A Pretty Face Can Hide An Evil Mind
Thomas Calabrese -Richard ‘Rick’ Monteil served 24 years in the Marine Corps. During his military career he was assigned to various units that included the Raider Battalion and the 1st Recon Battalion. He completed eleven overseas deployments with extended periods of time in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Central Africa Republic and Mali. He was highly skilled in covert operations, intelligence, surveillance, close combat and while he was not an expert in cyberterrorism, his skills were also above average in that area. During his last three years in the Marine Corps, Rick was a senior training instructor on Camp Pendleton.
After his discharge, federal regulations imposes a 180-day waiting period between the retirement of a service member and appointment to a Department of Defense job. While contemplating the next chapter in his life, Rick went to Chiang Mai, Thailand to visit Mark Tirno, a fellow leatherneck who moved to this Asian country after he retired. By his fourth month in country, Rick told his friend, “I like it here, but I’m not ready to stop working completely just yet. I still got a few more years to save money.”
“Don’t wait too long, ole’ buddy,” Mark said, “Time passes by quicker than you think.”
Rick responded, “Besides there are drawbacks to living here.”
“Name one,” Mark demanded.
“\I’ll give you two, the rainy season in Chiang Mai runs from May until October and I don’t want to be in that much rain. I prefer sunny weather with intermittent rainfall. Effective January 1, 2024, anyone who lives in Thailand for more than 180 days will have to report and pay income taxes. In Mexico, it’s pretty much the same thing, their cut off point is 183 days. Other places like the Cayman Islands gives you quick citizenship if you bring a lot of money with you.”
“You’ve always been the guy to do his homework, I’ll give you that much,” Mark smiled.
“Don’t give me too much credit, I just don’t want to make a mistake that I can’t walk back from,” Rick said, “I think I’ll go back to California, live a frugal lifestyle, invest my money, try to get lucky and in ten years I’ll re-evaluate my retirement options. My dad routinely reminded me that money gives you the option to make your decisions out of choice rather than necessity.”
“Ever notice how our fathers got smarter the older we got,” Mark said, “That reminds me of what Bunky Chabot told me.”
“Is that the same legendary Bunky Chabot that only exists in your mind?” Rick asked.
I’m a delusional realist,” Mark said, “Bunky said, ‘young grasshopper, listen to the sound of your heart, look before you leap and never outlive your good health or money.”
“Thank you, master, you speak the truth,” Rick smiled, “and the truth shall set me free.”
When the retired Marine got back to California, he contacted Mark Buxton, his Uncle Charlie’s financial advisor and told him of his long range plan, “I plan on retiring in 10 years and I want to be in the best possible position.”
Mark responded, “Your uncle told me to be expecting your call and thank you for your service. How much do you want to invest right now?”
“Let’s start off with $200,000, I’ll add about two thousand to it every month. I want a diversified portfolio with 70 per cent aggressive and 30 per cent conservative to start off with. We can evaluate it every six months.”
“I’ll start putting it together immediately,” Mark promised.
Rick applied for employment on Camp Pendleton and was hired as a Department of Defense employee with the Security and Emergency Services Battalion in the Physical Security Division. It was a fairly easy and uncomplicated job for a man of Rick Monteil’s skills, but considering all the difficult assignments he had during his military career, he wasn’t complaining that he could coast for a while. One of his co-workers was Frank Kleinfield, a man whose ambition and lack of integrity far exceeded his skills. He was the kind of government bureaucrat that would do or say anything to ingratiate himself to his supervisors with the intention of being promoted and accumulating power. Rick was experienced enough to know a sidewinder when he saw one and Kleinfield wasn’t just a snake, he was a venomous rattler.
Erica Fang was of Chinese descent, she was beautiful, intelligent, dressed stylishly and knew how to access her feminine attributes so that everyone who came in contact with her was impressed or captivated. Her movements and speech seemed well rehearsed like an actress playing a part. When she began work at SES Battalion, the first question that crossed Rick’s mind was, why would a woman that looked like this take an entry level position in the government? It was obvious that she could make a lot more money in the civilian sector.
Erica wasted little time becoming the favorite of everyone in the office by being friendly, helpful and often bringing in donuts or making Chinese food delicacies for the other employees to enjoy. Her favorite target was the gullible and arrogant Frank Kleinfield who relished the attention of this beautiful woman. The couple spent a lot of time together. On one occasion, Rick overheard Erica say in the lunchroom when they thought they were alone, “I’m here to help you in any way that I can. You have unlimited potential and the government needs men like you. People are jealous of you so we need to be discreet.”
As time passed, Kleinsmith received two promotions and when his access to more sensitive information also increased, he gave Erica more responsibilities and authority. The reasonable thing for Rick to do would be to transfer to another department on base and leave this mess behind him. It also become obvious to Rick that individuals in his chain of command liked Erica Fang and were going to protect her at all costs even if it meant jeopardizing national security. They were drinking the Kool-Aid she was serving and liked the taste.
The reality of the situation was that even if he filed an official complaint, what would it be? that they were too friendly or she was too helpful? Rick had no hard evidence, all he had was his instincts and suspicions. It would just look like sour grapes or jealously on his part to an impartial observer or an investigator.
Rick contacted his friend, Louis White, a civilian analyst with Homeland Security with his concerns about Erica Fang, “Something isn’t right about this woman. I like doing my homework, but I can’t ignore my instincts, but if I can’t put something concrete together than I’m getting the hell out of this job.”
“Send me some photos of her and I’ll do an extensive background check,” Louis White said.
“Thanks, I appreciate it.” Rick said.
Two weeks later, Rick noticed that a large construction project had begun at the base of the Santa Margarita Mountains on the north end of the base. It was cordoned off by thirty foot high privacy fencing and guarded by Marines and civilian guards. Even though he had a top security clearance, Rick was not informed about what the project was and even though Security and Emergency Services Battalion was supposed to be in the loop, only a few people actually knew what was going on. On one occasion, Kleinfield ordered Rick, “Under no circumstances are you to enter this restricted area,” and showed him a place on the base map where the construction was being done. “If anything happens then you notify me immediately and if you can’t find me then tell Erica and one of us will deal with it…understood?”
“No problem,” Rick responded without question.
When Rick got back to his studio apartment that night, he had plenty to think about. It wasn’t as if the United States government was overly concerned about Chinese involvement in our country. One congressman dated a Chinese spy, a senator had a Chinese spy for a chauffeur for years and some politicians at the highest level had ongoing business dealings with China. The Communist Party had been buying thousands of acres around the country for strategic purposes, most of it near military bases. People in San Francisco openly waved communist flags in support of our country’s number one threat when the President of China made an official visit to the city by the bay. It was obvious that America had de-sensitized itself to the growing dangers of this expanding superpower.
While sitting on the couch and watching Greg Kelly on Newsmax on television, Rick received a call from Louis White who apologized, “Sorry about the long delay, Erica Fang is very good. If it wasn’t for the photos you sent me, I would have never have found out who she really is.”
“She’s some kind of operative is my guess,” Rick said.
Louis said, “Not some kind of operative, but top tier. She’s a card carrying member of the State Security Ministry, the principal civilian intelligence, security and secret police agency of the People’s Republic of China. These are the kind of people that will assassinate you, harvest your organs then charge your family for the operations.
When you reach her level of covert operations, China creates a background going back to her birth, schools, nothing is left to chance. They make her look more American than you and I put together.”
“If she is so good, what was the crack in her persona?” Rick inquired.
Louis explained, “My friend, Martin Vin Luan developed this new facial identification software program so I inputted her image in the program and it ran it against every photo of every Chinese operative and official event in China that we have on record. That’s what has taken me so long, it took 411,000 photos before I finally got a hit.
Erica Fang or Zheng Pingru received an award five years ago from the President of China at Zhongnanhai, a compound that houses the offices of and serves as a residence for the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the State Council. It is a former imperial garden, and located adjacent to the Forbidden Palace in Beijing. The term Zhongnanhai is often used as a metonym for China’s central government and its leadership at large. Zheng Pingru is a rising star in the Communist system and they were proud to show her off. That was their only mistake.”
“Great job, did you ever find out what’s happening on base?” Rick asked.
“It’s a biological warfare laboratory, similar to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This one is even more dangerous. Rather than build it from scratch, the government is bringing in modules and connecting them together to create one laboratory,” Louis said, “You would figure they would have learned their lesson after what happened with COVID-19, but like too many times before, when knuckleheads in the government get caught doing something wrong, they just double down and proceed ahead.”
“Let me see if I can connect the dots. When America was secretly working on Gain of Function research in cooperation with China, the communists could monitor what we were doing, Since COVID and the bad publicity about the virus’ origin we can’t go back to the status quo. The current administration tells the American people that we’re out of the gain of function research business and then secretly brings it to Pendleton…is that about it?”
“Except for one thing, Zheng Pingru, I mean Erica Fang,” Louis said.
Rick agreed, “She’s the wild card…that’s for sure. What is her endgame, sabotage or surveillance…that’s the question?”
For the next three months, Rick did his job as if nothing was going on. He kept his eyes and ears open for anything of interest and eventually it came time for him to make his move. The triggering incident was when Kleinsmith received a promotion that came with a higher security clearance. Rick knew that the more power that this bureaucrat possessed, the greater danger the base and the country would be in. He could almost see the wheels spinning in Erica Fang’s mind every time she was around Kleinfield. Better to react too early than too late was Rick’s train of thought.
It was a warm summer evening when Rick drove to a high priced condo complex located near the beach on Tamarack Avenue in Carlsbad. He walked up to the door and knocked. Erica opened it, was momentarily surprised, but quickly composed herself. “Hello Rick, this is a pleasant surprise.”
“I was wondering if I could come in and discuss something with you?” Rick asked.
Erica smiled, “I don’t know if now is the right time.”
Rick walked in anyway and quickly surveyed the interior of the residence. Everything was perfectly decorated. A moment later Kleinsmith walked out of the kitchen with a glass of wine in his hand and snarled, “What are you doing here!”
“You said that if I had a problem then I should contact you immediately, “Rick shrugged, “Is this immediate enough for you?”
“Don’t get cute, how did you know I would be here?” Kleinsmith demanded.
Rick replied, “I wasn’t sure…I guess I just got lucky.”
“Now that you are here, what do you want?” Kleinsmith’s anger continued to escalate. It was obvious that he was embarrassed and defensive at the same time.
Rick looked at the beautiful Chinese woman and asked, “Should I continue to call you Erica or do you prefer your real name, Zheng Pingru?”
There was no response or look of surprise on either person’s face. Rick looked at Kleinsmith and one important fact became glaringly evident “You rotten piece of garbage, all this time I just thought you were just a worthless braindead bureaucrat, but you’re actually treasonous vermin. How long have you known that she was a spy?”
Erica knew she had been caught so she dived behind the couch where a weapon was hidden. Rick had his Glock tugged into the rear of his waistband and pulled it out. Kleinsmith panicked and ran into the line of fire and took a round in a head from Erica’s weapon and was killed instantly. Rick fired three rounds through the couch and mortally wounded the female Chinese Spy. He heard a door behind him squeak, spun around and fired two rounds through it and a Chinese man fell face forward and hit the floor.
Erica Fang/ Zheng Pingru did not have much time to live. Rick bent down next to her and she whispered, “I told my supervisor that they should let me kill you, but they said you weren’t a risk to the mission. They said we could always blame you if anyone got suspicious. I guess it’s too late to tell them they were wrong.”
“You can discuss with them later…when you meet in hell,” Rick watched the communist spy’s life fade away.
Rick thoroughly searched the residence for any evidence about the secret laboratory on Camp Pendleton, but found nothing. He was ready to leave when he noticed that the entertainment console was off center. It might not have aroused his suspicions except for the fact that everything Erica Fang did was well planned and the room was so meticulously decorated that this seemed glaringly out of place and not an oversight. Ricked pulled the cabinet away from the wall and saw two file cabinets behind it. One of the cabinets had extensive information about the illegal biolab, blueprints, etc. The other cabinet was completely filled with cash. Each drawer was filled with different denominations of currency, 20’s 50’s and 100 dollars bills.
Senator Rand Paul had been a tenacious investigator of COVID-19’s origin and a fierce opponent of Gain of Function research so Rick decided to ship all the information about the lab to his Bowling Green, Kentucky office. It would be interesting to see the Senator’s reactions once he found out about a secret research facility was being built on an American military base.
As for the money, let me put it this way, Rick was able to vastly expand his options concerning his retirement plans. Treachery has always existed in this world and will continue to exist, it is one of the many frailties and flaws of the human race. The key is being able to identify the threat then having the courage to do something about it. Rick Monteil was one individual who was up to the challenge.
You can go all the way back to the story of Samson and Delilah if you need a reminder that a pretty face can hide an evil mind.