Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Help (02/20/06)
- TITLE: Malaysian Mantids in Baltimore
By Jeffrey Snell
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Passionate dawn bathed the Baltimore skyline as Agent Kevin Mounivong reached the roof of Lembaga Technological Industries, medium-length black hair swirling. Holding out his FBI identification to two detectives, Kevin nodded grimly toward the casually dressed body resting awkwardly on the coarse, crimson-stained asphalt.
"Has your team determined time of death?"
An older bearded detective nodded, "Yep, six-eighteen. Weapon, GSR on her hand and body position look consistent with suicide. Tracks on her arms." Kevin knelt, donning gloves. "Agent Moo... uh, so why is the FBI here?"
Kevin bit his lip and leaned toward the body, studying the petite palms. He blinked. "Homeland Security's paying attention to everything nowadays, Detective, not just Al Qaeda." He stood as a coroner moved the lifeless body to a stretcher. Kevin nodded, thin-lipped. "Thanks then. Please use my card if you learn anything new."
"... scratches on her hands--she fell forward, Sir. Discreet contusion on the back of her neck. Ignore the needle tracks and gunshot residue--they killed Tian!" Kevin clutched his composure. "I blew it." He climbed into a navy Expedition with government plates, loosened his black tie and rubbed his eyes. He listened to his cell for a moment then shook his head. "No, she called to meet at seven. I don't know why she was on the roof." His jaw clenched. "But I will."
Hanging up, Kevin stared forward as the city's cobalt backdrop moved toward azure. A tear escaped. He got her into this; she wanted to help, but she was his little sister.... His knuckles whitening on the wheel, Kevin rested his forehead against them and released his grief and tears to the Lord.
"So you Thai, yes? That why they send you?" The middle-aged man wavered in a disheveled grey suit, obviously distressed. Eight stories below, the city's flow had begun, like a luminous trickle released into a paved riverbed.
Horns below signalled the city's awakening, tempo quickening. But Tian's heart beat faster. An LTI senior manager had stopped her earlier as she arrived for work. Her boss was being let go. He'd been yelling, threatening suicide, could she help reason with him, save the company embarrassment?
Ten feet from the man, she hesitated. I've been here three weeks. Why me? Could they know?
"No," she replied shivering in the lavender predawn, her scarlet cardigan too thin. Flashing beacons dimly illuminated his haggard face. Aware the manager had not accompanied her, Tian cleared her throat. Lord, give me your peace. "I'm Lao. They thought I might help you."
"I from Malaysia, Taiping. Funny choice of word." Abruptly he plopped to the roof ledge, startling a puzzled Tian. "Ah yes, you new girl. I remember."
"Mr. Johng," she risked another step, "don't worry. I'm sure another company will hire you."
Johng eyed her, heavy-lidded. "I know things. Secret...." His voice trailed off. He leaned on his knees.
Tian relaxed. Just a sad, scared old man losing his job of thirty years. But what did he know? What would Kevin do? "Mr. Johng, what's wrong? Is this about the H.E.L.P. project?"
He stared. Then a small, fatherly grin. "You speak Thai? Khat dtaa thap?"
"Uh, yes that's 'help', right?"
He flashed his teeth. "Perhaps, my dear. Better is 'stop army.' High Energy Laser Projectile. How you know about?"
Here we go. Tian moved closer and knelt to further sooth his apprehension. "Is that why you're being let go?"
A gust rippled their clothing as he shrugged. "I know what it for. I know what they going to do."
He reached into his jacket and removed a two-inch rectangle. She could barely make it out. It looked like... yes, a flash drive. Her breath caught. "All here. They don't know I have."
Eyeing the drive, she moved gingerly to his side. Johng continued fiddling with it, staring. She breathed deeply, swallowed. "Mr. Johng? I'm going to tell you something."
His fingers stopped.
"I'm here for the FBI. My brother's an agent. They've been investigating the company to find out about H.E.L.P." She placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and smiled. "So it's okay. I can take you to him right now. You'll be safe." She stood and held out her hand.
To her shock, he rose, completely alert, and with a satisfied smirk and nod tucked the flash drive away. Venom flashed in his eyes.
"I don't think so, my dear."
***Author's note: the Malaysian Preying Mantid (or mantis) mimics a flower to attract, capture and devour curious insects.
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