Genius, the short, stocky, bespeckled founder of the Alcomist Club, stands at the opposite end of the conference table from Amy Lindsay. A wide grin splits his bearded face.
Amy raises a quieting hand. “You don’t have to say a word. I know what this is going to cost me. I’ve come prepared.”
Tongue flicking across his lips, Genius leans forward in eager anticipation, as Amy gives in to the inevitable and reaches for the top button of her blouse.
After loosening the top button, Amy reaches inside and draws out the tiny sliver of microfilm secreted in that special courier compartment along the seam of her bra.
Genius hurries around the small conference table and accepts the sliver with reverent care, draws his cell phone from its hip holster, and slides the film into a small slot. After a moment’s fiddling and small pictures flashing on the screen, his face breaks into a wide grin.
“Timegate vidcaps. The dance hall girl outfit. One of my favorites.”
“I knew you’d like them,” Amy smiles. She quickly settles back into her grim demeanor. “Not to be pushy, and as much as H.O.T.B.A.B.E. appreciates your work on this project, Authority would like to know when we can do some field testing with your magic cell phone, there. With everyone and her mother able to track cell to cell messages, he’d like to get back to the old-fashioned method of couriered microdot messages.”
“Soon,” Genius distantly mumbles, drooling over the vid caps. “They seem undamaged by the journey.”
“Not that I don’t appreciate it,” she goes on, “But, why the insistence on using my movies for these tests? Authority wants to know how this will work on spying missions, when the video will be made in less than perfect conditions. You’ve seen every movie three dozen times.”
Genius deactivates his cell and returns it to the case on his hip. “Because a thing of beauty is a joy, forever.”
“Why do I get this chill up and down my spine, every time you quote Keats?”
“Could it be love?”
“Try stark raving terror. You only quote The Poets when its bad news.” She nods towards the folders stacked neatly at the end of the conference table. “What you got for me?”
“You mean beside a massive, raging – ”
“Don’t say it!”
“I was going to say ‘headache.’”
“Sure you were.”
Genius waves for her to sit. “Seriously,” he chirps, massaging his neck. “I’ve been up, all night, web surfing, picking the brains of some fellow insomniacs on your behalf.” He stops to take a sip of something dark and hot from his OBG mug. “And I’m not happy with what I found.”
“The dead guy in the little sports car? A former member of a Chinese gang, the Red Dragon Tail. His name was Tony Wen.”
“That’s a pretty quick ID, considering the condition he was in last time I saw him.”
“That’s because his particulars, including dental records, were in both the Gang Database, and the Terrorism Watch List.”
“You said ‘former’ gang member.”
“That was up until about six months ago. Since then he’s been linked with smugglers.”
“People and weapons. Across the Mexican border. That’s how he came to the attention of the Department of Homeland Security and the INS. Not to mention the DEA.”
Amy nods. That connection was brought up by Authority, back at HQ. “And why might he want Bobby Chung dead? And how did he kill him?”
“Why? Working on it. How? A very rare form of poison,” Genius replies. “I’m not going to embarrass myself – ”
“Why start now?” Amy asks with a grin.
” – by trying to pronounce its scientific name,” Genius plowed onward. “But its an extract from a flower found only in the jungles of South America, commonly, and incorrectly, referred to as the Blood Orchid.”
“So, we got an ex-member of a Chinese street gang killing an INS agent working jointly with Homeland Security investigating a Chinese connection to arms and people smuggling across the Mexican border, using a poison extracted from a rare South American plant?”
“More than rare, a plant thought extinct for over a hundred years.”
“It was pretty potent last night.”
“Which has got my friends at Area 51 a bit … interested.”
Amy wrinkles her nose. “I smell a road trip to Nevada that doesn’t include a side trip to Las Vegas.”
“What with the attempt on you this morning, we think a few days hiding away at Groom Lake might be advisable. We’ve got an odd chemical signature from Bobby Chang’s blood they need to look at. That poison was never known to be strong enough to kill humans, just stun small animals. There might be some kind of genetic modification involved here.”
“And you need a courier?”
“Its what you do best.”
“Shows what you know,” she replied with a sly grin. She gave an exaggerated sigh. “That’s all I am to you, isn’t it? A courier? Just a trick bra.”
“Other than to say what’s in the bra is a treat, not a trick, I’m not touching that.”
“Damn right, you’re not.” She flashes her trademarked heart-stopping smile, then sighs reluctantly while giving in to the inevitable. “Okay. I’m off to Nevada. Is there anything I can bring back for you?”
“Just a five-foot-eight, blonde, blue-eyed Goddess in excellent health.”
“You say the sweetest things some times.”
“And an eighteen year-old showgirl with a nymphomaniacal attraction to short, older, bearded, near-sighted men.”
“And then, you go and ruin it with a joke.”
“Who’s joking? I’m a lonely man.”
“What about that girl from my condo I set you up with last month?”
“Louisa? Nice. Pretty. Smart. Great sense of humor. One little flaw.”
“All that good stuff and you couldn’t overlook one little flaw?”
“I can’t when that flaw involves her breaking out an electric egg beater and a jar of Paul Newman marinara sauce three hours after dinner.”
“Was that the scream I heard a couple nights ago?”
“You’ve got a pretty good set of pipes.”
“Especially when a certain other ‘pipe’ is threatened.”
Amy returns to her condo to pack for the trip and brief stay at Groom Lake and recalls the excitement of her first visit, and the crushing disappointment at finding, not a base with exotic ET aircraft and alien corpses, but a rather run of the mill aviation and chemical warfare research base. Still, with the warm days, she could work on her tan, and during the chilly nights catch up on the endless pile of scripts being sent her way.
While others did the REAL work, she thinks with more than a bit of irritation. Sweet as Genius might put it, she really is nothing more than a pretty face and a trick bra (among other bits of lingerie) in the eyes of H.O.T.B.A.B.E. When are they going to let her prove herself with a serious assignment? They put her through extensive training in all those mysterious ‘vacations’ and ‘photo shoots’ that keep her, much to the annoyance of her fans, away from her fan forum,
so often. When are they going to let her do some real field work?
A voice in the back of Amy’s mind warns her: Be careful what you wish for….
She tells the voice where to go.
As she packs, her sense her sour mood, and weave in and out of her ankles, trilling and meowing their concern and commiseration.
She finishes packing when her cell sings out “She Blinded Me With Science”; the ring tone for Genius.
“Just a head’s up, Goddess,” the phone blares into Amy’s delicate ear. “They’ll be a package waiting for you when you arrive at the airport.”
“The usual locker at Hanger 13?” She tries to hide her disappointment. For a moment, she had hoped for a change of plans. Same old same old: Messenger girl.
“The usual,” he confirms. “So wear one of your trick bras.”
“No need to prove it; I’ll take your word for that.”
“Dame right you will.”
“Oh. And in about five minutes a very large man named Vernon will be knocking at your door. He’ll be driving you to the airport. Compliments of the Alcomist Club.”
“That’s sweet of you guys, but it isn’t necessary.”
“Yes. It is,” Genius replies, his tone brooking no argument. “He’ll use the Chambermaid recognition code.”
Amy senses the tightness in Genius’ tone. “Is something wrong?”
“Could be,” Genius replies and leaves it there.
“Some new information on those goons that tried to grab you this morning.”
“What about them?”
“We got something off one of the corpses; the one who strangled himself rather then be taken alive. A tattoo, high in the middle of the left shoulder blade.”
“What kind of tattoo?”
“A skull above a blood red orchid. We’re still working on what it means, exactly,” Genius continues. “I’ll have to get back to you on that. But when there’s a skull and something red, its usually bad news. Bye”
And when there’s bad news, the pretty little actress gets tucked away where its nice and safe, Amy adds in bitter thought as she deactivates her cell.
A sharp knock on her door snapps Amy back to the moment, and she edges gingerly toward the door and stops several safe feet away.
“Who is it?”
“My name is Vernon. I’m here to pick up J.J.”
“J.J. is at her Aunt Felicity’s mansion.”
“I thought her Aunt Felicity was dead.”
“No, just away on her honeymoon.”
“Same thing,” the voice responds.
The contact ritual completes and, in order, Amy opens the door. Vernon turns out to be a hulking, expansive man who looks fit enough to play linebacker for the Longhorns. On the brisk walk down to his car, he carries only her largest bag, while keeping his other hand tucked into the pocket of his suit jacket. After a first quick glance at her, he does not look at Amy, instead his eyes swivel constantly at their surroundings, in the condo halls and outside in the parking lot, as they load the trunk of the Alcomist’s nondescript sedan.
Once the car is on its way, Vernon relaxes. A touch. “Don’t worry, Miss Lindsay. When I drive, my passengers get where they need to be.”
“I’m not worried,” she lies. “Did they tell you why I should be worried?”
“No, Ma’am. What they did tell me was that if I didn’t get you safely to the airport. Then, I’d better be able to walk on water because I’d have to start walking to Japan if I didn’t want them to find me.”
That makes Amy smile, which makes Vernon smile as he glances at her in the rear view mirror. “Are you a fan, Vernon?”
“I wasn’t,” he confesses. “But, now that I’ve seen that smile, I’ve got no choice, do I?”
The car eases to a stop at a traffic light. A grin flows across Vernon’s face. “Hey, if you don’t mind, I’d like to – .”
The shriek of shattering glass interrupts. Vernon throws up an arm to protect himself from splinters of glass spewing in from the driver’s side window. “What the…?!?”
A hissing ‘phtt’ sound immediately follows the slap of flesh on flesh, as Vernon’s hand flies to the side of his neck. His body twists and falls towards the steering wheel.
Amy thumbs the release on her seatbelt and reaches forward to grab Vernon. She hears a second hissing ‘phtt’, and feels a stinging sensation just below and behind her left ear.
Vernon’s door opens and a pair of olive-skinned arms yanks him out of the car.
From a thousand miles away, Amy’s door can be heard opening. Hands push her into the seat.
Darkness smothers Amy Lindsay and carries her off to oblivion.
TO BE CONTINUED!