In a large conference room, the group of 5 women and one man sat at an oval table, looking at two figures against the wall flanking either side of a projection screen.
“Okay, now that everyone is here, it’s time for introductions. My name is Raine, and I’ll be the direct contact with the main BKN office in Putrajaya. My liaison and the head of this think-tank is Rick Ahmad here,” Raine gestured to the tall man standing with her, “and he will be your direct report. Our job here is to take information from various sources and look for overall patterns that will assist in protecting our country, and I thank you in advance for your help in this. All of you have been carefully chosen for your expertise and knowledge; I know this will be an enjoyable challenge. Now let’s introduce ourselves, starting on the right side.”
All eyes looked at Meaghan as she stood and carefully avoided looking at Rickie.
“My name is Meaghan; I normally work for a distribution company here in Kuching. I know English and French, with a smattering of Chinese, and have a four-year degree in marketing.” She sat down.
One by one, the rest of the team stood and gave a little description: Alua, who was a translation expert in Mandarin and standard Chinese; Jennifer, a computer science and internet expert; Ahjummabunny, a system analyst, MJP25, a sociologist specialising in population movements; and others. The introductions continued around the table until ultimately Rickie was left. He looked at each person in turn, his eyes warming when they reached Meaghan, making her squirm uncomfortably in her seat.
“I am Rick Ahmad; I have a background that includes employment in both the government and secular fields. As such, I have the final review for anything we find that needs to be sent to the command staff. I look forward to working with you all. I intend to meet with each of you individually over the next day or so.” Raine then stepped forward again.
“Several of our sources are only identified by their credentials and will be periodically sending data to us for analysis. They will be sent directly to the individuals identified in your information packets. Are there any questions at this time?” No one raised a hand. “Then, just orient yourselves with the information and each other, and we will begin in earnest tomorrow.” Meaghan waited until everyone had stood up and were milling around before she made her way to the doors and freedom.
“Isn’t he cute?” exclaimed MJP to several murmurs of assent. Meaghan privately agreed, glancing back to where the “he” they were talking about stood at ease, talking with one of the workers. Making her way to her cubicle station, she sat down, turned on her computer, and sighed. She hadn’t had a moment to think to herself, since she realized the identity of her new boss.
Rickie. Somehow with the dinner conversation, she never got around to talking about their jobs much, mostly because she was a little intimidated. However, she had agreed to this contract, and was ready to put her best foot forward and do a good job.
A beep indicated email from her office. When Meaghan looked, there was one from Jules, the employee who was now doing her old job assignments.
[This was received in the mail office email, but it was in your name and appears to be encrypted. Please let me know what needs to be done with it. Thanks, Jules.]
Meaghan read the sent information – wait, Ivoire? She recalled that her chatty friend from the France office had been replaced by Mystisith without any notice. She focused on the attachment and confirmed that it was locked. Her computer had the standard Public Key Infrastructure for encryption; it was just a matter of knowing what the encryption code was. Meaghan looked at the original email from Ivoire to see if she included some type of code key.
[Salut Meg, tout en Malaisie est comment ? Me manquer ces jours où nous avons utilisé pour jouer dans cette bande dans ma ville natale. Il a été rien d'autre que la boue ici avec le temps, que nous avons eu. De toute façon, vous trouverez ci-joint les chiffres de distribution. Rester en bonne santé ! Ivoire]
[Hey Meg, how’s everything in Malaysia? I miss those days when we used to play in that band in my hometown. It’s been nothing but mud here with the weather we’ve had. Anyway, attached please find the distribution figures. Stay healthy! Ivoire]
Meaghan puzzled over this. She had never been to Cameroon, Ivoire’s native country, much less played in any band. Leaf was the musical one in the family, as Iv well knew.
Suddenly, she brightened. She remembered that Iv had showed her several words and phrases translated from French into Bulu, one of the major languages in Cameroon and Ivoire's native tongue. The code easily leapt from the paragraph: bande = nsamba, boue = ndobok, bonne santé = mvoé. She typed these into the encryption key field.
With a quiet beep, the attachment opened, and the bottom fell out of Meaghan’s world.
[Meg – I’m sorry I can’t talk to you right now. There’s something very wrong going on in the company. I found discrepancies in the records, but my boss didn’t believe me. After I talked to him, strange things started to happen around me. I think I’m being followed, so I’m sending you the information. Don’t look for me as I’m going to disappear, and don’t trust anything coming from this office anymore. If I’m able, I’ll contact you later and tell you everything. Au revoir, Iv.] The attachment contained what looked like the typical spreadsheets, with the exception of several highlighted fields.
Meaghan quickly transferred the file to her thumbdrive and deleted the email after sending a reply to Jules giving permission to delete the original email. She had just tossed the drive into her bag when Raine tapped on her cubicle wall and spoke.
“Are you ready for your chat with the two of us?” Raine didn’t wait for an answer but turned and walked down the hallway to a glass-front door. Meaghan carefully stowed her bag in a drawer and followed Raine, wiping her hands on her jacket.
~ ~ ~
Rickie had been anticipating this since he saw her in the lobby previously. It had been a week since his conversation with Raine at Bourbon's, and even longer since he last saw the the woman that had been uppermost in his mind. He smiled at Meaghan as she entered the office behind Raine, secretly amused when he saw her nervously rubbing her hands against the fabric of her outfit. He remembered that same unconscious gesture during their dinner the previous week. He motioned the two women towards several brown leather chairs arranged around a glass coffee table. There was a white ceramic tray containing glasses and a pitcher of water in the center; Raine poured a glass for herself and Meaghan, and then sat down.
“I wanted to talk face to face with each member of this office, to get a feel of how each individual will fit into the overall scheme. You read the information packet and are aware of what Rick and I are setting up, correct?” At Meaghan’s nod, Raine continued, “The other team members will funnel the information to you and your responsibility will be looking over the compiled information and identifying any unusual trends, or anything that stands out. You will be communicating directly with Rick.”
Meaghan looked at him with wide eyes filled with concern and maybe a bit of curiosity. A stray curl escaping from her upswept hair swayed over her right temple, and Rickie fisted his hand to prevent himself from acting on the urge to touch it. He swallowed, hoping his voice would sound normal.
“Raine’s team from the BKN has already created several preliminary reports.” He stood, walked over to his intricately carved mahogany desk, and removed several files from a metal wire basket set to the right of a large computer monitor. He walked back to the two women and handed it to Meaghan, both careful not to touch hands. He sat back down.
“I want to draw on your expertise and knowledge to focus on the flow of goods between Malaysian companies and their Chinese counterparts. In this age of global economy, we are finding more illegal activity on a corporate level than a government or political one. Do you have any questions?” Meaghan shook her head, looking down at the smooth manila folders in her hands, already thinking about how she should begin her task. She looked back up at the face of the man before her, finally landing on his blue blue eyes.
With a sudden sparkle, she stood up and extended her hand. “I’m ready to begin, sir.” Rickie took it, marveling at the smoothness of her skin, and felt an internal shift as their relationship began on another level.