Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Agreement/Disagreement (01/19/12)
TITLE: Flash Drive
By Sandra Petersen
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He refused to stare into rooms he passed where shadows flitted around. His mind told him they were creations of the moonlight and tree branches but his nerves tried to whisper they were something else altogether.
If not for Mitchell Perdune, he would not be here at all. The ex-Nam Navy pilot sent an email earlier that week that set up this late evening meeting. Normally, Franklin Norholm would have ignored his message as rantings of a vet fighting invisible post-war enemies. He was convinced Perdune was one of those loonies who pestered the press with sensationalistic figments of their imagination, usually about government conspiracies.
The photo attachment caught the journalist's eye, though. When he opened it, he knew the story was a newsworthy shocker.
Perdune promised him an exclusive.
A shadow darker than the others rose from behind the nurses' desk. “Franklin Norholm?” The shadow figure trained a flashlight with a focused super-bright beam on the journalist's face. Blinded by its intensity, he took two paces backward, throwing up his arm to shield his eyes.
“That's me. And you are . . . ?”
“Perdune. Mitchell Perdune. Former Lieutenant, United States Navy. You read my email then.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Come closer. Let me see your face. Then I'll turn off the light and we can talk.”
Norholm walked slowly down the hallway. He squinted at the shadow man, trying to distinguish his features.
In a few seconds the bright light was extinguished and the flitting shadows returned.
“I have to be careful. What I want to give you is not something I'm supposed to have. No one's supposed to know about it outside of government officials of that country and ours.”
“Sounds mysterious. The photo you sent was interesting but I don't know what I was looking at. Inform me.”
Perdune let out an exasperated sigh. “What if I were to tell you those photos were taken over northwestern China this last week?”
“And . . . ?”
“Our country is choosing to ignore the military buildup on China's border with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. We are also ignoring the increased population in the Laogai forced labor camps.”
“We've known about the Laogai system in China for years. Troop movements are quite another story. How did you get the evidence?”
The shadow figure's laugh was tinged with sarcasm. “Very carefully, of course. My photographer buddy Joshua Ferletti took the aerial pictures. I pinpointed the coordinates of the labor camps and troop movements. Norholm, this could be the beginning of the end like the Bible talks about. The assembling of nations against Israel.”
The journalist mulled over the last two sentences.
“Let me at least see what you've got. Then I'll try to get the story printed if I can. Agreed?” The hairs on the back of Norholm's neck were bristling. It was insanity to believe this man's word, yet that one photo was convincing. If there were more . . .
“What was that?” Perdune hissed.
“I heard nothing.”
“Look. Ferletti's been MIA for the last three days. I may have been followed. Here's the flash drive with the photos and coordinates. Don't let them get it.” The Nam veteran slunk off down the corridor, making as little noise as possible on the rubble strewn floor.
Norholm paused, watching him go. Not until Perdune became one with the darkness at the end of the hall did the journalist realize he had been holding his breath.
The next morning, Norholm unsuccessfully argued with his editor over the news story.
“Both the photographer and the pilot need to come forward and tell their story for this to be front page material. You know that. What is newsworthy is the homicide out at the old asylum the cops found early this morning. That's what I'm sending you to cover.”
The journalist swallowed and licked dry lips. “The old asylum? Any identification?”
“You kidding? Just some bum.”
Norholm clutched the flash drive hidden in his pocket. He pledged to himself no matter what it took, he would somehow fulfill his agreement with Mitchell Perdune.
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