Chapter Seventeen

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“Shelby. Call Blue Lunday.” Rumi folded her arms across her chess, raising one hand towards her mouth as the voice activated system programmed into her phone called her friend and hacker. She paced back and forth, tapping an index finger...

“Shelby. Call Blue Lunday.”

Rumi folded her arms across her chess, raising one hand towards her mouth as the voice activated system programmed into her phone called her friend and hacker. She paced back and forth, tapping an index finger on her lips while waiting for her to respond. If Blue were here, she’d be in the basement where all the F.I.T.E. hackers worked during their shifts.

Rumi stopped moving when a hologram screen suddenly emerged from her phone, an indication that someone had picked up the line. The solid darkness coloring the screen was soon replaced by the image of a young guy whose shaggy dark brown hair draped over one of his blue eyes. The lighting from the computer monitors shone on his bare arms and face, making him appear much paler than he actually was. He twisted his head to his left and then his right as if looking for someone. The guy then looked at Rumi, allowing a warm smile to spread across his face.

“They’re called stairs, Rumi,” he teased lightheartedly, leaning forward so his face overtook nearly the entire screen. “Feel free to use them anytime.”

“I would if the phone wasn’t quicker,” Rumi countered in the same tone. “Where’s Blue, Egor?”

“You know her: off playing a game of Vintage Candy Crush and binging on Doritos between levels. Might as well consider her clocked out for the evening.”

“Consider your head getting knocked off if you don’t quit fucking with my phone!” bellowed a female’s voice in the background. As Egor cursed under his breath, his face was pushed out of view and replaced by a young woman with a terra-cotta complexion and hazel eyes that flashed genuine annoyance. “Told you about doing that shit,” she reminded her friend as he erupted into laughter. She then looked directly at Rumi, her face softening. “What’s up, Rumi?”

“Your points on Candy Crush apparently.”

Blue sucked her teeth and shot a look at her fellow hacker. “See what you started, Egor?” she asked jokingly.

“I regret nothing.”

“Assholes usually don’t.”

“I love you, too.”

Blue chuckled, rolling her eyes while shaking her head. “Anyway,” she continued, looking at Rumi once again. “How can we be of service?”

“Listen, I need you two to track down some info on someone who was here in my office,” Rumi replied straightforwardly. “His name’s Martin Keating. White male, possibly in his early 30s, blond hair, blue eyes, approximately one hundred fifty-two centimetres. More likely lives in the metro London area.”

“You talking about the guy who came in with Naomi’s brother?”

“Yeah—him.”

“You think he’s no good?” Egor asked seriously, his brows falling a bit.

“That’s what I trying to find out. Something wasn’t right about his accounts on things, so I want us to have as much info on him as possible just in case.”

Blue nodded thoughtfully. “Right,” she said with a sigh. “Well, Egor and I can start looking right away and we’ll let you know what we find.”

“Thanks. I appreciate it.”

“It’s what we’re here for. Peace.”

Soon the image of the hackers was gone, exchanged with a dark screen hovering over Rumi’s desk.

She closed her eyes, drawing in a deep breath and then exhaling with a heavy sigh while planting her hands on full hips. A part of her wanted to believe what this Martin guy told her. Shit, she had had stranger people walk through her office door, filling her ears with crazy ass stories about E.T.s that were actually true. So maybe—just maybe he was legit on every level and only feared the worst for himself and Naomi’s brother.

Yet even as he spoke, she remembered the way he shifted in his seat, how he slumped into the chair, how he licked his lips between sentences. Unlike Albert, Martin seemed nervous beneath the façade of levelheadedness, as if he were attempting to play a role that didn’t fit him. But that was how many hired baits acted on their first gig, anxious about screwing up on the first try, being careful not to reveal too much. It’d happened in the past and it was usually who someone in the network knew personally.

Rumi opened her eyes and glanced at the white digital numbers decorating the screensaver on her phone. She and Naomi were scheduled to meet up after her consultation with a source working in the Red District. That was supposed to be at seven. It was a little bit after, so Naomi should be crashing in any moment, smiling and ready to impart the information her source slipped to her.

Speaking of which, she thought, I hope she has some on Keating while she’s at it.

Rumi was snapped out of her thoughts when she heard a light rapid tap on the door.

“It’s open,” she announced, pressing the end call button on her phone. She turned around and watched the brass knob slowly turn with a click. It was then slowly pushed open slightly, its eerie creak filling the entire office.

Suddenly, Naomi poked her head through the gap and looked directly at Rumi, her sunglasses shielding her eyes. “Hello hello,” she greeted, donning a playful half-smile.

“Hey, Naomi,” Rumi replied, smiling a little herself. “What’s good?”

“A whole lot. Mind if I invade your space?”

Rumi nodded. “Yeah. I need to talk to you anyway. Close the door behind you.”

“Sounds a little kinky,” Naomi joked, her half smile transforming into a wolfish grin as she pushed the door open further and walked into the office. “I’ll play along.”

“I’m not in the whips and chains mood at the moment,” Rumi chuckled as she watched her comrade shut the door behind her. “Sorry to disappoint you.”

Naomi slid her sunglasses up towards her hairline to wear them as a makeshift band. “Too bad,” she bantered teasingly while heading towards one of the chairs facing Rumi’s desk. “I always wanted to know what your safe word was.”

“If you need to know, it’s ‘Question’ because I have one you can hopefully answer.”

Naomi dropped down into the chair, parting her legs a little while brilliant gray eyes met Rumi’s gaze. “Well—depends on what it is. Try it.”

Rumi leaned against her desk, crossing her arm over her chest. She noticed Naomi ‘s eyes reflecting a touch of curiosity and anticipation for her question, possibly assuming it’d be a harmless one. “Naomi,” she started carefully. “What do you know about Martin Keating?”

“Not very much,” she shrugged, her grin fading. “Just what Albert filled my ear with: a tech head who lives on his own, used to be a DJ at some of the clubs around London, had a childhood sweetheart ‘till she died a few years back. Been a bit of a loner ever since, so Little Brother’s been worried about him.”

“For how long have they known each other?”

“Oh shit—since their university days. They’re practically brothers, those two…” Naomi turned her head to the side slightly, her brows crinkling as the realization quickly dawned on her. “You’re thinking Martin’s shady, aren’t you?” she asked, somewhat taken back.

“To be honest, that’s exactly what I’m doing,” Rumi admitted straight forwardly, nodding her head. “I’ve been playing our entire exchange over and over again in my mind and I’ve come to the same conclusion: that something isn’t right about anything he said.”

“Which was what?”

Rumi sighed, mindful of her friend’s shift in tone and demeanor. Something told her that this was going to be an interesting conversation, so caffeine was definitely needed. She nudged herself off her desk and unfolded her arms, becoming eager for her refill.

“Martin told me,” she continued as she walked around her desk, lifting her mug off the surface along the way, “that a little women snuck into his messenger bag while he and your brother visited Wayland’s shop.”

“Is that right, then?”

“Apparently,” Rumi answered while she filled her mug with fresh hot caffeine. “The guy supposedly has had her in his flat for about a week.”

Naomi’s facial expression softened. “Hence why they visited the bat cave,” she realized, nodding to herself as she rose from her chair. “I’ll be dammed.”

Rumi stared at her comrade, unsure of how to even respond to the cryptic Batman reference. “You’ll have to explain that one,” she managed before sipping some of her coffee.

“I just ran into Martin and Albert on my way here,” Naomi answered, pointing her thumb at the door. “Fact, they’re one of the reasons why I came to invade your privacy here.”

“I take it they told you the same story.”

Naomi walked away from the chair and towards the middle of the office, sliding one hand in her pocket. “Before I even go on, I have to ask,” she started while turning to face her comrade. “Did either Martin or Albert show you any pictures of this woman?”

“They did, actually” Rumi replied, placing her drink on her desk. She walked from behind her desk and began to approach Naomi, meeting her halfway. “From the looks of things, she’s the height of a fashion doll. But they could’ve created it with photo manipulation.”

“I’d agree if they were some ding a ling off the streets.”

“You’re actually buying into it.”

“As Twilight Zone-ish as it all sounds, Rumi, I think Martin and Albert are telling the truth. Come to think of it, it actually confirms what my source told me.”

“What did she say?”

“According to her, there’s been a massive shipment of E.T.s coming into the District since last week. Now around that time, she spotted Wayland at the auction docks picking through the merchandise—last Friday, in fact.”

“Really.”

“Yeah. She—my source—finally earned her apprenticeship, so she was assigned to check out the inventory when the shipment came in. Get this: she said that some of the cages were filled with tiny people. Now I know it all sounds a bit wonky, but the timing of the shipment adds up with what the boys told us. Think ‘bout it—if this woman arrived here on Earth on Friday night, that means she was in Wayland’s shop ‘till Saturday morning—more likely hiding somewhere waiting for the right moment to split.”

“Then Martin and your Albert show up—“

“And she saw an opportunity to hide in his bag, which explains why she’s been with Martin for as long as she has. I’m not sensing any coincidences here, Rumi.”

Rumi turned and headed towards her desk to grab her mug. “Well, on the surface, their account seems to hold up,” she spoke as she lifted her drink off the desk once again, “but something’s really off about it still. Your brother and Martin were in Wayland’s shop, technically stealing some tiny woman, which would cost Wayland a fortune. Yet he somehow allowed him to keep her for this long? That makes no fucking sense to me.”

“What’re you thinking?”

“That Wayland or his constituents hired Keating to act as bait to knock us off track—to find out what type of information we have on him and his connections.”

“Or Martin came to F.I.T.E. for help because he’s just plain old scared shitless like the wee babe he is,” Naomi contradicted, shaking her finger at Rumi while moving towards her. “I mean—granted, I don’t know Martin very well, but I highly doubt he’s about the Life.”

“But I know how Wayland operates. He’d never let some complete stranger snatch up his merch like that and keep it for a week. Again, something’s way the fuck off and there could be a huge possibility that Keating’s in on it.”

“And I get that. I seriously do,” Naomi countered, resting her hand on her chest and dropping it to her side. “But Martin’s no lacky for Wayland. I bet he knew dick about the guy ‘till recently.”

“I want to believe you,” Rumi reasoned sympathetically. “But in our line of work, it’s usually the person you trust the most who’ll Spartan-kick you in the face eventually. We’ve dealt with baits in the past who were family members or close friends of F.I.T.E.ers or those owning safe houses. So I don’t trust any of this entirely.”

“Well, I do—especially when Martin and Albert’s story lines up with what my source told me,” Naomi argued. “I say we at least owe it to ourselves to follow up on this.”

Rumi looked at her comrade before sighing. “Alright…give them a call and tell them we’re in. Martin’s supposed to talk to this woman about me meeting her, so let’s ask him what’s become of that via speaker phone.”

“I approve of this message,” Naomi declared in high spirits as she pulled out her cell. “And I promise we won’t get kicked in the face.”

“I’m holding you to that,” Rumi promised before she indulged in another sip of caffeine.

“Good to know. Now what’s his number?”

 

 

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