Chapter 13

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Stewart caught the majority of the conversation while driving towards the University College London Campus. Their words spoke from the computer installed in the dash board of his car. Initially, the pointless banter between the three parties hardly ...

Stewart caught the majority of the conversation while driving towards the University College London Campus.

Their words spoke from the computer installed in the dash board of his car. Initially, the pointless banter between the three parties hardly kept the shopkeeper’s attention. He occasionally glanced down at the screen, suspecting he heard something worth his awareness. Yet the beginning was no more than background noise featuring meaningless comments about beverage preferences.

The discussion piqued Stewart’s interest only when Rumi displayed skepticism when Keating and Winchester told her about the Shuluan. After he pulled into the small vacant parking space in front of the main building, he watched the frequency wave on his vehicle’s computer screen pulsate to the disagreement that escalated amongst them.

When the conversation came to a close, Stewart stared at the immobile white line on the screen. Courtesy of the undercover hired by the Baron, he was granted the opportunity to eavesdrop on the conversations occurring within the F.I.T.E. House. For the past week, he managed to find information about other shops, the crime lords once associated with said establishments and the ones the group would soon target. He even discovered through the hidden flies on the wall that F.I.T.E. established safe houses throughout England—a piece of information that was extremely vital.

But what interested Stewart especially was Rumi’s assessment of him. For years, he wondered how much information she managed to collect on him in terms of his association with the Red District, often visiting F.I.T.E.’s website to watch the uploaded videos of their demonstrations in front of his shop. On various occasions, he observed himself arguing with Rumi while her minions passed out literature to an increasing number of passersby.

Yet after hearing the recordings, Stewart realized that Peterson’s accusations against him actually lacked substantiation in terms of his present business endeavors. A gratifying smile ghosted his lips as he secretly listened in on the hypotheses regarding the reasoning behind his current residency in London, the success of his business—all to no avail. Peterson was obviously grasping for straws and this alone frustrated the living hell out of her.

Even so, he did not appreciate where the evidence gathered had the potential of leading. Though the pieces were scattered, the bitch had enough to eventually connect them and implicate him—especially with Keating and Winchester willing to aid her. The footage and weekly demonstrations in front of his store did not make him seem any less suspicious.

And then there was this Marcus Godfrey fellow she kept inquiring about…

Stewart’s smile faded as he began to contemplate the possibilities of being discovered. Regardless of how much he despised her, he was forced to admit that Rumi was a resourceful woman and far from unintelligent. He wondered about the Baron’s undercover, how competent they truly were. Planting microphones throughout an entire house was far different from undermining someone like her through trust.

Here’s to hoping.

Stewart glanced at the blue digital numbers displayed in the left hand corner of the computer screen. Harrison had stated earlier that he would phone at seven o’clock when his lecture ended.

It was only six forty-five p.m.

Honestly, Stewart wished the delivery time were much sooner. He wasn’t particularly fond of the professor—not after their ‘delightful’ conversations over the past week regarding the woman. Despite his explanations, the man proceeded to deem him ‘irresponsible’ and labeled his actions ‘completely idiotic’ before angrily disconnecting the call. If anything, Stewart hoped that the meeting would not be a personal reenactment of that unpleasant exchange.

He certainly lacked the patience at the moment.

Stewart groaned with slight annoyance when a ringtone played from the car speakers. The frequency wave that once occupied the screen disappeared before it was replaced by the words ‘Unknown.’

“Answer,” he commanded disapprovingly to the car computer. The device complied and soon the frequency wave returned to the screen, bouncing to the sound of the crime lord’s unrestrained snickering.

“Well, that was rather informative,” the Baron began, a hint of sarcasm evident in their deep mechanical voice.

“Indeed,” Stewart concurred. “At least we know that Keating has a preference for pints.”

“I will admit this conversation isn’t as entertaining as Ms. Peterson’s usual negative evaluations of you,” the crime lord joked caustically.

Stewart’s jaws clenched as heat crawled up his neck to his rotund face. He was constantly the subject of the Baron’s sardonic amusement, the latter often disguising his distaste with dry wit. Though Stewart usually ignored his employer’s obvious jabs, he certainly wasn’t in the mood for their blatant disrespect at the moment.

“What’s the matter, Wayland? Growing tired of being watched by the watcher?”

“It isn’t something I particularly appreciate,” Stewart replied icily, his tone strained and even.

“Remember,” the Baron continued, all traces of humor disappearing from their tone, “using the organization to our advantage was the plan you proposed.”

“Your point being?”

“That you and I both know that she’ll investigate the matter further. It’ll be only a matter of time before she and her associates find out about the woman’s home planet, which will only lead them to the correlation between my business and the Red District.”

“So I’m aware,” Stewart spoke. “However, the undercover planted microphones throughout the F.I.T.E. house and gained access to their computers. So we’ll be at least two steps ahead of Rumi and the two men she’s assisting should they decide to hide.”

“In case you’ve forgotten, they have the woman.”

“Yes. But if F.I.T.E. acts too hastily, they’d be forced to explain to the authorities why they’ve held onto an undocumented E.T. for an extended period. And because Rumi wants my head on a platter, Baron, it’d be more strategically unsound for her to act now. Besides, her accusations don’t even bear weight—especially when I continue to deny my involvement.

“What matters is that her location has been confirmed. We now know she’s with Keating and has been this entire time. And he did exactly what we expected he’d do, since he seems to be the predictable type. I see everything going as planned, so we will stand by, watch, and listen. Now please grant me your patience as we discussed.”

The frequency line suddenly became motionless as the crime lord paused, allowing Stewart to silently consider what he heard himself say. His assertion regarding F.I.T.E.’s lack of evidence against him and Peterson’s unwillingness to act impulsively seemed logical enough, but the Baron’s reaction did nothing to reassure him. In fact, it had only confirmed a suspicion that had long since fermented in the back of his mind—that this stranger’s temperament may interfere with his strategy much sooner than later.

Stewart suddenly heard his employer sigh as if bored with their conversation. “On to the more important matter,” the crime lord finally spoke. “Knowing your affinity for punctuality, I take it you’ve arrived at the University.”

“I have,” the shopkeeper answered, relaxing his jaw muscles, somewhat appreciative for the sudden change of subject. “I arrived a few moments ago.”

“And the replacement?”

He glanced up at the rearview mirror to check on the container resting on the backseat. The lack of movement indicated that the tiny man concealed within it remained tranquillized. “He’s fine. Whatever the breeder injected into him is still working,” Stewart reported, his attention shifting back onto the computer screen. “However, I suspect he’ll wake soon—hopefully long after he’s been placed in Harrison’s lab.”

“Your meeting with him is at seven, correct?”

“Approximately. It’s six fifty-nine now, so I should be hearing from him shortly.” Soon after Stewart spoke, a phone number beneath the words ‘Incoming Call’ appeared in the corner of the screen. “In fact, he’s ringing right now.”

“Possibly anticipating your time of arrival. I’ll leave you then.” To Stewart’s relief, the Baron ended their conversation.

“Answer and display,” the shopkeeper commanded once again. Soon the stilled frequency wave disappeared and was replaced by an image of a gray-haired man sitting behind a desk, his sleeved elbows and entwined fingers resting on its surface. Shielded behind gold rimmed glasses were stern blue eyes that stared at Stewart as if attempting to intimidate.

Speaking of eyes, Stewart refrained from rolling his own. He understood the reasoning behind his customer’s unwelcoming demeanor and had since apologized. He anticipated a drop off and payment devoid of pointless dramatics, but all hopes of that happening had soon dissipated.

“Good evening, Dr. Harrison,” the shopkeeper greeted, the warmth in his tone stressed.

“Wayland,” Harrison replied stiffly. “How far are you from the main campus?”

“I just arrived. And I, of course, have the replacement with me.”

“Excellent. I’m looking forward to it after waiting a week longer than necessary.”

“And I will do everything possible to locate the one you’d initially chosen,” Stewart declared, deciding to ignore his patron’s remark. “In the meantime, I hope the new purchase is also to your satisfaction.”

“For your sake, I hope so as well.” Harrison unfolded his hands before he lifted his right hand towards his face. He then took off his glasses and set them on his desk, looking at Stewart once again. “My lecture ended and it’s after hours,” he continued, “so you’re less likely to arouse suspicion when you visit the department.”

“All the better. I can meet you in your lab.”

Harrison shook his head. “That’s not possible. My assistant professor and two of her students are using it at the moment,” he explained. “My office, however, is more suitable.”

“Very well, Doctor,” Stewart concurred. “Your office it is. I know where it is, so I’ll see you in a moment.”

“Good. Ring me when you’re on my floor.”

“Will do.” With one push of a button, Harrison ended the call, allowing the frequency wave to reappear on the screen.

“Computer and car off,” Stewart ordered. Within seconds, the system complied, shutting off not only the car computer but the vehicle itself.

He once again flicked his eyes towards the rearview mirror to check on the man again. The sooner he completed the delivery, the sooner he could return home to the bottle of Southern Comfort sitting on his counter. After tonight, he needed his elixir to alleviate his emerging headache.

 

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