Monday, January 30, 2012

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 9 & 10


Meaghan hung up her desk phone after leaving another message for Ivoire.  She had been unable to reach her colleague in France all afternoon, so she left a final message.   She really needed to get the final figures in order to complete the report; hopefully Ivoire would receive the messages and email them to Meaghan as soon as possible.   She straightened out her desk in preparation for leaving, but decided to stop by Cynthia’s office and let her know of the problem with the distribution report. 

When she arrived at her office, the door was slightly ajar, so she knocked but continued to walk in.  Cynthia looked up from her desk and smiled.

Meaghan went right to the point.  “I was unable to reach my contact in France, so I wasn’t able to finalise the report.  I left a message for her, so we should have the figures emailed in tomorrow.”

Cynthia looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded.  “You’ve done your best with it; just make sure to follow up tomorrow and let me know what happens.”  Meaghan thanked her and headed out the door.

On the way home she picked up some milk and cereal for breakfast tomorrow.  The house seemed quiet without Tina there, but it gave Meaghan a chance to clean up the living room and kitchen before her sister came home from school.  She was just starting the rice cooker when the teen skipped into the house.

“I’ve just started dinner, so go ahead and clean up, and you can help me set the table.”  Tina nodded, swishing her long blonde ponytail.

After dinner, Meaghan helped her sister with her homework until 9pm, and then spent some time on the internet.

The Ahmad family had its roots going back generations in Malaysian society, back to the Sultanates of Borneo.  Although only a few family members had entered the political arena, the properties and businesses owned by the family insured them a solid footing within the government. 

The man that she met was one of two siblings; a younger sister was teaching English in Korea.  They had oil holdings and palm plantations across Malaysia, along with distribution companies and trade agreements throughout Southeast Asia, including China, Japan, and Korea, and even the United States of America.  It was an impressive lineage even for a society Prince.

So why was he interested in her?

She shut down the computer, showered, changed into her nightclothes, and attempted to sleep, but it was long in coming.


When she dragged herself out of bed the next morning, Tina was already in the kitchen, humming to herself as she poured cereal into a plastic bowl.   Meaghan stopped and looked at her sister.

Tina had the fair colouring and delicate bone structure of their mother.  Although she was fifteen, she had the look and manner of a much younger girl.  Meaghan remembered a conversation she once had with her mother, when Tina first started middle school. 

“She’s like a leaf, that one, flying back and forth wherever the wind takes her,” her mother had said, despairing of Tina ever becoming sensible enough to find friends in school.  In fact, her nickname was “Leaf”, although it was never used outside the family circle.

As they sat down for breakfast, Meaghan looked at Tina’s fingernails, black nail polish chipping off on the edges.

“We need to redo your polish,” Meaghan said.  Tina just shrugged and continued digging into her bowl.  “Do you have any exams today?”

“Yeah, a stupid one in math class.  Who cares about algebra?”  Tina picked up her bowl and placed in the sink, then grabbed her backpack.  “I gotta go.”  She looked over at her older sister, then impishly gave her a quick kiss on the top of her head and ran for the door, giggling.

Meaghan shook her head, sighed, and headed for the bathroom to get ready for work.

~     ~     ~
At work, Meaghan focused on the pile of paperwork Cynthia had left there last night.   There was still no word from Ivoire, and she was worried, so she called the main office number and left a message for someone to contact her first thing in the morning, their time.  By then, it would the afternoon in Kuching, and they could resolve the final figures of the report.

Suddenly, there was chirp from her computer as she received an email. ‘Please let this be from Ivoire’, Meaghan thought.  She was disappointed to see it was from someone she had never received mail from, Mystisith.  The email address was from the company, though.

[Good morning.  I am your new contact for your European distribution company.  Attached please find the EOY figures you requested, and I look forward to working with you.]
Meaghan frowned; she hadn’t heard that Ivoire was planning to leave the company, but maybe she got a better offer.  She quickly downloaded the spreadsheet to complete the report, and began compiling the data.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 7 & 8


His voice sounds exactly the same in daylight, Meaghan randomly thought, then quickly shook herself out of her reverie and attempted to address the striking man in front of her.  She tentatively said, “What do you want?”

“You are the person I met at the resort last night, right?”  At her small nod, he continued.  “I wanted to apologise for scaring you then.  If you have some time now, would you like to get some coffee?”  Meaghan looked up sharply.   Coffee?  With this man?

“I’m sorry, but I have to return to work.” Meaghan turned away, only to feel a strong hand grip her wrist securely, but not painfully.  She tugged her hand until he released it, and then looked up at him again.

In his left hand was a business card.

“I wanted to introduce myself.  I am Rick Ahmad.”  He stretched out his hand, the small piece of cardstock held between his thumb and forefinger.  There was a small gold band on his thumb, but no other rings.   She took the business card and looked at it.

[R. T. Ahmad, Vice-Chairman, Ahmad Holdings and Distribution LLC], the card read, along with an address in the Sama Jaya Free Industrial Zone in Kuching.  She thought for a moment.  No doubt he was one of the elite families with inherited wealth passed down from generation to generation.  She wondered what he wanted from her.

“How can I help you?”  Her voice sounded defensive even to her own ears.

                                                          ~                ~                ~
Rickie was, for the first time in his memory, at a loss for words.  He wanted to spend some time with her to figure out this intense attraction, but she clearly didn’t feel anything similar.  He decided to try a different track, knowing that it sounded lame but desperate to make a connection with this person.

“Was that your sister playing the seruling last night?  She plays it very well, and I’d like to take the both of you out to lunch or dinner, your choice, to thank both of you for relieving my boredom last night, Miss…?”  He held his breath, wondering if she would respond.

“Torno.  Meaghan Torno.  What’s wrong?” She asked, as his face blanched and he took a step back.  “Are you feeling alright?”

“Y-yes I’m fine.  I just remembered I was on my way to a lunch meeting.  Why don’t you call me at the number on my card, and we can meet later on this week?”  Without waiting, he turned and strode back to his Rexton RX270, still parked against the bushes that separated the sidewalk from the road.  His neck prickled under her stare as he retreated.

[This is a Rexton RX270, with a dollar value of $ 58,000.]


Rickie sat at a small restaurant with his father’s assistant JoAnne.  It was after lunch, and though the café was slowly emptying, lively conversation still vied with the outside sounds coming through the open door and windows.  However, Rickie barely registered the noise as he toyed with his durian cake, deep in thought. 

A sudden pain in his temple jolted him out of his contemplations.  He looked up to see JoAnne hovering over him, her hand moving to poke him again.

"Hello!? Hello!? Is anyone home?”  Her voice was traced with amusement underneath the exasperation.  Once she realised she had his attention again, JoAnne sat back down.

"So that was a less than stellar meeting, boss.  In fact, you haven’t been right since you came down the stairs this morning.  What happened to you last night?” JoAnne peered over her cup as she tasted her expresso and made a face.

"Nothing.” He said, annoyed.  JoAnne gave a merry laugh as she added yet another spoon of sugar into her cup, and sipped again.  She smiled.

“It couldn’t have been nothing,” she chided. “At breakfast, you said you met someone interesting at the Estoesta party last night, then clammed up and refused to say anything else about her.  And you went all blushy!”  JoAnne emphasized with a grand hand gesture, causing a passing customer to flinch.

“So what happened?  When I called you to remind of the meeting at the waterfront office, you seemed ok, but then you arrived late, which is something you and I both know you hate.  And you didn’t pay attention to anything that was said today at the meeting.  So it’s not ‘nothing’.  Who is she?” JoAnne set her cup on the table with a little thump and stared him down.

Rickie couldn’t tell her the truth.  All he wanted to do was find someplace to be alone and review the astonishing news.   He took a quick sip of his cappuccino and decided to go on the attack.

"Don’t you need to head back to the house and follow up with my father regarding the meeting?  He counts on you to be his eyes and ears while he recuperates.”  Rickie was proud that his voice stayed neutral.

“I also have a brain,” JoAnne’s eyes narrowed as she pushed away from the table, “and I also understand Russian, Spanish, and the fact you don't want me to pry.  Ok, I get it, but I do love a good mystery.  Tch.  I’ll get the minutes transcribed; and copies for you and your father should be ready by the end of today.  And, boss,” she again gave him a gimlet stare. “Don’t try and pull the wool over my eyes.  It doesn’t work with my daughter, and it won’t work with you.”  With that, she walked out.  Rickie watched her leave, more of a bossy older sister than an employee, and shook his head.

After paying the tab, he spent some time walking along the water’s edge, his mind going back over his conversation this morning on the sidewalk, circling around and coming back to the same fact.
 Meaghan Torno.  That slip of a woman was the daughter of his former mentors at BKN.
[Kuching Waterfront]

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 5 & 6


Meaghan finished hanging the wet clothes onto the pole line and carried the empty basket back inside.  The terrace house in Taman Hui Sing was just large enough for their needs, but it was all she could afford for her and her sister. 

Last year, a government agent came to their house to inform them that their parents, who worked for a local palm oil company, had died in a plane accident.   They had been on their way to Shanghai to meet with members of a Chinese import consortium, but had never made it.  Since the corporate jet crashed into the South China Sea, the bodies had never been recovered.  The Malaysian government provided a small subsidy, but that was barely enough to keep her sister in school supplies, so Meaghan picked up odd jobs to supplement her income.

She sat down on the worn bamboo parquet floor holding her parents' wedding pictures, the leather cover cool under her fingers.  The money she made last night in Miri would put some food on the table and a little more into her savings, but she was exhausted.  Luckily, today was a rare day off.  Maybe she should check the employment agencies and see if there was a better position out there.  Making the decision, she went upstairs to change.

Apa khabar!”  A familiar greeting met Meaghan as she walked towards the bus stop.  Her tall neighbour, Shel Berry, was outside in front of her house.  Shel had moved into the neighbourhood a year ago, and had quickly befriended the two girls.  As a matter of fact, she had recommended Meaghan for the job at the party.  Meaghan smiled as she ambled up to the chain link fence.

Khabar baik, Shel.  I’m fine.  Thank you for helping me get the job last night.” Shel waved her off.

“Never mind that, Meg.  I know you are a good worker, and I know you could always use the extra money.  Did you see any celebrities?  Anyone I would know?”  In her late thirties, Shel was always interested in Meaghan’s activities; Meaghan found she liked that someone was watching out for her and Tina.  It made her feel less alone.

“The job was mostly cleaning up dishes and keeping  the wine glasses full,” Meaghan laughed. “I did meet someone interesting by the pool, but I don’t know who he was.”  She relayed the story to Shel, but missed the sudden focus of her neighbour when she described the man. 

When Meaghan had finished, her friend quickly asked, “Did he have a tragus piercing in his right ear?”  Meaghan mused for a moment, remembering the flash of the stone.

“I think he did.  Why, do you know him?” 

Shel’s face cleared. “Oh, nothing.  It sounded like an actor I saw in a recent Korean drama.  Did he sound Korean?”

Meaghan shook her head, smiling.  Shel’s obsession with Korean dramas was a well-known fact.   She chatted a bit longer, then headed towards the agency.

[This is what a terrace house looks like in Malaysia]


The sun was bright in the eastern sky  the next day when Meaghan walked into her office building and sat down in her cubicle, ignoring the babble of the other workers.   The employment agency promised to call her if they found anything, but it wasn’t encouraging.   She sighed.

“Good morning, Meg!” Cynthia’s bright voice broke through the other voices.   The office manager, Cynthia was an older woman, her brunette hair pulled in a chignon.   She was Meaghan’s boss, and had worked at the company for many years. She plopped several files on Meaghan’s desk.   “Here is the 2011 end-of –year overseas distribution report for France.   Could you please proof it and make sure it’s accurate?   We’ll need them for a meeting next week.”

Meaghan nodded.   She was fluent in English and French, and was frequently asked to assist in communication to other countries.   She turned on her computer, placed her bag in the drawer, and opened up the file.

Several hours later, the preliminary review was done, and Meaghan rubbed her eyes.   She needed to get in touch with Ivoire, her contact in Nice, France, but with the seven-hour difference, it would have to wait until the afternoon.   Standing up and stretching her back, she decided to stroll down to the nearby market for a quick snack.

                                                               ~                   ~                         ~

Rickie drove along the waterfront to the family storage facility.   Traffic was heavy, even before noon, and he rolled down the windows of his sport utility vehicle to catch any stray ocean breeze.   The foot traffic on the sidewalks was relatively light.

Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a familiar figure.   Slowing down, he realised it was the woman who had haunted his dreams last night.   He drove ahead of her, then pulled to the side of the road and rolled his window down.

“Excuse me!” he called out.   The woman hesitated, but then turned towards him.   Here in the bright sunlight, he could see her from head to toe, and smiled at the picture she made.

Gone was the severe waitress outfit; instead, she was wearing a long, flowing skirt of greens and blues, with a white sleeveless turtle neck blouse contrasting with the darker tones of her arms.   Her hair was pulled away from her face by a butterfly clip, but left loose and straight down the back of her head.   It was longer than he thought, hanging just below her shoulders.   Her face was exactly how he remembered, except that her eyes grew wider as she recognised him.

She gave a nervous bow, and began walking faster down the sidewalk, away from the vehicle. Rickie quickly climbed out of the truck and hurried after her. “Wait!”

Meaghan ignored the summons, choosing to flee rather than face the man who caught her and her sister by the pool, but loud footsteps behind her warned her that escape was impossible.   She suddenly stopped short, and turned to face her pursuer; he almost ran into her, stopping just before he slammed into her, his Cole Haans almost on top of her modest sandals.   He awkwardly hopped backwards, paused and spoke three quiet words.

“It is you.” 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 3 & 4


Rickie looked down at the young woman in front of him, then over to the wide-eyed girl a few steps away. The girl was clutching the bamboo flute so hard he was afraid it would snap in two. He smiled at her reassuringly, then switched his attention back to the waitress.

She was small, about 163 cm compared to his 180 cm, with her sable hair neatly tied up in a bun. He waited for her to look up at him, which she eventually did.

Small, delicate features. Warm eyes the colour of hot chocolate. A sprinkling of freckles dotting a slightly upturned nose. Full, unadorned mouth with a slight overbite. This was the quick impression Rickie got before the waitress stepped back and gestured for the girl to stand behind her. Before she quickly lowered her head again, her hands clasped in front of her.

“I apologise if you were bothered by the music,” she spoke in a low tone, “It won’t happen again. I’m very sorry.” She braced her shoulders as if preparing to ward off a blow. Rickie raised his eyebrows at the defensive gesture.

“Actually, I was enjoying the sound, especially since it blended so well with the nighttime noises from the rainforest. Where did you learn to play the seruling?” At the gentle, almost soothing timbre of his voice, Meaghan raised her head again.

He looked like something out of a romance movie. Dark skin, shaggy, sun-bleached dark blonde hair over a pair of cool blue eyes the colour of a cloudless sky, a single diamond winking from his right ear. Broad shoulders were encased in an opened-collared white tuxedo shirt; the bow tie peeked out of the breast pocket as if absentmindedly stuffed there. Knife-pleated black pants and shiny black shoes completed the look of a cultured, high society male. Meaghan gulped nervously and rotated slightly to see her sister smile shyly at the stranger.

“It was my grandma’s,” Tina said, “but I’ve never had lessons or anything. I just like to play it.” And, surprisingly, she stepped around Meaghan and offered it to him.

Rickie cradled it carefully and examined the instrument. The finger holes were worn to a faint concave shape, the beak showing wear around the mouth. Still, it looked as if it was a finely-crafted, if old, piece. He handed it back to the young girl.

“You play it very well,” he said, “Thank you for letting me look at it.”

At that moment, Meaghan stepped up and took Tina's other hand.

“We will be going, sir. Sorry to have troubled you.” And before Rickie could ask her anything more, she slipped away towards the main building of the resort complex, towing the girl behind. He watched them for a minute, his mood strangely lifted, then turned back to the soiree, where strains of classical music indicated that the meal was over. Walking towards the stairs, he glanced over his shoulder, but the pair had already disappeared into the shadows.


Rickie stifled a yawn as he read the news at the dining room table, waiting for breakfast.  For some reason, he was unable to sleep last night.  The brief interaction with the pair by the pool seemed to be pushed to the forefront of his mind.Every time he closed his eyes, he heard the haunting notes of a flute juxtaposed with the high-pitched cries of bats, and saw a pair of chocolate eyes.

Eh,’ he thought, ‘it’s not like I’ll ever see them again.’  They were many kilometres away; he was now at the family villa outside the city of Kuching.  If he walked to the dining room windows, there would be a view of nothing but the bright blues of the South China Sea, not the cool green darkness and teeming wildlife of Gunung Mulu.

As his father was wheeled into the room, Rickie stood and walked to his father’s side.  The stroke that had robbed him of his mobility was evidenced by the noticeable thinness of his left limbs; nevertheless his blue eyes, passed down to his son, still brimmed with intelligence.

Selamat pagi, Father.How are you?” Rickie said as he leaned down to hug the older man.

“I’m not quite ready for squash, son, but soon”, he smiled his lopsided grin.  It never failed to give Rickie a pang when he saw his once-active father reduced to this existence, but the fact that his father maintained a positive attitude and was still on this earth was a source of wonder as well.

As his father's assistant JoAnne placed a napkin on the senior Ahmad's lap and adjusted his plate, Rickie walked back to his place, and sat down.  Immediately, the staff brought his typical breakfast of nasi lemak, with its fragrant rice, spicy sambal, and eggs.  He looked at his father and his much simpler fare: scrambled eggs.  Rickie thanked the staff as they placed a basket of piping hot puri bread and a carafe of western-style coffee between them.

“I can’t see what’s wrong with having a little kick in my food”, grumbled his dad as JoAnne poured cups for all three of them and sat down next to him.  After a short period of eating, he looked up at his son.

“How are things at the office?”

“Current output of our primary fields is at 85% of maximum.  We should have no problems fulfilling our current orders.  On the distribution side, several of our roads were damaged in the storms last March, and repairs should take another month or so to complete.”  Rickie took a sip of his coffee, already feeling more awake and ready to face the world.

“Ever since PETRONAS gave us the FLNG contract, I’ve realized that our interests may be coming under international scrutiny,” the elder Ahmad said, “so we need to make sure that the completion of Compliant Tower # 3 offshore is completed with a minimum of errors.”  He wiped his mouth on a snowy damask napkin, and fixed his eyes on his son.

“Now for more important information.  How was the party last night?  Meet any potential fiancées?” Rickie focused on his father, a protest forming on his lips.  At twenty-nine, he hardly felt like settling down; In fact, he had hoped to return back to his agent position until it became clear that his father would never fully recover from his stroke.

He prepared his denial, but surprised himself by saying, “I met someone interesting by the pool”.

[Exploratory oil rig, Balai oilfields outside Sarawak]

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 1 & 2

The sound of tinkling glasses and the low murmur of conversation reached his ears as he leaned over the balcony of the resort and looked out over Miri.  Rickie Ahmad, former BKN agent, sighed as he lifted the champagne flute to his lips.

It had been approximately six months since he was released from his duties at the National Security Division following the sudden collapse of his father.  As a direct descendant of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin, he had returned home to the East Malaysian state of Sarawak to maintain the family oil fields and other businesses while his father recovered.  Not as exciting, perhaps, as his former position; nevertheless, there was a certain cutthroat feeling to the business dealings, particularly with China.  The day to day operations were interesting enough, he mused, to keep him on his toes a while longer.

What bored him to tears, however, were the social appearances he was required to attend as a member of the upper echelon of Malaysian society.  Today, it was a birthday party for a local socialite, held at a 5-star resort near the Mulu Caves.  By the time the bell had rung for dinner, he had already been approached as a potential partner by much of the single female contingent, and propositioned by some of the married set as well.  Whether for dancing, business, or functions of a more private nature, women tended to flock to him wherever he went.

He took off his tuxedo jacket, carelessly draped it over a chair, and inhaled deeply to catch the scent of the rainforest.  He slowly released his breath and waited for the sounds of the surrounding rainforest to relax him further.

As he finished the champagne and placed the glass on a nearby table, his ears picked up a series of flute-like notes drifting through the air.  Following the faint sounds, he looked out over the pool area towards a maintenance building discretely hidden behind some sago palms.  He made the decision to follow the haunting notes, and turned to walk downstairs. 

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement, and glanced back in time to see a small feminine figure in a waitress outfit skirt the edge of the pool towards the building.  Almost as soon as she disappeared behind the palms, the music abruptly stopped.

Wondering about this new development, Rickie headed towards the staircase.

[Miri National Park]


Wait until I get my hands on you, Meaghan thought as she hurried to the pool. Bad enough that she had to bring her kid sister to work today, but now Tina had apparently slipped away from the laundry room and was wandering the grounds. This temp job was important to keep her sister fed and clothed, and the thought that her supervisor would find out about Tina terrified her.

Since their parents disappeared during a business trip over a year ago, Meaghan Torno had been working odd jobs to take care of her little sister. Her job as an administrative assistant didn't pay all that much, especially when combined with the costs of raising her sister. Already, she felt older than her twenty-five years. Her ethereal sister, who preferred to wander the forest rather than attend school, was her sole family now, and she was desperate to protect her.

She found her, sitting on a large stone dragon like some fairy creature, playing her seruling. She stopped a moment to listen to the trilling notes, then made a hissing sound.


At the sound, the blonde-haired teen stopped playing, and turning, saw her sister.

Kakak (older sister)!” she cried, as she launched herself smiling into her older sister’s arms, “I almost called down a hornbill!”

“You were supposed to stay in the laundry room,” Meaghan admonished, her resolve weakening in the face of her sister’s happiness. “We need to go back before you are seen.” Tina’s face clouded for a minute, then cleared. “Ok.” The ten-year gap between never felt wider as Meaghan looked at those innocent blue eyes.

She grasped the teen’s hand and stepped around the building. Right into the solid chest of a man, who had apparently come around the side of the building and had stood, waiting for their appearance. She winced, afraid to look up, releasing her sister’s hand. Tina quickly stepped back.

[Royal Mulu Resort, inspiration for the party location]