“Sir! Sir, does it understand that the public is understandably anxious about–“
Hawley Smoot’s right arm shot out as if seared by a scorchingly-irate dagger, one of his fingers waggling aggressively at the reporter. He sipped his mocha furiously. As a mid-level Associate for Mimichouse Strategies, the young attorney had cultivated a reputation as a flamboyant rapscallion whose bedside manner caused his coworkers to wince, but who continued to thrive because his results precluded any reasonable supervisor from terminating him. He’d huffed unhappily earlier in the week when he’d learned who the firm’s newest client was—but after two interviews and some armchair research, Smoot’s misgivings alchemized into indignation. He’d even thundered into Bob’s office and requested that the client be assigned to him personally. If penance was to be earned, it might as well arrive in a familiar trench.
“IT?” Hawley Smoot hollered, his Pittsburghese bark cranked so high that the reporters instinctively nudged themselves a step backward. “Does it understand? Terrance is acutely aware of the general public’s concerns, yes. And I agree, Jeff. Some education regarding our friend here is vitally important.” He paused for a few seconds, scribbling gibberish on the legal pad in front of him. A stocky yinzer who appeared to be constructed primarily from curved rubber glued at all the wrong angels, Smoot knew precisely how to position himself so that the press corps noticed the pad, but not its contents. The legal pad doodles were an expected performance at his gaggles; they had their own Twitter account.
“We didn’t meet on a golf course,” the attorney said, his eyebrows flexing a little. “Terrance buzzed into my office for a reason.” He nodded slightly at his client, who’d been perched at the edge of the podium. “Isn’t that right?”
Terrance slowly hovered into a lazy flight, drew a figure eight, and settled again. Careful and deliberate, just like they’d practiced. A tiny whine spat from his mandibles, reminding Smoot of the song his old Honda Civic used to sing when he’d forgotten its maintenance schedule again.
He reached down and snatched the rolled-up newspaper waiting helpfully in his Cenzo—Italian leather, hand-stained, gusseted compartments. “First of all, let’s chat about your responsibility. Anyone read the story? May 2nd, New York Times? Headline was ‘Murder Hornets’ in the U.S.: The Rush to Stop the Asian Giant Hornet’?” A low-level tittering skated around the podium’s sides. “Of course you did. So you’re pouring your cereal and maybe trying to remember which episode of The Witcher is next in your queue, and then boom, you’re reading about homicidal insects with ‘spiked shark fins’ for mouths invading the US! And did you don your journalism caps and digest that article with a critical eye?”
“How are you not continually exhausted from all this grandstanding?”, someone muttered.
“I’ll tell you how!”, Hawley Smoot roared. “Because I bothered to fact-check and know that in Japan, Terrance and his family are called ōsuzumebachi, literally ‘giant-sparrow hornet.’ If we’re being generous, maybe you could get away with satsujin bachi, but that’s ‘killer hornet.’ Killer, not murder.”
“What does that have to do with grandstanding?”
“Hawley, no disrespectful whatsoever to your, um, client, naturally,” Jeff began, his gaze steadily locked on the podium’s lip. “But many would argue that’s a semantics issue. Maybe you’re killed, maybe you’re murdered, but it’s fatal either way.”
The attorney sighed. “I should’ve ordered a second mocha.”
“Intent,” a chestnut-haired woman in maritime blue said quietly as she craned her neck for a closer look at Terrance. Hawley allowed himself a tiny smile.
“Yes. Thank you, Ms. Powell. The difference is intent. Premeditation. Strategy. The word satsujin, y’all, is written with the characters for “kill” and “person”…but it doesn’t distinguish between ‘murdered’ and ‘killed.’ I mean, The American South is swarming with killer bees, but no one’s accusing them of committing felonies! One person punching words into Google Translate, sprinting to win a deadline—it’s sloppy, and it’s unfairly condemned my client, not to mention his entire community.” A brief, faint metallic whirr from the podium followed, like a period stabbed hastily onto a postcard.
“But murder hor—er, your…client’s species. Those stingers allow for repeated attacks, and the poison they carry is unusually potent.” Washington Post reporter Christine Powell’s eyes flickered quickly, glancing towards her notes, then bounced back to Smoot. “They can easily sting through a standard beekeeping suit. Possible translation oversights aside, there have been fatalities, Hawley.”
“Oh, unquestionably. Dozens of people in Japan fall into anaphylactic shock every summer. And I’m positive everyone in this room agrees that those deaths are unfortunate. Tragic, even. But Terrance is a law-abiding hornet. He volunteers, crochets wonderful shawls, sings tenor in his local barbershop quartet. To decide he’s already committed a crime simply because of his stinger? That’s simply not American, friends.”
An uneasy silence bristled through the crowd. Too sanctimonious? Had he dialed up the Churlish meter past the recommended settings? No one enjoys feeling patronized or reprimanded, and yet his rebuke had to highlight their mistakes while still provoking sympathy for Terrance. Delicate balancing, Smoot thought. No different than dance classes. Five, six, seven, eight.
A hand dripped up, its owner fresh-faced by press standards, sensibly-dressed. Cautious. “Mister Smoot,” a young journalist with impeccable hair started. “Benjamin Malborg, Dallas Morning News. I think we all appreciate your passion up here today. I’m also sure that some of the reaction Terrance and his brethren are generating is the surprise of seeing a hornet significantly larger than—”
Smoot’s pen soared to the limits of the legal paid, it’s frantic squiggling exploring the upper echelon. “It’s the monsoons, Ben,” the lawyer interrupted. “Take excess moisture and sprinkle in serious humidity, and you’ve got a Japan bursting with giant cockroaches, oversized spiders, beetles bigger than your palm—it’s a classic Nature move. Terrance’s size might shake what we expect a hornet to look like, but surely he shouldn’t be expected to apologize for that.”
“Mister Smoot, I don’t believe anyone has asked your client to—”
“We are accepting questions at this time,” Smoot continued, gliding over the room’s previous sounds with the effortless miracles of a bored, minor deity. A dark mechanical drone from where Terrance rested informed him that he’d performed well.
He peered into the small mob expectedly, awaiting the inevitable show of hands.
@gjbasden asked ” Could you do something on how tragically misunderstood a poor murder hornet is simply because it has an unpleasant name?”
While fact-checked from multiple sources, I used this article as my primary.
Image: New York Times
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