Rumi’s office wasn’t what Martin expected. He half imagined walking into an unkempt space—a windowless, dimly lit pod of a room cluttered with old reports stacked in corners or on tables, information on pursued shop owners covering...
Rumi’s office wasn’t what Martin expected.
He half imagined walking into an unkempt space—a windowless, dimly lit pod of a room cluttered with old reports stacked in corners or on tables, information on pursued shop owners covering the walls, coupled with vintage propaganda posters, warning those who looked at them to trust no one.
Instead, the organized office was illuminated by slivers of sunlight pouring in from a double hung window, some shining on the surface of a wooden desk decorated with an iPad, framed pictures, and mail slots holding printed off emails and layouts for future demonstrations. Glossy protest photos and alien propaganda posters ornamented the walls, most of them depicting E.T abductions impeded by enraged demonstrators. Only one of the posters stood out—one that featured silhouetted shapes of women burning a row of chains. Above them were the words ‘Angi Samaja’ printed in bold red letters.
If there were any classified documents available, they were more likely concealed in the file drawer tucked away in the corner next to the bookshelves built into the walls. Literature on alien trafficking, international alien protection laws and planetary science lined the shelves, some of the titles engraved on the spines written in Bengali. Martin eyed the books with mild curiosity, tilting his head slightly to read some of the English titles. He wondered how any of the information printed in them would do Lianna any good in regards to finding her way home.
He also noticed the scent of freshly brewed coffee that enveloped the entire space. The aroma reminded him of the corner café near his flat where Charlie visited regularly to satisfy her caffeine addiction. While they waited for her usual order of Jamaican Me Crazy, the smell clung to Martin’s clothes and the inside of his nose.
Martin moved uncomfortably in his leather cushioned seat and, refusing to succumb to the sudden memory, quickly shifted his attention to the room. It was more likely a master bedroom that was renovated over the years. Its layout was spacious and welcoming, as if the people who reorganized the room had the comfort of potential clients in mind. That would make sense, considering the circumstances of many who passed through the doors with stories of kidnapped E.T.s.
“It isn’t how I pictured it, you know,” Martin suddenly heard Chess observe, snatching him back into reality. “I expected something more underground—like the Bat Cave.”
Martin looked at his friend, nodding with agreement. “Or a mum’s cellar where they crack government computer codes while chugging down gallons of Coke?” he joked lightly.
Chess shrugged his broad shoulders. “Something like that.”
The two men chuckled, amused by their own banter. For Martin, it alleviated some of the tension churning in his stomach as they awaited Rumi Peterson’s arrival. To be honest, he was more anxious about the unknown—about how their encounter with her was going to turn out. She seemed nonthreatening enough when he spoke to her on his cell, but he knew better than to reveal too much—at least in a phone call. Considering the craziness of this shit, he wouldn’t be shocked if his line was tapped.
Suddenly, Martin and Chess heard the door creak slowly behind them and both men twisted around in their seats at the eerie sound. Their eyes fell on a woman who looked about twenty or so, her long black hair shaving off more years from her rounded face. Beneath her forest green military shirt and blue jeans was russet shaded skin that ordinarily belonged to those of Indian dissent.
Though her demeanor was calm, Martin recognized the unspoken confidence accompanied with much deserved respect. He immediately noticed her dark brown eyes, how they reflected the self-assurance that reminded him of Lianna in terms of displaying a sense of pride.
“Good evening,” the woman greeted as she walked calmly towards her desk. She leaned against the front of it and rested her locked fingers onto her lap, her soft smile and gaze exuding confidence. “You must be the Martin Keating I spoke with over the cell.”
“Yes,” he replied, his nervousness subsiding a bit. “And this is my mate, Albert Winchester.”
“Wait…you’re Naomi’s brother.”
“Yeah,” Chess greeted cheerfully, extending his hand out towards the woman. “You must be the Rumi Peterson we’re meeting with.”
“Indeed I am,” Rumi answered, shaking Chess’s hand firmly and then Martin’s. “Nice to meet you both.”
A quiet smile decorated Martin’s lips. “Likewise.”
“Sorry about the door. It’s a bit annoying, but what can you do? It’s old.” Rumi nodded her head slightly towards the coffee maker. “While I’m up, would you like a cup of coffee?”
“Not much of a coffee drinker,” Martin replied. “I could go for a pint, though.”
“Sorry, but can’t help you with that. My supply ran out. But I have what I offered, so either that or water will have to do.”
“Water for me too, thanks,” Chess chimed, shifting in his seat for comfort.
“Sounds good.” Rumi walked around her desk and moved towards a minifridge that sat beneath the tall iron table the coffee maker rested on. She disappeared behind the desk and soon emerged and turned around with a bottle of water in each hand.
“So according to one of my comrades, you and Albert here were at the recent demonstration?” Rumi asked as she handed the bottles to her potential clients.
“Yeah—well sort of,” Martin answered, twisting the cap off his bottle. “I was at Stewart’s Exotic Pets when you all arrived. We tried to duck out when the red headed kid caught us.”
“I see,” Rumi said as she poured coffee into a ceramic mug set near the coffeemaker, “I take it he’s the one who gave you our contact information.”
“Yes. He did, actually.” Martin lifted the bottle up slightly. “Thanks, by the way.”
“Not a problem and I figured.” Rumi carefully placed the pot of coffee back on the burner and set the mug on her desk. “So what brings you two here?” she asked as she sat down. “You didn’t exactly go into detail over the cell, Martin.”
“We have something—or someone—that Wayland is looking for,” he explained.
Rumi turned her head slightly, her left brow arched with puzzlement. “Really? Like what?”
“Last Saturday, a woman snuck into my bag the day my friend and I went to the shop. A tiny woman, rather—about 22 centimetres, teal eyes, green skin. Her name’s Lianna and she’s a member of something called the Shulu tribe. Long story short, she ended up at Wayland’s shop and managed to escape by hiding inside my bag.”
“A tiny green woman.”
“Yes. It sounds crazy—believe me, I know. But I am telling the truth.”
Rumi relaxed her face as she leaned forward slightly in her chair. “How long has she been living with you?”
“For a week. And I’m doing all I can to take of her—in a sense.”
“What do you mean ‘in a sense’?
“Well, she’s just as intelligent as everyone in this room and very independent. Only her height works against her—at least here on Earth anyway.”
Rumi pressed her lips together, her thoughtful gaze shifting from Martin to Chess as if silently contemplating whether their account was remotely realistic. “Do you have any photos?” She asked finally.
“Yes,” Martin answered, releasing a thankful sigh. He reached down and eagerly lifted his messenger bag off the carpeted floor before flipping open its flap. His hand then disappeared into the small front pocket where his cell phone and wallet were hidden. “I took them while she was sleeping,” he admitted while he pulled his phone from his bag. “A bit creepy, I know, but it’s the only way to get proof. And she made drawings to try to tell me what happened. Those are in my gallery as well. ”
Rumi stretched her hand towards Martin without taking her eyes off of him. “May I?”
“Of course.” Without hesitation, he gave her his phone and watched as she drew the devise closer to her face to examine the picture displayed on the screen. He noted her restrained skepticism as she examined the images.
“Where’s her home planet?” Rumi asked, finally tearing her eyes away from the photo to look at Martin.
“I’m not sure,” Martin replied as he retrieved his phone. “She doesn’t speak a ton of English and I only know what I know because of the drawings.”
“Right…” the activist responded meditatively, her eyes darting from Martin to Chess. “What do you two know about Stewart Wayland’s business or exotic pet shops in general?”
“Nothing really,” Martin replied, somewhat taken back by the woman’s mood change. “In fact, I never knew Wayland’s shop existed until Chess told me about it.”
Rumi’s attention suddenly shifted to Martin’s friend. “Albert, tell me how you found out about Stewart’s Exotic Pets.”
“Well, I searched the internet using the word ‘pets’,” Chess explained straightforwardly. “Wayland’s shop was the first t’ pop up. I looked at most of the Vid Reviews—saw yours an’ all you said about the owner.”
“Ok,” Rumi said as she rose from her chair and walked to the side of her desk, blocking the sun that shone through the window. “Let me see if I’ve got this straight: you wanted to own a pet for whatever reason. So you go online, plug in the word ‘pets,’ and Stewart’s Exotic Pets pops up. You think it’s a good idea to check it out, so you go there and suddenly you, Martin, have a tiny woman from another planet in your possession. Somehow, Wayland hasn’t come after you—even though you’ve had this woman for a week.”
“And despite the risk of being arrested,” Rumi asked skeptically, “she’s still in your custody?”
Chess slowly straightened up in his chair and looked quizzically at Rumi. “What’re you getting at?”
“What I’m getting at,” Rumi started calmly, approaching the two men, “is that I’m a skeptic until further notice.”
“You’re shitting me. My mate just showed you a bunch of photographs.”
“And with Photoshop, pictures on a cell can tell anything but the truth. So unfortunately, it proves nothing. You might as well tell me that the moon is made of gold.”
Chess stood up from his own seat, his eyes meeting Rumi’s. “Look, we wouldn’t come all this way to yank you, you know. I don’t go around making up stories for shits and giggles—especially if it involves us getting locked up.”
“He’s right,” Martin interrupted, also rising from his chair. “Technically, we’re both shoplifters, Rumi. Cops could be tracking the both of us as we speak, so I highly doubt we’d take this much of a risk for a prank. But I also get what you’re saying…if you don’t believe us, you should come see her for yourself. Now for obvious reasons, she’s very skittish around humans, so I’ll have to discuss it with her first.”
“That’s understandable,” Rumi nodded, crossing her arms over her chest. “You have our contact information on hand. Call once arrangements are made.”
“Sure. I’ll do that,” Martin responded, hoping not to regret his decision.