the supposed customers the opportunity to disappear into a crowd of confused passersby. They had no interest in glowing rabbits—they came to pry, to inquire about the breeders and the legitimacy of his business.
The inquiries. Were they the nod and wink Stewart was searching for? He didn’t put it past the organization to conceal hidden devises on their people—catching every word in hopes of incriminating him…
Stewart inhaled deeply, attempting to calm his unsteady nerves. Throwing a tantrum or entertaining baseless paranoia wasn’t going to lead him anywhere near the truth. Both only obscured his rationality, which obviously compromised him. If anything, he was more concerned about how he was to explain this misfortune to his associates. How in the hell was he to inform the parties involved of this unfortunate—and tremendously expensive—turn of events? That little thorn in his side wasn’t even registered, which would further complicate matters if F.I.T.E. were to go public.
Stewart sighed once again, finally feeling somewhat centered. “Pull yourself together, Old Boy,” he advised himself. “You cannot afford to lose yourself. Not now.”
The sound of Mozart’s ‘Funeral March in C-‘ suddenly disrupted the silence of the office. Stewart turned and looked towards his desk, where his cell phone vibrated against the surface.
Stewart glanced at the screen and released an annoyed huff when he found it flashed the word ‘Private.’ “Wonderful,” he grumbled softly before swiping his finger across the touch screen to place the call on speaker.
“Good evening, Baron,” Stewart managed to greet him calmly.
“Ah, Wayland,” the Baron replied. The baritone voice sounded synthetic and unnatural to Stewart’s ears, indicating that the unidentified human was speaking through a voice changer. “I’m surprised you’re still at the shop after the circus arrived in town.”
“I take it you watched from some undisclosed location.”
A low chuckle rolled from the holoscreen. “To an extent. The footage is uploaded on the F.I.T.E. website. They’ve put on quite a show this week. But I digress. Any correspondence from the good doctor?”
“Yes. Dr. Harrison plans to visit the shop soon after his plane lands. I expect him tomorrow evening.”
“Good…you don’t sound like a man who is about to earn a 10,000 credit commission. Is there a reason why?”
Stewart swallowed the dryness from his throat before he spoke. “Because those earnings will not come into fruition, I’m afraid. At least not for the time being.”
“…Elaborate,” the Baron requested somewhat harshly, the sardonic undertones suddenly vanishing.
“The woman is gone.”
“She’s no longer in my possession.”
“She is n—how the fuck did it happen, Wayland?!”
“She managed to escape and concealed herself somewhere within the shop until sometime this morning.”
“I thought you placed her in one of the special secure cages. Was she able to deactivate the lock from the inside?”
“Unfortunately, the cage’s security pad malfunctioned without my knowledge, so it wasn’t even locked.”
“Fuck…FUCK!” The Baron paused for a moment, as if attempting to regain their composure. “…Someone has her,” they concluded with firm assertion. “Who visited the shop during your morning shift? Have you scanned the surveillance footage?”
“I have. Two young men came in at approximately 10:15 a.m. looking to purchase. One was in his early thirties at least, blond hair. The other was a bit taller with brown hair and quite heavyset. The former carried a messenger bag with him and placed it on the floor. The woman slipped into it while I was occupied. Then something else occurred.”
“What was the ‘something else’?”
“They quickly left soon after F.I.T.E. arrived, which leads me suspect they’re associated with the organization somehow.”
“I don’t want your suspicions, Wayland. I want answers. The woman and her people are undocumented. Until she’s found, everyone involved is compromised. You have six days to identify this unknown man with the messenger bag and his accomplice—no later.”
“Yes. Meanwhile, what I am to tell Dr. Harrison when he rings again?”
“The truth—that due to your stupidity and negligence, his purchase is no longer in your possession and you will do everything in your power to resolve the issue. And I highly suggest you solve the mystery by next Saturday—for your sake.” The Baron hung up, abruptly ending the call.
Stewart stared at his phone before his attention shifted to the video surveillance screen, glaring at the unidentified cause of his tribulation through slits.