Flight of the Bumblebee

model, photographer, source unknown
model, photographer, source unknown

Ivan hits the remote, clicking through a series of still shots.  Some are crude booking room shots which show their subject’s size.  Several are publicity stills used on the Metro’s website, revealing the man’s dark angular appearance.  Street shots, front door hugs, public conversations with his two partners.  The three of them are always cracking jokes.

“Anybody here need us to define the word polyamorous?  Or bisexual?  Okay.  Subject Mary is both.  So is his husband, our Subject Joseph, legal name Don Innocenzio Ridcully Navarre– really interesting family background– and so is their third, an Australian immigrant, our Subject Anne.  Her legal name is Emma Watson–yes, really, that’s her given name, and there’s some resemblance too–she joined them recently in a commitment ceremony. Welcome to the Left Coast, and do remember that old ladies out here learn martial arts from guys who win prizes in Seoul and Tokyo and–” he casts a grin at the polymath in the striped socks, “–military schools in Moscow.”

The polymath gives him a pointed look. “You also get plenty of nice Orthodox immigrant boys who figure out they’d have lots better chances of rising through the ranks over here than they ever did back in the old country.  But they’re always so shocked to learn one of their big jobs is to stop all the other nutjobs–fundamentalists–I mean heretics–imposing some other brand of hocus pocus on everybody.” And she blows a kiss at Ivan.

“Oh stop, you’ll embarrass me,” says Ivan.

Some interior shots show Subject Mary working out with his partners, tapping a knee to correct their stance, demonstrating a shoulder drop into a roll. There’s some shots of him flying through improbable positions against bland dojo walls. In each of those, there’s something curiously amateurish about the images–not just lens flare or white balance, but unexpected artifacts, dropped pixels, miscoded bits.

thin dark man in red outfit
there’s those optical artifacts again

“You’d expect, as a musician, we’d never get any shots of him boxing or punching with his hands.”

There’s a rather grainy video of him doing speed-drill kicks on a hanging bag, which he finishes off with a flurry of what look like casual taps of his knuckles and slaps of his palm. The bag vibrates in place, trapped between opposing blows. It seems unlikely that somebody so small could shift side to side to do that.

Ivan says, “Subject Mary’s hearing is acute, but his partners are more likely to pick up on conventional surveillance in a busy public venue, they’re clearly more savvy on body language cues.”

Ivan goes over the known history and the observational constraints the unit must operate within. It’s not like watching some skeezy drug operation; Subject Mary and his partners are absurdly regular and law-abiding in their habits.  Almost dangerously so.

God help him, Navarre put his share of the family money into a trust account when he became uncertain he was entitled to it, and began investigating where it originated.  He raised dust from all kinds of old war projects, going poking around titles on too many of the properties under those bug labs in the South.

That raised all kinds of questions from the auditors in Ivan’s unit.  Ivan has been warned to leash his auditors before, but refused to; and now he’s pretty much known for that.  Presiding over these revelations won’t help a bit.  Bad commander, no promotion. Ivan hasn’t found anything that will make his number-munchers let go once they’ve got hold of something big.  Or stop them digging things up.  So Ivan is familiar with the auditor-as-rat-killer.

Apparently Don Navarre is some oddball throwback to that same breed. In that family of his, it’s like dropping a pipe bomb in a cesspit.  Here the man just popped up after years abroad as a spook warrior with no official record, and he simply waltzed off with a big chunk of the family wealth that he’s just proven wasn’t honestly theirs in the first place, and in the meantime he’s such a whiz kid that he’s embarrassed the trustees with more skilled investments.  But he’s made little impact on the family’s basically predatory nature.

Bug labs don’t get built in a vaccuum.

Some of the folks in this meeting room have opinions about the type of people who know exactly what’s tunneling away out there on their rental property.  Not just passive landlords; the type of people who are actively soliciting more investments from the same bug-tainted sources.

Ivan waves one hand.  “Take it away, Joyeux.”

The polymath starts talking.  “Turns out, Subject Mary’s partners are just as interesting as he is. Subject Joseph’s job as an ordinary auditor amounts to a cover persona. He should be called, in market terms, one of the quants. Unlike typical quants, he’s not building investment products for sale, he’s not trying to drag the market around to his will.  He’s reportedly told coworkers that creating an artificial effect doesn’t interest him mathematically.  He says he’s just doing basic research.  From somebody who reputedly worked with combat dogs ten years ago, we’re not talking a couple of lucky percentage points, we’re not talking Madoff-style fraud.  We’re talking that he’s making hoops that fit the market so it will jump in exactly as planned.  We caught a few ventures into proof of concept, but very hard to prove it wasn’t accidental.”

male model Benoit in scarf and coat writing at table
writing notes

“We might have much better guesses if he was a regular corporate consultant, officer, LLC member, but he’s avoided public commitments, even those that might have been profitable.  Just not interested. His investment methods have shifted in new directions since he’s been talking about research methodologies with Subject Annne.  Lately he’s been talking with Subject Mary about musical notation.”

The sergeant in command of the surveillance platoon mutters, “Be afraid.”

“The concept of mapping market trends to musical scores, trying to anticipate rhythmic movements, is not a terribly new idea among the quants. Like the rest of them, he found it’s not as simple as mapping last years’s light crude oils onto the horn parts in Tchaikovsky concertos– we picked up a few of his notes through a window, sorry.  He’s started comparing his data to 12-tone scores as a way to predict what will happen with streams of commodities data. He recently completed a study of share price movements in HMOs and insurance companies, where he had some success at that approach. How much, we don’t know, as he’s cut off our access to his data there. He created some new online trading companies for himself and bought some others, and then basically forcefed them into using better security.”

There’s a murmur. The screen diagram shows commodity prices keyed to the same colors in a piece of music that looks unfamiliar for being in a different notation, with the differences marked in x’s, and error bars given above them both.

Ivan’s laser pointer circles one large variance.  “We think he dropped about two million on this difference.  Not adverse to risk, as they say.”

Joyeux nods.  “We’re looking at a math geek where making money is a crude proof of concept, not the goal. He’d much rather get good data to refine his analysis. We think he has a net worth about eighty or ninety million dollars now, that’s not counting that disputed family money.  Hey, honestly–seriously, folks– not much in Wall Street trading or arbitrage terms, but plenty to the rest of us.  He told the vice president at his day job that he found it soothing to tally up files and check cross-references.”

“It’s a wonder somebody hasn’t shot him already,” says the sergeant.

“Oh, yeah, like his maternal uncles might like him gone, huh?  Aren’t they charmers?” the polymath thumps one of the briefing papers.

Ivan says, “It’s unclear if he trusts Subject Mary’s reflexes can save him from the family reprobates, including those who sort out squabbles violently–”

The sergeant mutters, “–with all their usual toys–oh, the sniper rifles, damaged brake lines, IEDs–”

Ivan nods. “Or perhaps he knows our people are sitting out there watching the show, and he’s perfectly happy to let us net whatever bubbles up to the surface. Or maybe it doesn’t matter to him, he’d just keep digging anyway.  Like some folks we know already, huh?”  He sends a stern look around the room.  It won’t help, but he has to try.  Besides, Ivan is afraid to learn the answer to that question on Don Navarre:  Would he keep digging anyway, at risk to himself?  To his new little family?  Is he capable of bending to exterior pressure to save his partners?

Somebody must have a sense of humor.

Ivan clicks up the next slide.  “These are inheritance tracings requested by Subject Joseph, courtesy of the computers of the family law firm.  And here’s the maps.”

There’s comments from the room.  The South is heavily represented among the officers, and many of them know about this kind of kin-tracing from personal experience. Ivan drags up the same map overlaid by known bug lab sites. There is an impressive match to isolated rural backwaters in various Southern states. He points out shifting properties along floodplains of the Mississippi.

colored map of changing MS river courses
changing courses of the Mississippi River

“All that money came from selling farmland to bug labs?” one of the captains says.  His new Coroner, in fact.

“No sales.  Ground leases.  Rent.”  That’s from an older translator, one who has an extra degree in Napoleonic history.  The project’s extensive Spanish material provided more grist for his insatiable maw.  “See, that Florida property could’ve grown into a big port, but the owners stopped it back in the Twenties, nobody knew why.  They wanted it all kept quiet.  Came down through the one family all the way from a Spanish land grant in 1790.”

“Those Texas properties do, too,” says the polymath in the fluffy skirt.  She makes a face.  “But they used tricks to hide it.  I understand that branch of the family never liked to draw attention to themselves.”  The striped socks and fluffy skirt make her look about fourteen, until you see her eyes.

“Your grandma said so, huh?”

“And a gossipy great-aunt, thank you.” She drawls it.

That raises a laugh.

“Any traits common to all these places?” asks one of their database specialists.

girl in blue shades and flag head scarf
behind the blue shades

The polymath crosses her distracting socks the other way.  “That Houston property sits on Buffalo Bayou.  All the Texas sites were occupied by whites about the same time, in the 1830’s.  Homesteading stakes got filed under various names, but they intermarried, and by now it all amounts to the same family.  All of those are sited on harbors or bayous. Above that, the land use varies depending on the elevation.  Two sites are urban now, heavy-duty transshipment ports, which is where much of their legitimate money comes from. The rest all petered out, little known except to local law enforcement and the cigarette boats.”

“The eastern properties are all on waterways too, but we’d expect that,” says the Napoleonic historian.  “That time period, land owners needed water for milling grain and transport.  Heavy stuff like hides and cast iron and cotton shipped on barges.  But now?  Do bug labs need water?”

“Bug labs?” says one of the database specialists.

Ivan flicks a hand gesture to indicate later.

“Yes.  We just don’t know exactly why.”  The biologist looks glum.  “You see that West Coast lab site?  Brand new this year, quiet, no raid reports yet.  Overflights picked up the same weird EMF frequencies as the eastern bug labs. But that one must be experimental, it’s not on surface waters.  For the outside plantings on that acreage, like the almond trees, they’re using a mix of irrigation sources, but it’s all pretty high salinity. Take that chemistry any further, you’re looking at bug labs able to live off brackish or salt water. Put ’em up anywhere in the world.”

The polymath nods.  “Also, you’ve got another Navarre property near it, even if it’s not at the same site.  And of course we’re pretty sure that Subject Joseph is very hostile to bugs and bug labs.”

The experienced troops all nod. The sergeant who runs the surveillance squad is their resident expert.  She says, “He’s been hostile to those relatives renting space to the labs, but it might be for other reasons.  He reported tax shenanigans by two nephews when they wouldn’t get it straightened out. He knows there’s been all kinds of extralegal stunts in the past.  He’s warned his cousins that the family elders want things kept quiet and they don’t fool around on threats.”

“So he’s a flight risk,” says one of the database specialists.

“Oh yes.  With the spooky veteran background, we think he has Dari and Pashto and Kurdi and some Russian under his belt.  Plus with the family background he’s got Mexican dialects and Spanish from Pamplona.  He’s ready go to ground any time, he maintains backup stashes, links to safehouses, IDs for all of them. Just a question of what might trigger flight.  The reason would change where they’d go.”

“He isn’t concerned about dragging along such distinctive partners?”

“Apparently not.”

“Worrying,” says the Napoleonic historian.

woman in black dress walking to trailer
meetings in the morning, storage in the afternoon

“This is the other reason why Subject Joseph might have a better than normal ability to make them all disappear.”  Ivan clicks into a file with Subject Anne’s designation.  Pulls up a picture that leaves no doubts about the woman’s impact.

“I’d marry her too,” says the biologist, with a sigh.

The polymath throws a paper wad at him.

“Oh, not for that, lovely as it is,” he says, dismissing the picture with a wave.  “Have you got any recordings of her going off on a bit of a rant?  You want some poly– she’s polysyllabic, that’s what.”

“So much for your impartiality,” says Joyeux sternly.

“A few recordings!” the sergeant mutters, making a face.

“In the service of not melting all your brains out your ears, let us move on briskly,” Ivan says.

Joyeux snaps, “We all done with our drool cups?  As Sarge noted, we’ve probably got the most recordings filed on this Subject, actually, because she speaks at public meetings.  Subject Anne is one of your basic killer organizers, she’s become the liaison who puts together fund-raising between the Metro Symphony and the entire County Library system.  That’s how she came to support Subject Mary in the first few months of his job with the Metro.  At the archives, her title keeps changing, but she pulls off all kinds of funding and manages staff who select and scan documents.  She is infamous for protecting historic materials, documents, that kind of thing.  Loves books, as you’d expect.  We’re not actually sure how many languages she has where she’s functionally fluent.”

Joyeux sighs noisily.  Well, they’re not listening to her, they’re just staring at Ivan’s pictures.  The hasty cell phone snaps must have been taken by somebody with quite a thing for myopic people holding books.  Hot librarians with cleavage and ridiculous heels striding along in a hurry.  Whatever.

“What?” Ivan says to her stern look.  “Believe me, you don’t want any of the hotel series instead.”

“You don’t,” says the sergeant, to the speculative looks.  “It’s all video, and I don’t want to have to translate that much feeelthy Italian.  Or all the Latin anatomy terms.  You really don’t want to know the refractory period for those boys.  Trust me.”

There’s a curious silence.

Joyeux gives a noisy huff of breath and goes on.  “We know Subject Anne speaks German, Italian, Latin, some Russian and she’s picked up a bit of classical Greek.  She ordered Turkish language tapes when she was working on somebody’s archeology project, but we don’t know if that is new or a refresh.  Just since she moved to this job, she’s picked up quite a knowledge of local history, of their digital archive materials, and local politics.  Area law enforcement has been visiting her since she first got hired–” she pauses for the collective rude comments suggesting why, “–and she tracked down documents for several murder cases.  She also helped provide Louisiana law enforcement with background for local tourists taken–kidnapped–around NOLA.  She’s been noted in several case files as having a virtually photographic memory for all kinds of visuals.  No one-shot stories if you have to cross her path, she’ll remember the details.”

The sergeant snorts again.  “Every last little detail.”

Joyeux nods.  “The point there being, librarian.  No history of forgery, but she knows where to find information.  She knows how documents should look, and where law enforcement will expect to find the documents.  If this trio decides to disappear on us, she’ll sort out where to go and confirm a damned good cover.”

“Even if they have problems with Subject Joseph’s family, why would they need to disappear?  Just on the grounds you’ve given so far, no civilian agency would find probable cause for all this surveillance,” says their Coroner.

The sergeant starts to laugh, and Joyeux the polymath nods, looking thoughtful.  The biologist gives a loud snort down his nose.  “Oh, we aren’t done yet.”

Ivan says, “Before we go to the more difficult parts of the briefing, I’ll close talking about Subject Mary with some more intriguing moments we’ve observed.”

It lightens the briefing with some humor.  They have shots of Subject Mary in his concert suit, carrying music, music stand, and the violin case, literally running between downtown gigs.  They have shots of him in sloppy sweats at rehearsals, gesturing in discussions with fellow musicians, the hands a blur of movement.  There are awkward surveillance shots of Subject Mary’s capabilities.  Several of them show his comically woeful expression when he’s got distracted and torn off a doorknob, crumpled a car door, broken a bike lock, crushed steel chairs by grabbing things too hard by accident.

Ivan snorts.  “His partners call him Mister Kent sometimes, to remind him to take it easy.” Then he clicks over to the video.

painting of honey bee in fight
Flight of the Bumblebee

Even people who aren’t musical know the piece that’s being played, thanks to Disney. They know that the Flight of the Bumblebee is used as a demonstration of brute speed.

Ivan just lets it run through, right out to the end, where Subject Mary pulls away his violin bow, grins sheepishly at somebody out of camera range, and starts to laugh.  To giggle, honestly.

“My bad,” he says, and to blurry comments from off-camera, he admits to skipping one of the faster notes on his last stanza.  His charm is suddenly obvious.

Ivan gestures at the screen.  “This kind of honesty is characteristic, by the way.”

Ivan’s XO passes out more briefing papers while Ivan clicks off the remote, turns on the lights, and extracts the flash drive from the laptop on the lectern. “Any questions?”

 

“Your analyses confirmed that this subject’s mRNA made a partial match to reptilian tissues–” one of the medical corpsmen says, flipping through the handouts.

“Yeah, the lab folks lost sleep tracking down that one, making sure somebody’s pet lizard didn’t get loose on the equipment. Backfang vipers are a little harder to come by.”  The biologist shrugs.

“But that isn’t even possible–” says the corpsman.

“Welcome to our world,” says the biologist.

Ivan says patiently, “We have no knowledge of any operation capable of this.  But neither did we have any knowledge of bugs when we first started investigating the patterns of Southern state kidnappings.”

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