The Bug Box
By Mikel Andrews
What was I doing here? Oh, right. Another lead.
The grasshopper wasn’t talking, but the cricket was ready to chirp. That was a song I needed to hear.
I adjusted my grip on the pistol; a snub antique little number, invisible in most pockets of my trench coat. My fingers ached, clammy and white against the steel.
Outside, rain pelted the roof of the dilapidated rambler. Jumpers like these two loved these old shanties during storms. I always knew the right rock to overturn to find my bug.
The grasshopper fluttered his jowls wetly. The gun reflected in each facet of his eye. “Easy, Detective. Let’s not get jumpy.”
I quirked an eyebrow at him. “That supposed to be a joke?”
The grasshopper bowed his head. It wasn’t a show of defeat. On a grasshopper, it was a malevolent glare—I’d learned that one the hard way. “What do you want, Detective?”
“You know what I want,” I hissed like a cockroach. “The Blue Moth.”
A little shiver ran through the cricket. His brown shell creaked and groaned, almost imperceptibly.
The grasshopper, however, lowered his bristly limbs to his side. He sucked air through the spiracles along his abdomen.
“What’s so funny, Legs?” I spat.
“You,” the grasshopper laughed, fluting air. “The Blue Moth is a ghost, a myth. It don’t exist.”
“He was supposed to be here,” I pushed.
“He’s a lot of places,” the grasshopper snorted, clacking his mandibles. “That’s how stories work.”
“A lot of places, huh?” I said with a sniff. “Would one of those be the basement of your little love nest here?”
One of the grasshopper’s legs shot out, whip-quick, and pushed my gun to a safe angle. It startled me and I almost put a shell through the ceiling. The army-green bug muscled past me, giving the slightest flutter of his hidden wings.
“Hear that, Detective? Rain’s letting up,” said the grasshopper. “My friend and I are leaving. You got nothing. And you won’t get nothing neither if you keep chasing the Blue Moth.”
He kicked the front door open with a powerful blast of his hinged leg.
“Humans,” he spat, then crouched and leaped up to the roof. I heard the click of his claws digging into the shingles.
The cricket chirped. Almost forgot he was there. I spun around to face him. He was a short pudgy bugger compared to his buddy.
“I’m not sayin’ nothin’,” he squeaked nervously. “But there’s a nightclub across town. Thirty-third and Antil.”
“That where the Blue Moth is?”
“Not sayin’ nothin’,” the cricket repeated. He waddled past me. “Ask the spider, not the mantis.”
And with that he was gone, up and over the roof.
In my black ’86 Caddy, a little click beetle waited in the passenger seat. He was small and curled up nice on the seat, not much bigger than a duffel bag. I would’ve almost been startled if he wasn’t my partner.
“Didn’t need backup then?” Tapp asked, not bothering to lift the brim of his hat. His voice was a gruff scraping of dry leaves.
I shook my head, turning the key in the ignition. The car rumbled to life. “Nope.”
“Find the Blue Moth?”
Tapp sighed, unfurling a little bit. His carapace squeaked against the leather as he buckled his seat belt. “You’ve never seen him, Kev. And yet we just keep chasing him.”
“He’s elusive, I’ll give him that,” I admitted. “But I’ll catch him, Tapp. He can’t run forever.”
“Or fly,” Tapp corrected with a smirk.
The club at 33rd and Antil was called Bombardier’s. It didn’t take me long to find the mantis. Her name was Jade. She was a singer. They all were.
She was breathtakingly lithe, glowing emerald with verdant orbs for eyes. She crossed the foyer between two staircases, striding on lean blades. Beautiful piano music filtered down those steps like an invisible waterfall.
“You sing here?” I asked after introductions. No need to be rude to a lady.
Jade gave a slight sway of her triangular head. “Not so much anymore. Mostly I’m the caretaker. The club was a gift, you could say. From my late husband.”
I didn’t like the way her mandibles quivered when she said that. “I see.”
“Would you and your partner like a seat?” she asked.
“No, ma’am,” Tapp spoke up. “We just have a few questions.”
“About the Blue Moth,” I interrupted, cutting to the chase.
Jade stared at me a moment with those big olive eyes. She floated over to a closet and pulled out an overcoat; more like a jeweled saddle that seemed to accentuate her wing casing.
“I can see you’ve wasted your time, Detectives.” she said. Those eyes twitched, flicking around the room. “This Blue Moth—this kingpin—he doesn’t exist. Truly. You two look smart. You should know better than to believe a scapegoat story like that.”
“Please, ma’am,” I asked. Begged. Pleaded. “We got a tip he was here. You won’t be in any trouble.”
I took one of her long talons between my pink sausage fingers. She winced a little. I fully understood that it could have been my last gesture. If she wanted, she could sever my spine with one swipe. Like a samurai sword through a melon.
Jade reared up. She pulled her claw from my hand, disgusted.
“Morris!” she yelled. “Bring the car around while I check on the boys.”
The piano music stopped instantly, mid-note.
“Like I said, Detective,” Jade whispered intensely. “The Blue Moth doesn’t exist.”
As she left the room, a handsome yellow-and-black jumping spider dropped in from the second floor. Each of his eyes looked like a sphere and his limbs were faintly translucent. He swayed his head back and forth.
I’d heard somewhere that jumping spiders could see in almost every direction at once. I put a hand up instinctively to shield Tapp. No false moves. Not even a startled breath.
Ask the spider, not the mantis.
“Are you Morris?” I asked.
“If you’re not looking for money, then yeah,” the spider replied, accent stinking of the Bronx.
“I just want the Blue Moth,” I said, lowering my voice.
Morris tweaked and flexed and leered at almost every corner of the room. Then he whispered one little phrase before leaving.
“Upstairs, behind the red door.”
I looked at Tapp and gave him a quick nod. He nodded back and gave a nervous click as he drew a handgun. I did the same. He took one staircase, I took the other.
Step after step, I kept quiet, avoiding making the whitewash stairs creak best I could. My heart raced, pounding in my chest, my throat, my ears. Everywhere. Every inch of me.
This was it. The closest I’d been to the Blue Moth. And I’d been chasing him a long time.
At the top of the stairs was a red door, just as Morris had promised. Down the hall, Tapp gave me a go-ahead nod. I went to the door first, then Tapp closed the gap between us.
Beneath the door, just above the floorboards was a blue glow. Subtle, yet unmistakable. It was like light given off by water. Or treasure.
“The Blue Moth,” I whispered, as if naming him would capture him.
“Don’t you think you should come home now?” Tapp said.
I squinted at him. My vision got cloudy. His voice seemed distant. “What?”
Tapp’s voice changed. Split. Yes, there were two voices coming from him now. A blur of his gravelly voice and a woman’s, soft and delicate. Loving. A woman who cared for me.
“The doctor says you need to wake up soon, Kevin, or,” the woman’s voice said. “Or–I can’t even say it. But you need to wake up. Come out of the coma. Please, baby. Today.”
My voice caught in my throat, no matter how much I wanted to speak. I felt drowsy, weak. I recognized that voice. Missed it.
The glow under the door burned bright. Pulsed. It was more like a fire now. A cold fire that pushed from under the door and lit the hall with a blinding blue flash. Electronic beeps echoed in the corridor. There were mechanical hisses of compressed air, like clockwork.
That voice came again, blended with Tapp’s.
“You fell at the lab, remember? You fell and hit your head on one of the terrariums. But that was a long time ago, Kevin. You need to wake up now. Please, baby. You’re close, I know it.”
“Melissa,” I whispered, tears behind my eyes.
It was Tapp doing the asking, his voice his own. Singular. Alone.
The blue glow retreated under the door. Winked out. Vanished. Trying to right my brain with a shake of my skull, I slammed my weight against the door, twisting the handle. The door swung open, clattering against the wall.
The room was empty. Save for a small table with an antique phone on it.
“I thought I–I heard someone,” I told Tapp. “Someone I—”
Just then, my eye caught a piece of paper tucked under the phone. I swore it hadn’t been there before.
What was I doing here? Oh, right. Another lead.