The reception for the first two chapters has been very positive and encouraging. A big thanks to everyone who’s stuck around and sent me their comments! Here’s the third chapter of the instalment. Please share it with friends if you like it so that I can reach a wider audience and get more feedback in the process!
Vikram couldn’t get himself to fall asleep. A lot had happened that day. He had landed a new job, met a being from another planet, and most importantly, had prevented himself from making the biggest mistake of his life – making a chef the protagonist of his impending bestseller. The market was obviously ripe for the epic saga of a stranded alien with amnesia, fighting his way back to his home planet against the odds. He was surprised he hadn’t thought of it earlier. Even though Caesar had been very mysterious about what his actual duties would be, Vikram couldn’t wait for the next morning.
He was jarred out of his thoughts by the loud cry of the doorbell, followed by a deluge of impatient knocks. It could only be that infernal interfering neighbour of his, coming to complain about his exercising in the midnight again, Vikram thought. His indignation grew in harmony with the knocking and he opened the door determined to give the man a piece of his mind.
“It’s not even exercise night, you ignorant…” Vikram began.
“Hello Vikram. We need to talk. Can I come in?” Caesar said.
“Uh…sure. Please come in, Caesar.” Vikram said.
Caesar made his way into the drawing room and sat on the sofa. The room, like the entire house, screamed bachelor-pad from every upturned cushion and dirt laced window. It was minimally furnished with the bachelor’s essentials – a recliner, a beanbag, a large television screen and a table to place the junk food on (there were three empty pizza boxes containing the remnants of a thick chewy crust lying on top).
“Please excuse my tone back there, Caesar. I thought you were someone else.” Vikram apologised as he plonked himself on the beanbag.
“It’s all right. I must apologize too – for paying you a visit at this late hour. But I had no choice. I have to talk to you about something that I cannot bring up when Morphy is lurking around.”
“Go on. I’m listening.” said Vikram, intrigued.
“That alien is my chance at redemption, Vikram.”
Caesar paused for dramatic effect.
“Uh…redemption?” Vikram asked.
“I have to get back at Lily and show to her that I have the skills to run a successful restaurant. Do you know what I did the day the review was published?” Caesar asked with clenched teeth.
“Cried yourself to sleep?” ventured Vikram.
“I fired my entire staff.”
“Okay. A tad harsh, perhaps?”
“How was I to know that I wouldn’t be able to hire any replacements? Every chef in the city I’ve approached since, has refused to join my restaurant for the wages I can offer them. And believe me, I’ve approached everybody. Even the guy who listed baking Lego doughnuts as his speciality. I was about to shut shop and resort to adopting a writing career, when I found my saviour.”
“Now look here Caesar, I don’t know what you overheard in the afternoon, but my skills are kinda limited to boiling eggs and microwaving…”
“I meant Morphy.”
“Oh. Right. He cooks well, does he?”
“What? I don’t know. I mean…it doesn’t matter. That’s not what I meant! Just hear me out, will you?”
Vikram looked a bit hurt by Caesar’s tone. Caesar took a moment to regroup and continued.
“You see Vikram, that crash I heard that night – it wasn’t just the sound of an alien spacecraft crash-landing.”
“It wasn’t? I thought you just said it was!”
“It was also the sound of opportunity knocking, Vikram. Opportunity.” Caesar added with a glint in his eyes. It was hard to tell whether it was the glint of a person with a dream in his heart, or of a maniac with homicide on his mind.
“Oh. I see what you did there. Metaphors – such tricky little devils they can be.” Vikram chose to play it safe until he figured out which one it was.
“Do you know how many alien encounters Earth has had in its entire existence, Vikram?”
“None! That’s how many.” Caesar announced emphatically before Vikram could take a stab at it.
Vikram did know the answer to this one – his favourite cartoon strip had carried a series of gags on that last week. He had been amused to learn that the people of Earth had suspected alien handiwork in the creation of the Stonehenge, Easter Island and someplace called Area 51. This had of course been debunked a couple of decades ago – they were just elaborate hoaxes planted by the Mermaids. They were notorious for this kind of humour, and also, they lived for hundreds of years and got bored very easily.
“I could have told the government about Morphy. But what would that get me? A firm handshake from the President’s secretary? No, I knew that someone would be willing to pay through their nose for a genuine certified alien in relatively mint condition. And that’s when I decided to approach the biggest gangster in the city – Michael Smith a.k.a. KorqueScrew. Getting to him wasn’t easy either – I now owe a lot of shady people a lot of shady favours. KorqueScrew jumped at the chance and I’ve negotiated a deal with him that will help put my restaurant back on the culinary map. He’s promised me a lot of money. A lot. Not only that, he’s guaranteed me that he’ll convince any chef I want, to join my restaurant’s staff.”
“You’ve sold Morphy to the Mafia? But what would they do with him? To him?”
“He seemed to be torn between having his scientists perform medical experiments on him, and adopting him as the alien son he never had. I believe having him stuffed and mounted over his fireplace was also an option in the running. Ah well, who really cares?”
“But how can you do that to him?” Vikram asked incredulously.
“What? Do you think that alien wasn’t planning to do something similar to us? He’s not our friend, Vikram. Why else would he have instructions to prevent being detected at any cost? It’s just dumb luck that he lost his memory and couldn’t remember what he was actually sent here for, otherwise we’d all be enslaved and having our cavities probed by prickly little things at this point. Do you want to let them do that to us once he regains his memory? Is that the kind of world you want to leave your children?”
“I still don’t understand why you’re telling me this, Caesar. What does this have to do with me?”
“I like how you get straight to the point Vikram. Very admirable trait. Very.” Caesar moved closer and lowered his voice for effect.
“I want you to do the exchange for me.”
“I want you to help me immobilize Morphy and then go and deliver him to KorqueScrew’s people in return for the money. And a written IOU for the chef-convincing. There’ll be a hefty monetary reward waiting for you when the deed is done.”
“Why don’t you do it yourself?”
“I’m a prominent restaurateur Vikram. I was voted ‘Most likely to be yelled at by a celebrity chef in a reality show’ at college. Imagine what’ll happen to my reputation if word gets out of my involvement with the Mafia. I can’t afford to take the risk.”
“I don’t think I’d want to be involved either. It sounds dangerous and I don’t like the idea of throwing Morphy under the proverbial bus for money.”
“You’re a writer, aren’t you Vikram?”
“Yes. How’d you know? Have you read my line of coloring books?”
“The guy you approached earlier to hire a chef from, called and warned every restaurant in the neighbourhood about you.”
“What a grouch!”
“Do you know what’s common between the last four books on the NYT bestsellers list? They were all crime novels. And for a writer who likes to get under the skin of the character, this would be an opportunity of a lifetime. Picture this – you reach the drop-off point in the dark of the night in a…in a?”
“You reach the drop-off point in the dark of the night in my pickup-truck. Maybe it’s been raining. Maybe it skids on the puddle as you screech it to a halt. You gesture his henchmen to take Morphy’s limp drugged body from the back. You take the briefcases of cash from KorqueScrew. Maybe you smile at him. Maybe he smiles back. Maybe you become friends. Maybe he invites you to one of his famous parties later. Maybe you meet all his Mafia buddies there. Maybe you get in their inner circle. Maybe they give you an in-depth account of their lives, their crimes, their escapes, their triumphs, their failures. You’ll be so deep in the skin of a criminal that it’ll take a very fine pair of tweezers to get you out. Can you see it? Can you afford to lose such an opportunity? Will you?”
Vikram had a dazed look on his face. Caesar did paint a very vivid and enticing picture.
“It’s getting very late, Vikram.” Caesar said as he looked down at his watch. “Why don’t you sleep on it and let me know?”
Vikram nodded instinctively and followed Caesar to the front door.
“Oh, there’s one more thing. The standard disclaimer, as is customary in these kind of dealings, applies. Before you think about refusing my offer or telling anyone about what I spoke about tonight, remember that the head of the Mafia wants something I have, which means my requests to him for tiny favours, however gruesome, will not be refused. So choose wisely. Unlike the three who came before you.”
Vikram was conflicted. On the one hand he would have access to enough material for at least a trilogy of crime novels, with room for a couple of prequels to be thrown in later. But what about Morphy? Could he do this to him? Was he really a potential prober of human crevices? Maybe he’d be doing mankind a favour by turning him in to the Mafia.
Lost in these thoughts, Vikram hadn’t noticed the figure that had shimmied up to his bedside in the meantime.
“Hello.” it said.
Vikram leaped up like an eager student’s hand on hearing a question he finally knows the answer to.
“Relax, Vikram. It’s just me, Morphy.” the figure chuckled.
“Why would you do something like that?!” Vikram shouted once he had managed to gather his wits again.
“I have something very important to discuss with you.”
“Why couldn’t this wait until tomorrow?”
“Because Caesar cannot come to know about it at any cost.”
“At any cost?”
“At any cost.” Morphy replied expressionlessly.
There’s that shiver up the spine again, Vikram thought.
“Go on then. Tell me what this is about.”
“You remember when Caesar and I told you about me suffering from memory loss? It’s not true. It’s a lie I tell Caesar to keep him from suspecting anything.”
“What is there to suspect?”
“Lots. I was sent to Earth by my people for a very important mission. And I need your help to complete it successfully.”
“You’ll have to tell me more.”
“Let me start at the beginning. I’m from Konnit, a planet in the Zimmer galaxy, which is about four thousand light years away from Earth. I was part of the…” Morphy suddenly broke into a coughing fit.
“Would you like a drink of water?” asked Vikram.
“That…would…be…great.” Morphy managed to eke out between his loud coughs.
Vikram got up to make his way towards the kitchen. He stayed in the kind of apartment people tend to describe as ‘small but cosy, with paper thin walls’. So thin that the neighbours could actually listen to each other’s conversations in the quiet of the night, if they really put their mind to it. In fact, Pierre, his neighbour, was awoken by the loud thud even though he was in deep slumber. He attributed it to his peculiar neighbour’s midnightly exercise routine and went right back to getting his eight hours. Vikram did not have the liberty to hear the thud, of course. He was unconscious long before his body slumped to the floor. Morphy was trained to kill a man in fifty-two different ways and to render him senseless in seventy-three. Vikram never stood a chance.