|"sequinned silver-thread-embroidered harem pants"||Ch 29|
|"Why, do I sparkle?"||Ch 16|
|Back hug||Ch 33||
|Bourbon's Bar||Ch 11|
|chocolate cake||Ch 12, Ch 33||
|coconut ice cream||Ch 12, Ch 33||
|CREATIVE SPARK - that started it all!||56.4.2||
|Durian - "buttery pungent goodness"||Ch 16||
|Durian (name)||cake, Ch 8 fruit, Ch 16||
|Eyelash wish||Ch 34||
|green apple (cruelsummer's paint color)||Ch 16|
|Hiding in a cave|
|In some bad book / Kdrama||Ch 37||
|Kotohuadan (Thank you in Kadazan)||Ch 18|
|Nasi Lemak||Ch 4||
|Patrick Starr boxers|
|Raine's cello rant||Ch 11|
|Tragus piercing||Ch 5, Ch 13||
|Tucking hair behind ear||Ch 31||
|White Bathrobe||Ch 29||
Friday, March 30, 2012
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Meaghan remained in a pensive mood for the rest of the day. She knew she was missing something crucial, but it remain stubbornly just out of reach.
As she approached her house, she saw the familiar figure of her missing neighbor, and her spirits lifted. She waved as she approached.
“Apa khabar, Shel. How was your trip? Where did you go?”
Shel smiled. “Oh, Sam and I decided to have a little adventure, so we did a bit of traveling. I wanted to get back in time to help you with your pre-festival cleaning, since this is first time without your parents. I even picked up some tuak rice wine while we were traveling, just for you and your sister. When did you need me to come over to help with the cleaning?”
“You don’t need to come over, Shel.” Meaghan saw the clouded look on her neighbor’s face, and hastened to reply, “We did a complete cleaning for Tina’s birthday last weekend.”
“Oh, that’s right. I forgot about that. Well,” Shel shrugged, “if you need any help, let me know.” And with that, she went back inside her house. Meaghan stared at Shel’s front door, shook her head, and walked to her house.
She had just settled down on the couch, her feet tucked underneath her and a glass of lemonade at her elbow, when her cell phone rang. She answered it.
“Selamat petang, Meg! It’s Sethe. Listen, I’ve wanted to do a bit of shopping and I was wondering if you have any time tomorrow evening to go with me. We’ll do dinner ahead of time.” Meaghan thought for a moment, but didn’t have any plans. It would also be the first time that it would be the two of them, and she figured she might ask Sethe some questions about her brother.
“I just need to let my sister know, but it shouldn’t be a problem.”
“You know, she could come along, too,” Sethe said. “It might be better to include her! I can call her and ask, if you want.”
Meaghan smiled at her enthusiasm. Maybe the girls could strike up a friendship; Sethe was closer to her in age, but much more like Tina sister in her sunny personality. She agreed and gave Sethe her sister’s phone number.
Looking into her glass, she thought about the last several weeks. Ever since that fateful day when she met Rickie – was it three weeks ago? – her life seemed to have gone askew. ‘I feel like I’m in some bad fiction,’ she thought.
Still, Rickie. She sighed and took a sip, savoring the sweet tartness of the lemonade. Just thinking about him made her happy and uncomfortable at the same time.
He seemed genuinely interested in a relationship with her, but with his background, she wondered why. A good family with deep history and roots to Malaysia’s royalty, old money, her boss at the task force and the owner of the company she normally worked for. What did he see in her, an unsophisticated woman raising her younger sister? Her thoughts turned inward for a while, until she heard a key in the front door lock that signaled Tina’s arrival.
“Hey, Meg!” Tina looked almost as giddy as the day of her birthday.
“Hi, Leaf. How was school today?” Tina looked puzzled for a second, and then adopted a bored tone. “Okay, the usual stuff. I had a pop test in History, but I think I did alright.
“Abang Rickie’s sister called me for both of us. I told her we would go.”
Meaghan uncoiled her legs and was looking down for her slippers, so she missed the swift calculating glance from her sibling. “I told her we would meet at her house.” Meaghan looked up in surprise.
“Did she give you the address?” she asked.
Tina nodded, and added, “I’ll come straight home from school, and we can leave together. What are we eating tonight?”
Meaghan stood up and the two of them walked towards the kitchen. “Let’s see what we can come up with for supper. We still have some ice cream left…”
“So what are you scheduled for today, son?” the elder Ahmad asked. Rickie thought for a moment, going over the schedule in his head.
“I have a follow up meeting with Raine in the morning, and I need to check our waterfront warehouse today as well.”
The elder Ahmad smiled. “Can you go check Compliant Tower # 3? Reports say the structure is almost complete and the drillbit and drillstring should be in place to Wednesday afternoon. I would like to have a pair of eyes visually inspect everything.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem, bapa,” Rickie said, “I’ll take lunch on the road, and be back late tomorrow night. Don’t hold up dinner for me.”
His father nodded. “If you need to stay overnight, that would be fine, too.” Sethe snorted; Rickie quickly looked at her, but she was busy wiping her mouth. JoAnne smoothly interjected into the sudden silence.
“So, Rickie, how is your harem going?”
“I don’t like that name,” he groused over his eggs.
JoAnne laughed, unperturbed. “That’s what you get for being the only male in the office. Is everybody working together well?”
“It’s only been a week, but it’s a good team. I think the BKN will find it useful. We already ruled out government activity and are now focusing on the corporate environment.” Rickie turned to his father.
“About that employee in Thailand. What is happening?”
His father quietly replied, “We have contacted the grandmother, and have made arrangement for the body once it is released by the Thai authorities. She wants everything shipped to Cameroon, so we are arranging someone to collect her personal objects for shipping as well. I expect everything will be in place by next week.”
Rickie nodded. After finishing breakfast and saying his goodbyes, he headed out to his vehicle.
“Well, I have to get ready for this evening, so I’ll see you two soon.” Sethe walked over to her father’s wheelchair and bussed his cheek. He patted her arm, and she headed up the stairs.
JoAnne clucked as she watched her leave. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” she told the smiling man as she wheeled him down to his office.
“I want grandchildren while I’m still able to enjoy them,” he said. “Sometimes you have to give a push in the right direction, in love and in business. He’s just like me, you know.”
JoAnne chuckled. “This is going to be interesting to watch.”
Meaghan dragged herself to work early on Monday. The last girl left early Saturday afternoon, so Sunday was spent in setting the house to rights and listening to Leaf prattle about the party. With Rickie in attendance, the fashion show was a complete success, and the girls gave nothing but high marks for the entire party. Rickie left not long after the girls had finished walking the ‘runway’, leaving a chorus of girlish sighs behind him, and one very private, very wonderful kiss outside.
She was not long at her desk, however, when she received a phone call.
“Hello, Meg?” Cynthia’s sober voice came through the earpiece. She sounded so formal that Meaghan was alarmed.
“Cynthia, what has happened? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, but I wanted to give you some bad news. Remember Ivoire, your contact in Nice?” Meaghan felt a frisson of fear travel down her back.
“Her body was found last week in Bangkok, apparently the victim of a violent crime. We were contacted when the Thai authorities called the main office through the embassy. Jules remembered you recently received an email from her. Do you know anything about what might have happened or why she was in Thailand? Meaghan?”
She could only stare at the walls of her cubicle in shock, unable to process what she just heard.
“Ivoire? Is…is dead?” She bit her bottom lip as tears formed in her eyes. “I…can’t believe it. Do you know what happened?”
Cynthia’s voice softened at Meaghan’s obvious distress. “The authorities haven’t said anything, but they do have a lot of questions. I know it’s tough for you, but do you have any information that might be helpful to the investigators?”
Meaghan thought for a moment, and then shook her head. “She never told me she was going there. I didn’t even know she had left the company until I received an email from her replacement. I haven’t actually spoken to her in over a month…”
Meaghan’s voice trailed off as her tears overwhelmed her. She barely heard Cynthia sign off and hang up. Woodenly she placed the handset back in the cradle and slumped in her chair.
She remembered the last time she spoke with Ivoire. Her friend had just temporarily moved into an apartment, and was planning to stay there a couple of months until she found more permanent solution. She was a competent, friendly, well-travelled individual who had a lively curiosity. It was hard to think that she wouldn’t be there anymore to hand off the monthly files…
The file. She remembered the fear she felt from those few words from Ivoire in that email. Maybe that file was the reason she was…she was…
Meaghan wiped her eyes and blew her nose; she vowed to go through that file again and discover what was so important about that information that may have caused Ivoire to be killed.
‘Ivoire’, she silently prayed, ‘Please help me find out what happened to you and bring them to justice.’
“Do you have a moment, En Ahmad?” This woman with bruised eyes was nothing like the glowing woman from the weekend. For a moment, Rickie was worried that something had happened to her or her sister, but then remembered his conversation with Cynthia on Friday.
“You heard about your coworker from your supervisor this morning.” Rickie’s voice was gentle. At her jerky nod, he asked, “Do you need to take some time off?”
At that, Meaghan stiffened her spine and shook her head. “No, I want to continue my analysis. I have some information I want to show you.”
Rickie was proud of the way she pulled herself together, and noticed the determined spark that reanimated her beautiful chocolate eyes. ‘Business time,’ he reminded himself. Out loud, he said, “What have you found?”
Meaghan sat down on a leather chair in front of the desk.
“I cross-referenced the distribution information and government data, with the information from CMPrindle, and found the following.” She handed him a chart from the folder, and Rickie’s eyes were alert as he looked at the report. Meaghan continued.
“From the wiretap information, I researched upcoming holidays and festivals. The closest three are Gawai Dayak, King Agong’s birthday, and the Dragon Boat Festival. This year they fall in succession: June 1, 2, and 3, respectively, so it could be any or all of these. Since June 1st is this Friday, I wanted to bring that to your attention.” Rickie nodded, and waited for the next information.
“I also reviewed the Thai reference for a possible corporate correlation, but there haven’t been any significant changes for the Thai businesses we have in our database. I reviewed the Thailand military along with MJP25, and we don’t see any recognizable movement along any of the borders. In fact, little has changed from any of our neighboring countries, especially after the agreement between China and India over oil exploration last September.
“I think whatever may be going on, it does not appear to be government-based action. It is probably the work of a small number of people or some type of extremist group. Ahjummabunny is checking known organisations to look for any recent activity, and I’m going to continue looking at corporate accounts.” With that, she sat back in the chair, and waited.
Rickie reached out across the desk and laced his fingers with hers. “If you do need some time off, let me know.” Meaghan gave their combined hands a squeeze and then pulled back and stood.
“I just don’t understand it. She was very friendly and inquisitive, liked to talk and learn things, travel…” she choked back a sob. “How could this happen?”
Rickie stood up, strode around the table, and wrapped his arms around her. She shuddered once and slumped, allowing him to support her for a moment before standing back up and wiping her eyes. Rickie softly kissed her forehead as she sighed.
“Thanks. I’m alright. I’d better get back to work.” And with a watery smile, she left his office.
Rickie sat back down and rested his chin on his hands, thinking.
Meaghan stood there, bemused and touched when, with a courtly flourish that brought squeals from the girls, Rickie presented Leaf with two boxes coconut ice cream squares. After Leaf took the containers, he was quickly surrounded by the rest of the group. Catching Meaghan’s eye, he gave an abashed smile that melted her heart, and she felt herself tumbling into love.
“Isn’t he great!” Leaf effused as she carried the boxes to the table, “I knew you were having problems finding my favorite ice cream, so I called Abang Rickie and he offered to bring it by!” The glow of hero-worship gleamed in the teen’s eyes. Meaghan felt compelled to pull back Leaf’s expectations.
“He might have had something important to do today.” Meaghan watched him as he chatted with the young girls, relaxed and comfortable with their focus. Suddenly he clapped his hands, and they immediately quieted down.
“Is time for cake yet? I heard En Torno’s cake was the best in Sarawak!” He looked over and grinned at the two sisters, looking boyish and happy. To a chorus of affirmatives he made his way to Meaghan’s side. Tucking an arm around her waist, he began to sing “Happy Birthday”, which was quickly picked up by the rest of the group. Meaghan lit the candles and presented the cake. Tina closed her eyes, and with one breath, blew out the candles.
Meaghan began doling out slices of the rich, dark cake while Tina used tongs to dish out the icy white squares. Once everyone had a plate, Meaghan carried the rest of the ice cream back to the kitchen. She was sealing it in a plastic container when Rickie sidled up behind and wrapped himself around her, trapping her arms.
“Rickie!” she protested weakly, already savoring the feeling of him surrounding her. “I have to put this away before it melts!”
He kissed the top of her head and rested his chin on her shoulder, still hugging her.
“I hope you’re not mad at me for crashing the party,” he said guiltily.
“Thank you for bringing the ice cream.” Meaghan shook her head, conscious of her disheveled appearance; in keeping up with the younger girls, her serviceable bun was unraveling, wisps of hair escaping to curl with abandon around her face. Her simple green dress was wrinkled; her flowered apron spotted with stains. ‘I just wish I looked better’, she thought.
Rickie turned her around and pressed her against the counter top and looked into her eyes. “I think you look beautiful.”
Oh no, had she spoken aloud? She closed her eyes as heat crept up her neck. She felt him gently caress her cheek and opened her eyes to see a single eyelash on the tip of his finger.
“Ready to make a wish of your own?” Rickie all but whispered. They looked each other, and then Rickie brought his finger to his lips and gently blew. Meaghan followed the lash for a brief second before her view was blocked as he leaned down and captured her lips.
She tasted both decadent and sweet, a heady combination that had Rickie pulling her closer. He felt her arms slide up and lock around his neck as he deepened the kiss, the actuality of kissing Meaghan far outstripping his imagination. He had a strange sense of coming home, as if she was some missing piece of his soul.
Meaghan felt her knees weaken as his tongue traced the seam of her lips. Without conscious thought, she opened them and allowed him entrance. His hands, of their own volition, framed either side of her face as he plundered further into the warm recesses of her mouth. She barely felt the counter press into her back as Rickie crowded her, the heat from his skin sending frantic impulses along her nerve endings.
A burst of laughter from the living room swiftly brought them back to reality, however, and he dropped his hands and slowly pulled back, resting his forehead against hers, his breathing staggered.
Meaghan’s heart beat frantically against her ribs as she struggled to take a deep breath. She loosened her hold on his neck and skimmed along his shoulders and chest, stopping only when he held her hands over his own strongly beating heart. She felt hers settle in the same rhythm as she look back up at him and saw both humor and desire in his eyes.
“Timing is everything,” he quipped, and then sobered. “I hadn’t really planned this. I just wanted to do something nice for your sister’s birthday. And to see you.”
Meaghan gave in to temptation and allowed her hands to glide down his chest to his abdomen, continuing around until she was hugging his midsection. His arms, which had dropped again during her exploration, came around her in a gentle hold. She rested her head against him, and, in a low voice, said, “I’m glad you’re here.”
Rickie felt a surge of protectiveness when he heard those words from his Meaghan. Giving her a squeeze, they stayed for a moment locked together.
“Meg, we need…whups!” Tina’s head appeared around the doorjamb. “Sorry, but we had a spill. Just keep doing, um, what you’re doing, and I’ll take care of it.” Meaghan tried to pry herself out of his embrace, only to find his arms were like steel bands that refused to budge.
“Rickie!” He ignored the struggling woman for the moment and looked at Tina.
“Leaf, are you okay with this? With your sister and I?” Rickie held his breath, realising how important the answer was to him.
Leaf waved a casual arm as she opened a drawer and pulled out a hand towel. “I saw the sparks between you two a long time ago. I’m wondering what took you so long!!” She laughed. “Anyway, we’re going to get ready for the fashion show. You two have to be our audience, so come out here,” Leaf gave a wink, “but not immediately.” With that, she walked back towards the living room.
Rickie blew out his breath, tension leaving his shoulders. Meaghan smiled at him.
“Were you that worried? You know, she’s liked you since that time we first met in Mulu.”
“I know, but still…”
Meaghan swiftly stood on her toes and kissed his nose; Rickie, surprised, dropped his arms as she stepped out of his embrace.
“I’m going back out to finish cleanup. If you want to flex those muscles and give the girls a thrill, feel free to give me a hand.” And with that, she skipped out, acting much like her younger sister.
Rickie watched her leave, feeling happiness constrict his lungs for a moment. He smoothed his hair, checked to make sure his clothing was in order, and sauntered after her.
Monday, March 26, 2012
Meaghan stiffened for a moment, then relaxed and sighed as she nestled against Rickie’s chest. She felt one hand slowly stroke the back of her head; he smelled of spicy aftershave and healthy male. After a moment, she pushed at his chest and took a step backwards as his arms loosened. She looked up at him.
Rickie gave a sheepish grin, which faded as he tucked a sable tendril behind her ear.
“I just wanted to see you today. Can I come in, maybe for a cup of coffee?”
Meaghan caught herself glancing at the other houses, whose dark windows belied anyone watching them.
Rickie raised an eyebrow at her actions. “Are you afraid that your nosy neighbor will see us?”
“Shel? No, She’s been out of town for a couple of days, and I don’t know when she’ll be back. But I think I’d better go back inside.” Meaghan had turned from Rickie and towards her house, when she felt him grab her wrist and gently pull her back around.
“Are you sure I can’t stay?” Rickie pouted a bit. Meaghan smiled and placed a hand to his cheek.
“Maybe next time. I really do need to sleep.”
Rickie quickly turned his head and kissed her palm, still warm from contact with his skin. She immediately pulled her arm away, her eyes wide.
“Next time, Meggie,” he spoke in a low tone, then grabbed her shoulders, tenderly turned her back to her door and gave her a little push. He stood there and watched as she opened, then closed, her front door without looking back. He took a deep breath, willed his unruly body to relax, and headed back to his truck.
Meaghan leaned against her door, trying to slow her breathing. Shaking it off, she quickly went to her bedroom, climbed under the covers, and attempted to fall asleep. After what seemed like hours, she rolled over onto her back and threw an arm over her eyes. Sleep was long in coming.
On Friday, Rickie was in his office when he received a phone call from JoAnne. Without preamble, she spoke.
“We’ve had a situation with one of our France employees by the name of Ivoire. According to the embassy representative that contacted us, she was found dead in Bangkok yesterday. They believe it might be a homicide.”
Rickie thought for a moment. “Why did they get in touch with us?”
“It appears she didn’t have any other emergency contact information, and they found her business cards in her luggage. I checked out her employee records. She had requested temporary emergency leave for her sick grandmother. Other than that, I have no further information. Mystisith was a new hire at the time, so she was placed in the position without a handoff from Ivoire. I haven’t spoken to her supervisor yet; we just found out a short time ago.” JoAnne paused. “Your girlfriend might know something.”
“Meaghan?” Rickie was confused. “How is she involved?”
“She was the analyst at our main distribution office, so she received the monthly reports from all of our branch offices, including France. Ivoire was her direct contact, and I understand they were on friendly terms. I talked to Cynthia here, and she was going to contact Meaghan directly and tell her the news.”
Rickie sat up, wondering how Meaghan was going to take the news.
JoAnne continued. “Since she was still an employee, your father is making the arrangements through the company. Don’t worry; I’ll make sure he doesn’t overtax himself.”
“Did she have any relatives?” Rickie asked.
“There are none listed in her personnel file besides a grandmother in Cameroon,” JoAnne replied, “Your father is attempting to contact her now.”
Rickie nodded at the phone. “Okay, let me know if there is anything I need to do.” He sat for a moment after hanging up, thinking. On impulse, he contacted Cynthia, and requested she not say anything to Meaghan until Monday.
~ ~ ~
Meaghan bustled through the living room, cleaning up fallen popcorn and drink cups. The party started with a movie, and a giggling game of Truth or Dare. They were currently doing a scavenger hunt in the neighborhood; Meaghan had arranged a series of stops with her neighbors. Shel still wasn’t back home, which was unusual, but there were plenty of others that were willing to help out.
She started spreading out the food: curry puffs, pandan-wrapped chicken bites, western-style mini hamburgers, chick peas, and sliced fruit. She had just finished with the setup when the door banged open, and a stream of chattering girls entered the house. Bright-eyed and happy, Leaf bounced over to her sister and gave her a hug.
“Kakak! That was the best!” Meaghan smiled as she returned the hug, and then turned to address the group.
“Everyone go wash their hands and we’ll eat.” There was some good-natured ribbing as the gaggle wandered off toward the bedrooms. Leaf looked over the table and grinned.
“That all looks great! Did anyone else stop by while we were gone?” Meaghan wondered what she meant.
“Why, did someone miss the party?” Meaghan asked, but didn’t remember anyone missing from Leaf’s female friends.
Leaf shook her head a little too quickly. “No, no, everything’s cool.” And with that, she headed to her bedroom, pulling her cell phone out of her dress pocket. Meaghan shook her head, and started herding the returning girls towards the plates at one end of the table. Soon everyone was sitting on the floor, eating and talking at the same time, something which only a teenager can manage easily.
After dinner and the cake, they were going to stage a fashion show. She had already spread out the outfits the girls had brought with them, and had moved her cheval mirror and cosmetic case to Tina’s room to help with their primping.
Meaghan was just putting the candles on the chocolate fudge cake when the door bell rang. She walked out of the kitchen just in time to see Leaf sprinting for the door. She threw it open and all but yelled.
“You found it! Thanks!!” The person filling the door frame was very familiar, one that had haunted her sleep last night.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Meaghan felt her pulse accelerate when those words registered. She gulped, unable to think of anything to say.
“Meggie?” The unfamiliar endearment caught her off guard, but settled her emotions somewhere near her heart.
“I’m here.” She sounded surprisingly calm, given the tumult inside. She licked her lips and gripped the phone tighter. “I miss you, too.”
Rickie felt his soul soar as he heard her say that. He settled back against the leather, barely noticing anything in his surroundings, his whole focus the beautiful words and the woman behind them.
“I was busy all day today; otherwise I would have stopped by your desk. Is everything to your liking at work?” He nearly cursed out loud – why suddenly talk about work?
He could hear her smile. “Yes, it’s been challenging, but I’ve enjoyed it so far. As a matter of fact, I have something I’d like to show you. I think there may be a link, but I can’t seem to put the pieces together. Do you have any time tomorrow?”
“How about we discuss it over lunch?” Rickie blurted. A low laugh greeted this; it slid down his spine like warm honey.
“I don’t think we’d better.” She said, “I’m going to get fat if I keep eating at restaurants.”
Rickie tried again. “How about a picnic? I could have something put together, and we could go to the waterfront.” He held his breath.
Meaghan thought a moment, then regretfully replied.
“I don’t think so. I don’t want people gossiping about…us.” Her voice trailed off as she realized she was already thinking of them as a couple. “Some other time perhaps. I can’t do anything after work because…”
“…because of your sister’s birthday party.” Rickie finished, then tensed.
“Oh, I didn’t know I had told you about it,” Meaghan blithely continued, “but, yes, it’s going to be a slumber party, so it’ll be hectic, but fun. Tina is turning sixteen, so I decided to allow her a slumber party.” She chuckled, a sound that caused Rickie’s gut to tighten. “It’ll be hectic, but fun for her.”
Rickie tried for a casual tone. “So what are you doing now?”
“I just finished all the prep work, so it was just quiet time here.” Rickie decided to just jump in.
“Can I see you tonight?”
Meaghan pulled the phone away from her ear and stared at it owlishly. Tonight? She put the phone back to her ear.
“I’m not really up to guests tonight, Rickie. I’m sorry.”
“What about the front porch? That’s safe, right?” Rickie’s voice became wheedling.
Meaghan almost smiled at the little-boy tone. She thought of a quick way to squelch this.
“Only if you can be here in five minutes,” she said smugly, sure that she had crushed his hopes.
Instead, she heard a quiet knock at the door, and heard it echo in her ear. Suddenly realizing she outfoxed herself, she looked down at her pyjamma pants and t-shirt. While comfortable, they might as well be sequinned, silver-thread-embroidered harem pants in this situation. She quickly ran to her bedroom, grabbed her favorite white bathrobe, belted it tightly, and went to carefully open the door.
She could only stare for a moment. Rickie, his dark blonde hair bright in the moonlight, stood before her door, his cell phone still in his left hand. He looked her up and down, then, with a devilish grin, grabbed her arm and pulled her outside and into his warm embrace.
Near the Wat Chana Songkram Buddhist temple, the old man was looking through a rubbish heap left over from the restaurants and clubs nearby. Finding several half-empty beer bottles, he quickly drained their contents and stored the bottles in a tattered sack. He had reached a large dumpster and was looking to climb inside when something shiny caught his eye. Walking around to the brick wall, he peered in the gap between it and the metal container.
A figure lay crumpled in a heap, the lone streetlamp reflecting off a silver and bronze bangled bracelet on one unmoving wrist, brown eyes staring up, unseeing, framed by curly short hair, now matted and dull. Like a necklace of death, a thin wire still was tangled around her neck.
With a yell, the man leapt back, turned towards the direction he came from, and hobbled quickly away. He turned back only once, glancing where darkness had already swallowed up his gruesome find as he melted back into the background of the night.
On the helipad, a man and a woman stood and looked out over the drilling platform, assured of privacy by their location.
“The subsea drilling template has been cemented to the seafloor,” John commented, “and the blowout preventer installation completes tomorrow. We are on schedule to have the marine riser in place by next weekend. And then, my dear, the real fun begins.”
The woman shivered, from the cool breeze or from anticipation, it was impossible to tell. He handed her a missive from a Malay newspaper.
Ani snorted. “Stupid politicians, using words when actions are needed. After next week, no one will question our ownership of these waters.” She tore it into small pieces and threw it up into the wind.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Meaghan woke up to an overcast Wednesday, but the happy trilling of a seruling told her that Tina was awake. She stretched, swung her feet to the floor and padded over to her clothes rack. ‘I wonder what outfit he would like,’ she thought, then pressed her hands to her cheeks. Where had that thought come from?? Angry with herself, she grabbed a towel and headed over to the bathroom.
After rinsing her mouth and putting away her toothbrush, she was walking back to her bedroom when she heard her cell phone ring. Quickening her steps to her nightstand, she looked at the screen. It was Cynthia, her supervisor at her old job.
“Good morning, Meg. Could you stop by the office this morning before heading your assignment? I’ve already cleared it with En Ahmad. It will only take a short while.”
Meaghan wondered if there was something that Jules needed, but she readily agreed to go there first.
When Meaghan arrived, she walked directly to Cynthia’s office and knocked on the door. Cynthia opened it and ushered her in. There was an unfamiliar woman with dark hair and wearing a red blouse with gray slacks sitting at a small conference table next to Jules. Meaghan took a seat across from her, and looked at her supervisor questioningly as Cynthia sat down.
“This is JoAnne from our main company, Ahmad Holdings.”
Meaghan gave a start. She didn’t know she had been working for Rickie’s family business; nevertheless, she had no idea why she needed to visit her old office. The woman gave a friendly nod and then stood up.
“I understand from Rick that your research has uncovered some links with several of our subsidiaries. I would like to be your liaison with the parent company, and integrate the information we have with the other research you have been doing. That way, we can protect the company if there are any,” JoAnne paused for a moment, “shenanigans going on.”
Meaghan was puzzled. “Wasn’t the task force started by the government? I don’t think I can disseminate any information at my level. Until my contract is up, my services are to be used under the terms of the contract. I’m sorry; I don’t think I’m going to be able to help you.”
JoAnne spoke. “Is it alright if I speak with Meaghan privately?” Cynthia nodded, and she and Jules filed out of the office. Meaghan felt the impact of her eyes as the older woman studied her for a moment, then grabbed her hands. Meaghan was startled when the woman gave a genuine laugh, squeezed her hands and then released them. She smelled a light whiff of lilacs as JoAnne sat back in her chair.
“Your answer tells me you are an honest sort, so I want to be frank with you. I have to confess that I had an ulterior motive. I’m his father’s assistant, so you can discuss anything regarding the company, but, in reality, we both just wanted to meet the woman that put a spring in Rickie’s step. Unfortunately, the elder Ahmad cannot travel easily, so he sent me to the battlefront.” As Meaghan continued to stare, mute, JoAnne smiled widely.
“I approve of his choice. Sethe likes you, too. You’ll need to stop by the house sometime soon to have a meal with the family. Your sister is, of course, invited, as well.”
Meaghan’s head was whirling, her thoughts careening around chaotically.
“I don’t…I mean, we aren’t…um...there’s nothing happening between us,” she stammered. JoAnne just steamrolled over Meaghan’s attempt to explain.
“Don’t worry, I’ll make the arrangements. Here’s my card with all my numbers on it. Just let me know when you and your sister are available. Also, if there is any additional information you need from the company, call me directly as well.” JoAnne stood up, walked to the office door, stopped and turned.
“We are all happy for you and Rickie.” Meaghan was so shocked, she didn’t notice JoAnne give Cynthia a high-five as she walked past. Her boss then came back inside the office, and handed Meaghan a manila envelope.
“These are the current companies that we are handling, along with the projected sales and updated delivery locations. If you need anything else, just talk to Jules.” With that, she sat down at her desk as Meaghan walked back out in the main office area, still stunned.
As she walked past Jules, a sudden thought claimed her mind.
“Jules, have you received anything else from Ivoire at the France office?”
Jules shook her head. “The only one I correspond with nowadays is Mystisith. Is there a problem?”
“No, no, I was just curious. Anyway, you have a good day.” And with a smile, Meaghan walked out of the office. The smile, however, did not last long as she thought about what JoAnne had said.
What was she going to do?
Thursday evening had Meaghan cleaning the terrace house with a vengeance. Friday was a half day at work, and the girls for the party would start arriving in the early afternoon, so she wanted to do most of the work today.
The work went a long way to burn off her excess energy, but did nothing for her mind as she ruminated over her conversation with JoAnne yesterday in Cynthia’s office. She liked the woman immediately, but was a bit intimidated by her manner. How in the world was she supposed to go to a meal at Rickie’s house? It wasn’t as if they were actually dating or anything; he was her boss.
She skittered away from the way he made her feel, especially when he touched her, like she was a princess in a fairy tale. Her cheeks grew heated when she thought about that kiss, and her hand tingled as if it too remembered the firm but soft lips pressed against it.
Meaghan shook her hand out and then put it out of her mind, and went to the kitchen to put together the cake. Since Tina occasionally had a reaction to flour, the rich dessert was made gluten-free. She gathered together semi-sweet chocolate, butter, whey sugar, eggs, and cocoa powder. She would be able to bake the cake tonight, and finish it quickly tomorrow.
She had the kitchen cleaned up and the cake cooling on a rake by the time Tina came into the house, chattering on her phone. She gave Meaghan a quick hug and, still chattering, walked back to her bedroom and closed her door.
Meaghan shook her head and walked out of the kitchen. Had she ever felt that carefree? Even before their parents passed, she had been responsible for your younger sister, but she wouldn’t trade their closeness for anything.
She walked out of the kitchen and into the living room, where her modest stereo sat on an antique credenza, a photo of her parents on top of the record player cover. Meaghan arranged the CD’s she had set aside to provide music for the party. Tina’s music taste was eclectic, ranging from the pop sound of Forteen to the harmonies of The Solianos and jazz of Michael Veerapan. Her favorite singer was Siti Nurhaliza, a multi-cultural performer who nevertheless employed native instruments like the seruling as background to her music. Meaghan’s gift to Tina was her most recent live album, which her sister had wanted.
Once completed, she sat down on the old couch, stretched, ran a hand through her hair and closed her eyes. She thought about reviewing Ivoire’s file again, but it was nice to just have a moment of quiet in the house.
The cell phone ring was almost loud in the silence. She uncurled from the couch and ambled over to the table. She looked at the Caller ID and took a quick breath. It was him…
~ ~ ~
Meghan carried the phone back to the couch, sat down, and pressed the [OK] button.
“Hello?” she asked, cautiously.
“Selamat petang, Meaghan. How are you tonight?” The warm, smooth tones sensitized her ears, and as she listened, she played with her earring.
“Selamat petang. Good evening, Rickie. I’m doing well. How are you?”
There was a pause, then in a low voice, he said, “I miss you.”
Monday, March 12, 2012
East meets West along Bangkok’s Khao San Road, where sleek clubs and eclectic market stalls vie for a visitor’s attention. Called “the backpacker’s ghetto”, it is a location teeming with cheap places to stay, eat, or buy. During the lunch time, both farangs and native Thai seek a break from the events of the morning. In a converted cocktail bar, a curly-haired black woman toyed with the rim of her frosty glass, seemingly lost in thought, a half-eaten bowl of seafood curry at her elbow.
After leaving some baht on the bar surface, she slipped through the front door and headed to a nearby Web Café. After paying her user fee, she sat down at one of the monitors and booted up her email. There were no messages from Malaysia, and she hoped that Meaghan was alright. There was still one more file of evidence from the France office, but she wanted to hand it directly to her friend, sure that whatever shadowy people that dogged her tracks in France would never be able to track her roundabout travel to Thailand.
With a beep, another email message popped into her Inbox, and Ivoire began to breathe faster.
[We know where you are, Ms. Ivoire. You need to return the files you took, and all will be well. Mystisith.]
Ivoire quickly deleted the email without a reply, shut down the computer and all but ran out of the building into the streets, intent on reaching the hostel she where was staying. She never noticed a female figure carrying a long duffel bag quietly detach herself from the crowd and follow the tall woman down the street.
~ ~ ~
Bourbon’s was not quite at capacity, but it was a close thing. As Rickie and Meaghan approached, a slim figure wildly waved from one of the outside tables.
“Selamat tengah hari, Meaghan! I’m so glad you could make it!” Unable to stop from smiling, Meaghan nodded and sat down, very aware of Rickie’s warm hand on her back as he helped her into the chair. He in turn sat across from her as indicated by the young girl. A waitress discretely approached with menus, and placed a small dish of snacks in the middle of the table.
Choosing to ignore the tingling in her back, Meaghan focused on the young woman seated to her right.
“Are you getting used to being back in Malaysia, Sethe?”
Sethe nodded. “I have to practise driving on the opposite side of the road again. In fact,” she turned imploring eyes to her brother, “I could really use a vehicle to drive around for a bit.”
Rickie almost choked on a sweet potato ball. “You need to ask our father about that. There is no way I’m letting you drive mine.” His sister pouted and wiggled in her seat, but he was unmoved. He quickly turned and focused on the woman in front of him. “Do you drive?”
Meaghan demurred. Although she had an operator’s license, she hadn’t driven anything since her parent’s death. “I normally use the bus,” she replied.
Sethe turned back to her brother. “Rickie, if you help me get my license back, then, if Meaghan needs a ride, I can drive her.”
Meaghan looked at him, unsure of his reaction.
Which was a smile. “If she needs to go anywhere, she can just ask me,” he drawled, enjoying the sensation of both disappointing his sister and startling his employee, “and I’ll take her anywhere.”
“Perfect!” Sethe clapped her hands in an abrupt about-face. “Meaghan, the next time I need to go shopping, you can be my friend and come with me. That way we can use his services, too. He can carry stuff for us!” She laughed, filling the silence from the older pair at the table.
The conversation remained light throughout lunch; although Meaghan could not remember exactly what she ordered, it was delicious. Rickie paid for all three of them, much to her consternation, but she didn’t want to show Sethe how it bothered her.
After saying her goodbyes and giving Sethe her phone numbers, Meaghan was thoughtful on the drive back to the office.
“En Ahmad, is your sister serious about shopping?”
“It’s Rickie,” he said, automatically, “and, yes, she is very serious, especially about shoes.” Meaghan looked down at her serviceable pumps and wondered how anyone could be obsessed with footwear. She looked back up at the handsome man competently driving through the afternoon traffic.
“I want to pay for my portion of lunch,” she insisted. Rickie just looked at her; she felt defensive at his stare. “It’s not a supervisor’s responsibility to pay for food.”
“I didn’t invite you to lunch as your boss.” Rickie smoothly said. He took his left hand off the steering wheel and, before she could protest, grabbed her right hand and brought it to his lips. Momentarily shocked, she could only stare with wide eyes as, with his eyes still on the road, he turned her hand over and kissed the palm as well.
“I just wanted to spend time with you.” He lowered their hands to the buttery leather but kept them together, only releasing her when his cell phone rang. His eyebrows shot up as he looked at the Caller ID, and, giving a quick glance to his silent passenger, flipped open the phone and answered it.
“This is Rick. Apa khabar. How are you? It’s what...ah, this Saturday? I can probably be persuaded…mmhmm…okay, you’ve convinced me. I’ll be there.” He hung up the phone, then attempted to recapture Meaghan’s hand, which she successfully avoided. Rickie just smiled as they turned into the parking deck for their building.
Meaghan slammed the door to the vehicle a little hard, then felt ashamed for her little tantrum. It wasn’t the fault of the vehicle that it belonged to someone who thought nothing of setting up a date with one woman while he was with another. “It’ has nothing to do with me,” she mumbled, then looked up to see if he heard her.
She needn’t have worried; he appeared completely oblivious to her muttering, and ushered her into the cool green lobby towards the elevators.
Meaghan had just sat back down at her desk when Alua came to her desk.
“We’ve got some information from our contact in Guangzhou. CMPrindle sent us some wiretap information I just translated. En Ahmad wanted to see if any of the information correlates with what you’ve already reviewed.”
Meaghan nodded, happy to be distracted from her lunch with her boss. Alua gave her several sheets of paper. She read through them quickly, until one passage caught her eye:
Meaghan rooted through the other reports until she found the other reports. Nothing seemed to be a link until the name “Samui Group” showed up. It was a small group of techsperts in petroleum geology and geophysics that had recently been in demand locally for identification of potential oil and gas deposits. Several of them were currently at Compliant Tower # 3, an offshore platform from Rickie’s family.
Meaghan mused a bit at the info. “Samui” was the name of a Thai island, and the name in Malay meant “safe haven”. Suddenly, she remembered the information emailed from Ivoire. “Chang Mai” was also a Thai province, and meant “New City”. She wondered if there was a link. She decided to shelve that for a minute until she had more information.
Booting up her computer, she researched festivals in nearby countries. There were several that were within the next two weeks, and she decided to focus on traditional Malay and Chinese festivals. The research kept her busy until the end of the day.
When it was time to leave, she was relieved that the door to Rickie’s office was closed. Quickly stepping out into the late afternoon sun, she shielded her eyes and headed towards the bus stop.
Rickie, leaving the lobby, stopped to admire the view of Meaghan walking away, her hips swaying from side to side as she strode purposefully down the street. He thought about the moment he kissed her hand, her natural scent in his nose as he hovered over her palm, and felt happy. He thought about the phone call he received while driving back to the office, and his grin got even wider. Whistling, he headed back to his SUV.
When he arrived back home, his father was in the main parlour, reading a book with a blanket tucked around his body. He smiled at his son.
After formal greetings, he spoke to Rickie.
“You seem to be in a pretty good mood. Is the job that enjoyable?” Rickie didn’t hesitate, and, as he turned to head upstairs, said, “I have a terrific set of employees.” He didn’t see his father sit up straighter, a thoughtful expression on his face.
After Rickie disappeared up the stairs, the older man reached for the phone by his elbow, and dialed.
“JoAnne? I have a special request project for you…”