Friday, May 25, 2012

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 77 & 78

Chapter 77

Once on shore, there was another happy reunion of the Harem; several of them had arrived early to the Command to assist in rescue efforts, only to be told the couple had been found. 

After another short debrief, Rickie firmly declined any other attempts to talk to them and quickly ushered Meaghan out to the parking lot, where his SUV waited.

Meaghan stretched and yawned.  “I am glad to be out of there.  Are we going over to your house now?  I want to see if Tina is okay, and I know you probably want to see your father.”  Rickie grabbed her arm and backed her into the side of the Rexton.  Meaghan looked up with wide eyes.

His lips lightly touched her forehead as she gripped his arms.  Then he swooped down and planted a quick but delicious buss across her soft lips.

“Let’s go home.”

~     ~     ~

Rickie called ahead on their way to his house.  The phone was given to his father by one of the staff.

“Meaghan and I have finished debriefing and we are heading there now.  I just wanted to let you know.  How is everything at the house?”

“Everything is well.  I’ve prepared a room for your Meaghan right next to her sister, as I’m sure she will need to rest.  Then we must decide what to do about their house and belongings.  They will stay here until we can make sure they are safe and secure at their own residence.  However long that may take.”  The elder Ahmad said this with satisfaction, and Rickie knew that Meaghan had a worthy adversary in his father if she and her sister decided to return to their terrace house.  His father continued.

“JoAnne has gone to collect the final reports regarding the fire at our France branch, but she return by the time you arrive.  I’ve gone ahead and set up a small supper in case you were hungry.”

“I appreciate it; I’m sure we could both use a little food.  Have the girls been behaving today?”

“Once I told Tina her sister was okay, she sprung right up.  Your sister and Tina are entertaining a neighbor, who just came by see Tina.  I haven’t met her yet, but Tina vouched for her.  She had heard about everything that happened, and wanted to visit and make sure the girls were safe.   Her name is Shel Berry.”

“Thanks, bapa.”  He put his hand over the cell phone and told Meaghan, “Your neighbor En Berry just showed up to keep your sister company.  What’s wrong?”  He asked in alarm as the color drained from Meaghan’s face.

“Don’t let her in the house!  She’s the one that kidnapped me!  She killed Ivoire!”

Rickie swerved out of traffic to a screeching halt on the side of the road, and looked disbelievingly at the now-frightened woman in the passenger seat.

A single curse, then he heard his father drop the phone and call for his servants.

Bapa!  Hello!  Hello?!”

Rickie tossed his phone to Meaghan, then threw the Rexton into gear and powered into the traffic, ignoring the blaring horns from the other drivers.  “Call Raine and JoAnne.  Let them know what happened.”  He reached with his hand and squeezed Meaghan’s icy fingers. 

“We’ll get there in time, don’t worry.”

The words sounded hollow even to his own ears as they headed at breakneck speed towards his home.

Chapter 78

By the time they arrived, the street had been cordoned off by the local police, no doubt set up by Raine.  After showing his credentials, he was allowed to proceed to the estate compound.  Meaghan sat upright in the passenger seat, her hands on either side of her thighs, gripping the smooth leather of the seats.

They drove to the staging area for the command, next to the wall around the compound, the cheerful pink of bougainvillea at odds with the seriousness of the situation.

Rickie was out of the truck almost before it stopped running, and strode over to where Scene Command was staged.  The box-style truck, packed with electronics and communication gear, was a hub of activity.   After introductions, the couple was escorted to desk and chairs situated under an attached awning.  The scene commander began without any preliminaries.

“By the time we arrived, all access to the building was secured; it appears your security system was reset once the suspect entered the grounds, and cannot be remotely accessed any longer.  We have completed a perimeter check, and all doors and windows are locked.  There has been no answer to our hails or telephone calls.  We wanted to discuss our options before taking this further.”

“If she managed to surprise everyone, there should be four servants, my father, my sister, and my sister-in-law,” Rickie spoke tersely, ignoring Meaghan’s sudden start.  She reached out and laced her fingers with his and held on tightly.  “JoAnne, my father’s assistant, was outside the house at the time, but was on her way back.  I thought she would make it here before us.”

The officer made a few notes on the pad in front of him.

Tuanku Ahmad, any idea where the hostages would be kept? And are there any blueprints of your house that we could review?” 

Rickie shook his head. “Any blueprints would be in my father’s study in the house itself.  My guess is that she would still be on the ground floor, since she wouldn’t know where the elevator is, and my father is wheelchair-bound.   More than likely she would be in the study; it’s one of the smallest rooms downstairs and only has a single window partially covered by sago palm.” He flipped the page over on the pad and began a rapid sketch.

“This is the ground floor footprint.”  He marked one room with an X. The officer looked over the drawing and nodded.

“My thanks, Tuanku.”  He keyed the mike attached to his ballistic vest, and sent soldiers to various points outside the perimeter.   After finishing, he turned back to Rickie.

“I have a sniper in place aimed at that window.  The next question is communication; we have been unable to do any type of negotiation because the suspect won’t respond.”

“I can help.” Meaghan popped up, causing everyone to turn and stare at her.  Slightly flustered at the focus of so many stares, she took a quick moment to gather her courage. 

“Shel was my neighbor this past year, so I have her phone numbers.  If she has her cell phone with her, she will probably talk to me.”

The officer took several steps towards Meaghan, held out his hand, and said.  “Give me that phone number and my negotiator will call her.”

“No,” Meaghan refused with a small shake of her head. “I want to talk to her first.”

Rickie grabbed her elbow.  “Meggie, their negotiator is a professional.  It would be best if the police handle this.”

“No,” she reiterated stubbornly, “I know she’ll talk to me, because she is looking for my parents’ files.  I want to make sure my sister is safe, and she might open up to me enough to get more information.”  Rickie nodded, and ran his hand along her arm before releasing her and turning to the scene commander.

“I think Meaghan should try, sir.  I believe that would be the best course of action, especially since she knows her.  The commander thought a moment, and then gave a crisp nod. 
Reaching to a cell phone on the table, he handed it to Meaghan.

“This phone automatically records any conversation.  Okay, if you are ready, En Torno, let’s do this.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 75 & 76

Chapter 75

Hours later, Meaghan woke up from her slumber, and startled, looked around.  Rickie was curled on his side, away rom her.  She reached out to touch his shoulder, but thought better of it.  Unable to go back to sleep, she stood up and walked out of the cave until she reached the stand of palm trees at the edge of the beach.   Daybreak was only a short time away.
Meaghan placed her elbows on a fallen palm tree and looked out unseeingly as the muted colors of the sky gradually brightened.

Rickie eyes opened in the darkened cave, his back feeling cold now that his Meaghan had left.  Sitting up, he tested the bandages and found that no new blood had seeped through.  He carefully stretched, stood up, and padded towards the cave entrance, where he stopped at the sight of her silhouette against the fiery tones of the sky.  After a moment, he walked up next to her and leaned against the same tree.

Meaghan sighed.  “I hope Tina is okay at your father’s estate.  I normally know everything she’s doing, and I’m worried about her.”

“I spoke to her when I was looking for you,” Rickie replied, “and she was fine.  She’s a good kid.”

“Thank you.  I feel a little bit better.”

“You’ve been taking care of her for a while,” Rickie said admiringly. “Your parents used to talk about you two.  Your mother said you were the caretaker and your sister was the free spirit.  I know they were very proud of both of you.”  He didn’t add that her father had called her the ‘mousy’ one, when the reality was so far from that.

Meaghan felt a pang thinking about her parents, but this was an opportunity to get more information.

“Can you tell me anything about what happened to them?”  Rickie heard the plaintive note in the question, and hesitated about replying.  This was not what he expected this morning, but it was important to clear the air regarding her parents.  He dragged a hand across the stubble on his face.

“I can’t talk a lot about what they did at the division.  At that time, a year ago, they were going to Shanghai to meet with one of our operatives, in order to check up on some rumors of Chinese nationals attempting some type of sabotage.  There was nothing in the radio chatter to indicate any problems with the plane.  It just…disappeared.”  Rickie took a deep breath and continued.  “We performed an extensive search and located the wreckage of the plane, but it was in the deepest section of the sea.  We were unable to retrieve anything from the seafloor that could indicate it was a terrorist act, but our experts believe, based on the debris field, that it broke up midair possibly due to some type of explosion.   There was no indication that anyone survived the impact, so we filed our investigation as presumed dead.”

Silence. Then a single sob. 

His heart broke a little, knowing the pain Meaghan was feeling had to be overwhelming.  He stepped behind her and wrapped his arms around her, kissing her right ear before he tucked his head on her shoulder and gently rocked back and forth.  She leaned back and savored the feel of his warm strength around her.  Her muscles slowly unknotted until he was almost holding her up.  He turned her around until he back was against the trunk and his arms bracketed her.

Rickie realised that was the pose they had in her kitchen, so long ago.  He searched her face, and saw the lines of weariness that weren’t there before.  Without another thought, he scooped her up and strode back to the cave, gently placing her on the pallet she had made for them, before stretching out beside her.   He gently pulled her head until it was resting against his heart.

Meaghan tried to pull away.  “We have to somehow find something to contact help…”

“Shhhh”, he said as he tucked back her hair and kissed her nose.  “Just rest for now.”

She sighed and snuggled against him, her arm curled trustingly across his bare abs right above his makeshift bandage.  He could feel her lips curve against his chest.

“Thank you, my Pillow Prince.”

Chapter 76

Rickie floated on his back, directionless light everywhere.  The warm weight at his side told him his Meggie was there.  He curled around his beloved, and felt a measure of peace and contentment he had never experienced before.  He wanted to slip deeper in this wonderful dream.

“Do you have a lot of time to be slouching about?”  An amused voice broke into his dreams, and he frowned, his eyes still closed.  Raine?  What was she doing in his dreams?  He cracked an eye open and nearly yelped when a shadow leaned over him. 

Beside him, Meaghan stirred and slowly sat up.  She looked around fuzzily for a moment, and then brightened up with a squeal.


The reunion was swift and satisfying.  The pair was transport by junket back to the main ship, and Rickie was seen by the unit’s corpsmen.  After a shower and clean, though utilitarian, clothes, they were now digging into breakfast with gusto while Raine explained what had transpired last night.

Much to the chagrin of the APMM forces, the gray cigarette boat managed to avoid their dragnet and escape.  Given that it had been damaged in the collision with the Bayliner, the search grid focused on the area between the Kuching waterfront and where Rickie sent his message.  They were now widening the search to including the Bayliner wreck.

And how were they found?

The Bayliner had a built-in emergency beacon that activated when it sank.  The APMM
found the signal, but had to wait until sunrise to launch the rescue forces.  The helicopter had canvassed the island, but there was no place for it to land, so a Nusa-class ship was launched and was currently offshore.  Divers were also combing the wreck for clues; the body of the extremist had been recovered.  Raine and a small group of APMM forces were dispatched to the island to look for survivors.

“And that,” Raine stated with satisfaction, “is that!”  Meaghan looked amused for a moment before again applying her concentration to the full breakfast in front of her.  Rickie, equally ravenous, nevertheless made sure that the basket of bread and jar of Nutella was conveniently near his woman’s elbow, before grabbing a knife to smear a healthy dose of the hazelnut-and- chocolate spread on his own puri bread.

“So what did the two of you do last night while waiting for rescue?”  The bright spark in her eye showed the Raine was enjoying their discomfiture as they looked at each other and blushed.

“We just managed to reach the island, and all we did was sleep.”  Rickie firmly stated, well aware of the sidelong grins from the crew members.

A noncommittal grunt was all that was heard from Raine, and they reapplied themselves to the food.

After satisfying their hunger, the two of them, along with Raine, met with the command staff to debrief about their adventures.  The APMM forces managed to prevent escape and capture a smaller boat from the terrorist organization; they never made it out of the harbor, and were currently undergoing interrogation regarding their activities.

The gray boat that they chased ultimately escaped; the commander believed that was the same boat that rammed the Bayliner.  Neither the boat nor its murderous crew member had been seen since.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 73 & 74

Chapter 73

The sun was close to the horizon when the island came into view; its shadow reaching out towards them as if in welcome.

Rickie pushed the wallowing boat as best he could, and prayed they would be able to reach it before the engine quit.  Already, it was struggling as water pooled around the inboard.   Meaghan’s attempt to keep the water out of the engine compartment was only delaying the inevitable, but he wanted every possible second.

Meaghan’s arms and wrists ached with the effort to keep the manual pump working.  She paused for a second when, with a gurgling cough, the engine finally died.  She wiped her forehead and squinted through the cabin door at Rickie, who grimly measured the distance still to go.

Rickie felt a moment of panic overcome the throbbing in his belly, and tasted fear when he thought about what they must do.  He took in a breath, ignoring both the pain and the terror. 

“Well, Meggie, we’re within the surf line, but it will still be a bit of a swim.  Are you ready?” 

He turned and looked at her; even disheveled and battered, she snapped a saucy salute and said, “Aye aye, Captain.”  Rickie smiled and felt his panic recede, proud of her attitude. 

“That’s my girl.”  He reached into the hold and pulled her out.  They both stood by the wheel and looked at the green and grey outcropping rising up from the water.  They were close enough to see individual features, but they were still many meters away from the shoreline.

Rickie placed a bright orange life vest on Meaghan, making sure all the straps fit snugly, before he strapped on his own.

By then the forward motion of the boat ceased; it now wallowed between the waves, directionless and still sinking.  Rickie grabbed up the remaining life vests and what useful equipment he could find, and roped it together.  He reached out his hand and linked the two of them together.  He pulled her into his arms and kissed her gently on the lips as she molded herself against him.

“Are we ready?”  He asked as he leaned his forehead against hers.  Meaghan cupped his cheek by way of a reply, and then squared her shoulders.

“Let’s do this.”

Rickie nodded, and using a piece of the rope, tied it around Meaghan’s waist, playing out approximately ten feet before securing the other end around to himself.

By now the vessel was low in the water, and rapidly filling up influx of seawater through the cracks in the hull.  It was only a matter of minutes before it was gone, and Rickie wanted to be away from it by then.  He lifted Meaghan into the water, handed her the precious package of belongings, and slipped into the water.  They both began paddling towards the shore, and neither noticed when the Bayliner and its grim cargo finally disappeared under the waves behind them.

What seemed like hours later, they finally found footing in the white coral sand and all but crawled until they reached the warm dry sand above the tide line.  Taking a moment, Rickie untied them and put the rope with the packet of possessions. 

“Let’s go see if we can find some shelter for the night.  It’s already close to sunset.”

Somehow they managed to stagger to a small cave in the rocky cliff a short distance from the water.  It offered little comfort, but was better than spending the night exposed on the beach.  Rickie sat down and leaned against the cave wall, and motioned Meaghan to join him.

As she approached him, Meaghan glanced down at Rickie and her eyes widened in alarm.  The spreading stain on Rickie’s shirt appeared like a black abscess on his abdomen in the fading light.  She dropped down to the cave floor and focused on the injury.

“What did you do?” She demanded, and Rickie stood still as his Meaghan reached out and touched the stain; she pulled her hand away and saw the smear of fresh blood.  “Sit here, and don’t move,” Meaghan ordered Rickie before going back outside and looking around the area for useful items.

Chapter 74

Rickie leaned up against the side of the cave, holding his hand over his wound.  The flow of blood had appeared to stop, but he was afraid it would start again with the slightest provocation.  Instead he was forced to watch Meaghan as she prepared for their stay tonight.

Meaghan first brought back several armfuls of palm leaves, which she arranged on the cave floor before folding over a part of the tarp that had come with them from the boat to form a pallet.  Next, she gathered together several stones into a circle and filled it with dried leaves and small branches, with another fuel pile placed against the cave wall.  The supplies from the Bayliner included waterproof matches and several bottles of water, but no rations.

As time passed, it became totally dark, and Rickie carefully stood up, intending to go look for her.  Once past the artificial light of the fire, his eyes adjusted, and he was able to see with the help from the starlight.  Meaghan was just returning, her face flushed and triumphant. 

She carried an armload of bright pink globes, and Rickie winced when he realised what they were.

“I found some ripe engkala, so we won’t starve tonight!” 

Meaghan’s bright face shone in the faint light, and Rickie decided to grin and bear it.  “Did you manage to find a rice cooking tree as well? Or at least a durian or two?” 

She playfully bumped his hip as she carried her cargo back to the cave and laid them on a palm leaf.  She began to prepare the fruits, popping off their caps and stems.  Rickie ate his share with good grace, even though he normally didn’t like the avocado-like taste.  They shared a bottle of water, sitting across the fire in perfect camaraderie. 

Rickie loved watching the colors from the fire play across her face, as she finished the meal and turned her eyes to his wound.

Meaghan carefully unbuttoned and pulled back the shirt.  The sight of his hard abs momentarily distracted her before she zeroed in on the wound.  The bandage was completely soaked through, but she didn’t want to remove it in case it was slowing the blood loss.  Using the arms of the bloodied shirt around his torso, she fashioned a sling around his waist.

Rickie lifted his arms over his head as Meaghan came in close under his arm to wrap the shirt around his torso.  He couldn’t resist dropping his arm across her shoulders and kissing the top of her head.

“Rickie!” she admonished, smiling a moment before applying herself to her task.  Once done, she pulled back and looked at her handiwork.  The majority of the shirt was folded into a crude bandage; the sleeves tied around him to put pressure on the bandage.  She hoped it would be enough.  She assisted him down until he was supine on this pallet.

The light from the mouth of cave had gradually faded as the sun went down, and the temperature began dropping.  Rickie began shivering, and Meaghan curled up next to him and pulled the edge of the tarp over both of them, in an attempt to give him her body heat.  He turned into her and wrapping his arms around her, effectively trapping them together. 

She looked with marvel at his face, tracing the lines of fatigue with her eyes.  Her poor prince.  She traced the arched wings of his eyebrows with her finger, and then lightly kissed his lips.  He stirred slightly and tightened his arms around her, but never woke up.

She laid her head upon his arm and also fell into a deep sleep, done in by their ordeal.

Engkala fruit.

The Prince and his Harem - Ch 71 & 72

Chapter 71

Rickie’s face felt stiff with salt spray as he finally reached the speeding Bayliner.  So far, the mercenary behind the wheel hadn’t noticed the pursuit, but it was only a short amount of time before they became aware of his pursuit.

Suddenly, the big boat began to slow down, and Rickie quickly cut his own engine.  The mercenary swiftly looked behind her and met Rickie’s eyes; something had alerted her to his presence.  She slewed the boat around and Rickie was buffeted by the wash.  Thinking quickly, he made the decision and accelerated towards the bow of the other vessel.

Rickie felt the impact to his shoulder as he jumped and rolled onto the bowsprit.  He quickly got his feet under him and crouched with his gun in his hand.  He did not see anyone through the windshield; the impact of his jetsprint had knocked the mercenary away from the wheel.  The throttle was still open and the boat charged on as the woman came to her feet. Narrowing her eyes, she pulled out a semi-automatic pistol and began firing as Rickie, who could do little more than flatten himself to the deck. 

The gunfire paused as the magazine emptied, and Rickie used the opportunity to squeeze off his gun.  She dodged to the port side, and he leaped through the walkway into the aft deck, only to stop short.  The reloaded gun was pointed unerringly at his head; the woman had changed magazines in a split second, as fast as any member of PASKAU.

For a suspended moment, they stared at each other: blue-gray and sky blue eyes sparking the air between them.

“That perempuan is going to cost you your life,” Shuk growled.

“If so, she is worth it,” Rickie replied. 

A sneer greeted this statement, and he readied himself for a final desperate charge.

Suddenly, there was a thump and the boat slewed wildly to the side; a dark gray cigarette boat had smashed into the side of the Bayliner.  The woman lost her footing and went down, her weapon flying out of her hand and sliding to the rear of the vessel.  Rickie risked a look at the other boat and caught a brief glance at Ani behind the wheel, but by then the white-haired mercenary had risen from the slippery deck, a long knife in her hand.

Rickie froze; there was no way he could bring his gun to bear before she reached him.  He dropped the weapon to the deck behind him.  Her eyes involuntarily followed it, and he lunged for her knife hand. 

They grappled; he elbowed her face, causing a fountain of blood out of her nose.  Cursing, she swept his legs out from under him, and he landed on his previously injured side.  He felt the sutures tear but had little time to think about it before she was above him and swinging the knife down.

He rolled away, striking her leg and causing her to land on her knees close to the cabin door.  She smiled a nasty smile, and then dove for the cabin door. 

And Meaghan.

Without thinking, he bellied down towards his gun, grabbed it and fired a single shot at the retreating back.  The woman paused as a red rose of blood bloomed bright against her white hair and she fell into the cabin.

There was no time for Rickie to react before he heard a yell off the starboard side of the Bayliner.  He looked up to see a woman dressed in jeans, standing on the other boat, a fully-automatic Colt M4A1 carbine pointed at him.  He had only a moment to squeeze off a few rounds towards the other boat before she opened up.

Chapter 72

Rickie dove for the deck as bullets buzzed over his head and ricocheted into the side of the boat.  The barrage continued until he heard an audible [click], indicating the magazine was empty.  He braved standing up and looking over at the cigarette boat, which looked worse for the collisions it had endured.  Ani was slumped over the wheel; his wild shooting had managed to find a target.  Actually two, as the engines changed pitch and lost its smooth roar.

“This isn’t over yet!”  The woman snarled over the sound.  Smoke was beginning to pour out of the inboard engine compartment; she looked over, cursed, and looked back at Rickie.  She strode over to the wheel and pulled the dead weight of Ani off the captain’s seat onto the deck. 

Rickie could do nothing but watch as she threw the throttle forward and powered the boat away from them.  He did not want to jeopardize Meaghan any further.  Indeed, his beloved was shakily climbing out of the cabin, and, to Rickie, there wasn’t a more welcome sight.  He pulled her up the rest of way and began running his hands over her arms and body, ignoring her protests.  He lingered over the bruises already formed underneath the restraints, then travelled upwards until he gently touched the imprint on her cheek, and rubbed his thumb on her broken lip.  Finding no severe injuries, he pulled her into his arms and held her tight, thankful she was alive.

Sayang,” he breathed into her hair.  She ceased her struggles at the whisper, and her hands hesitantly came around and held onto his arms, the jingle of the chains an obscene reminder of her ordeal.  He gentled his arms, but still kept her tucked against his heart.
After a moment, she pulled back and looked at her man.  She gasped at the blood on his shirt; the exertions must have caused the sutures to tear. 

“Rickie!”  He looked down where she was staring and realized what happened.

“They’ve pulled a little, but it’s fine.  We need to try and get someplace safe.”

“There’s a problem.”  Meaghan tried to keep a calm tone. “Water is pouring in from underneath the boat.”

Rickie jumped down into the cabin and saw the body of the mercenary, facedown and unmoving.  Once he was sure she was dead, he looked around and was shocked to see the damage.  Above the waterline, the slanted rays of the lowering sun shone through several long cracks in the hull, and below it he could see the water seeping in and starting to cover the low-pile carpet.  Since the engine was slightly lower than the living quarters, it was going to flood first.  He made his way aft to the engine compartment.

The housing around the bilge pump was damaged from one of the impacts and inoperable. 

There was a manual pump with a hand crank, but would not be able to keep up with the amount of water pouring into the stricken vessel.

He searched the body until he found the cuff keys, then climbed out of the cabin, and immediately unlocked the leg- and wrist shackles, kissing the inside of her wrists by way of an apology.

“Meggie, do you think you could try and manually pump as long as you can?  It may be the only way I can get us somewhere safe.”  She bit her bruised bottom lip and nodded.  He showed her the mechanism, gave her shoulder a squeeze in encouragement, and climbed back up.

Looking at the GPS viewfinder, he detected a small island several kilometers away.  It was the closest land he could find, so he set the heading due west and accelerated to full throttle, praying the boat would stay afloat long enough to make it there.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 69 & 70

Chapter 69

Rickie racked his brain on the best course of action in this situation.  The fact that the kidnappers hadn’t gotten any information from Meaghan likely meant she was ignorant where those files, if they existed, were located.  On impulse, he called his home.

Surprisingly, his father answered.  “Ahmad Residence.”

Selamat, bapa. I’m looking for Tina.  Is she there?”   His father gave a half-amused, half-exasperated laugh.

“She and Sethe are currently pulling out every branded shoe and dress in your sister’s closet.  The staff are all chattering about it.”

“How do you feel about it?”  In spite of the gravity of the current situation, he wanted his father to accept the Torno sisters.  He shouldn’t have worried.

“She is a delightful young woman, and has brought smiles to your sister as well.  I think she’ll make a fine and enjoyable addition to this family.  And I can picture your expression right now, son.  Just because I’m a little slower doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with my eyes and ears.  You have my approval.”

Terima kasih, bapa.  I promise we will have a formal introduction soon.” Rickie felt tight in his chest at the love he felt for his father.   He waited a moment to settle himself.

“I’ll get her on the phone right now.  And Rick, be careful.  After the scare at Compliant # 3, I just want my son to be happy and safe.  I love you, Rick.”

“I love you, too, bapa.”  With a throat-clearing sound, his father put the phone down, and Rickie thought neither one of them expressed their feelings well.

Soon enough, Tina’s voice came on the phone, sounding livelier than he had heard it recently.

Abang Rickie!  Have you found her yet?”  He was sad to squelch the eagerness in her voice.

“Sorry, Leaf, I haven’t.  But I wanted to ask a question.  Did you parents leave anything with you two when they left this world?  Any files, paperwork, memory cards?  It might be important.”

There was a pause, and Rickie held his breath.

“Nothing that I know of,” Tina replied, and Rickie deflated.  “We kept some personal stuff, you know, like their wedding album, family pictures, things like that.   Our old couch, but it’s all torn up from whoever broke into our home.  I can’t think of much else.”

Rickie pondered for a moment while he moved alongside a skiff that had a family of five.  One of the little boys pointed at his boat, excited, and Rickie absentmindedly waved.

“Did you bring any of the papers with you to the estate?” Rickie asked.

“Most of it, why?”

“I’d like you to go through it and look for anything…” Rickie suddenly remembered that she didn’t know about her parent’s job, “…not related to the family.  Something with names, dates, events, along those lines.”

“Okay, I’ll look right now.  Will it help find my sister?”  Tina clearly was focused on Meaghan, even though she was having fun with Sethe.  Rickie understood the sentiment.

“I think it will.  Call me if you find anything, okay?”


Chapter 70

Rickie had worked his way to the outer edge of the flotilla.  Away from the raceway, the boats were larger and grander, stately reminders of the disparity between the classes.  Rickie was about to power up when Raine called his cell phone.

When he answered, she immediately spoke.

“We’ve got a runner, a gray cigarette boat.  The APMM are chasing it, but it’s got some muscle in the engine compartment.  I wanted to let you know.”

Ricke felt excitement.  “Where is it headed?”

“Northeast, towards Pulau Burung.  They’ve launched the bird, but they don’t have a visual by air yet.  The rib boats are doing the best they can to keep up, though.” 

Rickie started looking around, trying to plot a way through the larger ships.  He needed to reach the open water quickly, to see if he could assist in any way.  He frowned when a familiar boat peeked between two large yachts, also heading out of the harbor.  Something about it reminded him of something.

“Rick? Rick?  Hello?  Are you still there?”  Raine’s voice brought him back to the conversation at hand.

“Yes, I’m still here.”

“Good. The commander doesn’t want you haring off as part of the chase.  He requests you stay here until they have secured the other vessel and confirmed the identities of the persons aboard.”  Raine paused.  “And I don’t think it was so much a request as a demand.  Please sit tight for now.”

By now the big black and white cruiser had reached the mouth of the harbor, and white froth erupted from behind as the powerful engines were engaged, and it began accelerating.  Rickie’s eyes went wide when he made the connection.

The black and white Bayliner, underneath his gas rig.   The one Ani escaped in, disappearing into the night sea.

“Raine, did they ever find the boat that was at the sabotage scene?”

“No,” came the reply, and Rickie knew where Meaghan was.

“Raine, I think I found something.  I’ll call you later.”

“Rickie?  Rickie!  Don’t you…”  The rest of the call when unheeded when Rickie switched off his phone, tucked it in his back pocket near his gun holster, and through the jetsprint into drive after the larger vessel.

~     ~     ~

Meaghan felt every bruise on her body as the boat bounced along.  She had managed, with great effort, to slide the tarpaulin off, and sit up.    Nothing could be seen through the narrow windows but white sprays of water as the boat struck another wave. 

She looked around to see if there was anything useful to her, but all she saw were safety orange life jackets, rope, and other safety items.  Nothing that could help her with the chains or use as a weapon.

She knew Rickie would never give up looking for her, and held that thought like a tiny flame to chase away the coldness of despair that threatened to overwhelm her.

~     ~     ~

The swells threatened to throw the little boat out of the water, but Rickie grimly hung on, fighting the steering as he incrementally closed the distance between him and the black and white Bayliner.

Suddenly a large wave struck the starboard side of the speedboat, causing it to slew around, and Rickie was nearly tossed over the side.   By the time he gained control, the other vessel was much farther away.  He pounded the steering wheel in aggravation.  He pulled his cell phone out, still keeping an eye on the direction of his prey.  He only had one bar of signal, so far from shore, but he managed to call Raine; it promptly dumped into voicemail, and he cursed his luck before leaving a message.

“Raine.  Look, she’s in a big black and white Bayliner, approximately 10 metres long, with a white airwing stabiliser.  We’re heading northwest out of Kuching Harbor.  I’m almost out of sight of land now.  Hurry!”

With that, he tossed the phone to the floorboard, and aimed the little jetsprint for the retreating yacht.

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 67 & 68

Chapter 67

Rice dumplings, wine and dragon boats define the Duanwu Festival.  Generally held in the fifth lunar month, countries all around the South China Sea have embraced this Chinese holiday.  The human-powered longboat races is one of the most popular traditions, which meant both the harbor and the waterfront teamed with people and pleasure craft, jockeying for the best position to view the races.

To Rickie, all this additional confusion was an added frustration in finding the enemy. From huge luxurious yachts to small gigs containing a single family, the water was a panoply of noise and color.  Throttling back, he slipped between a pontoon boat containing European tourists drinking champagne, and a small wooden boat containing a wizened grandfather selling wrapped packages of rice dumplings.

His cell phone began ringing, and Rickie glanced down to see that it was Raine.  He grimaced but answered it, then pulled it away from his ear immediately and waited until Raine stopped to breathe.

“Raine, everything is fine, don’t worry.”

“Rick, your employee just showed up at headquarters.  What are you doing, going out on your own? Do you want to jeopardize this operation?  Do you want to put Meg in more danger?”

Rickie felt close to losing his composure.  “I haven’t done anything besides take a boat out into the harbor.  If I find anything, I will call you.” At the silence, he burst out, “I love her!  And I didn’t protect her!  I have to do this, can’t you understand?!”

A short laugh greeted this.  “Well, I lost the pool.  I had expected it would be the end of June before you pulled your head out and decided you loved her.  Damn, Cynthia beat out JoAnne, too. 

“Okay,” her voice gained a professional edge, “you’re already out there, so there’s nothing to do about that.  You know we’ve got the two patrol boats out there and a helicopter on standby; you were there for the briefing.  Without a radio, you’ll need to call me directly if you find something, and I’ll coordinate it with the team.  We all want her safe and the enemy captured, so don’t do this on your own.”

Rickie felt a wave of gratitude towards his friend and colleague.

“Thanks, Raine.”

“Just let me win the wedding pool.”  She disconnected before he could reply.

He allowed himself a tiny bit of amusement, then concentrated on the task ahead.  He continued to scan the colorful display in front of him, trying to mentally will a connection with Meghan.

He had a feeling time was running out.

Chapter 68

Meaghan was battered, inside and out.  Shel kept up her interrogation while the older mercenary applied painful pressure points or physically struck her, until Meaghan felt wrung out.

“I didn’t even know they were spies!  I don’t know anything about this!”  She protested through bleeding lips.  Shel shrugged.

“Meg, they still could have hidden a thumb drive or memory card somewhere.” Shel sat back, annoyance cracking her previous expressionless demeanor.  “This is getting tiresome, and we’ve been here long enough.”   She reached for an incongruously pink phone with a Hello Kitty case and dialed. 

Rickie grabbed his phone and immediately answered it, recognizing the previous phone number of the kidnappers.

“Mr. Ahmad, so glad to pick up the phone so quickly.  You know we are serious about this.  The Tornos wouldn’t like you putting their daughter in such a situation.”

“I won’t do anything until you let Meaghan go,” Rickie bit out, still scanning around him for anything, any clue to stop this feeling of helplessness.

Shel chuffed. “You know that’s not how it works, Prince.  Yes, I know of your reputation in the government.  You also need to know how serious we are.” She nodded to Shuk, who proceeded to twist Meaghan’s upper arm until she elicited a cry.

“Okay!  I’ll find it!  Just don’t hurt her anymore.”  Rickie gritted his teeth, overwhelmed with the need to pummel something.

“Very good,” Shel purred, “I’ll call back in an hour.”   She disconnected the call.  In the meantime, Shuk was on the radio with someone, and, when she signed off, she walked over to Shel and respectfully nodded.

Shao Xiao, Tiger Team advised the maritime boats are getting nearer to our current location.”

“Then, we are going to split up and reconvene at our rendezvous point.  Call in Tiger to pick me up; you’ll proceed alone so don’t bring attention to yourself.  We’ll make the diversion.”

Shuk saluted and took the ladder to the upper deck.

Shel looked at Meaghan huddled on the cushion.  “Your lover has run out of time.  Pity all his effort will be for nothing.”  With no further words, Shel left Meaghan alone in the cabin. 

Through the open door, however, she could faintly hear their conversation abovedeck.

“We’ll see up at our next location.  Shuk, ever forward.”

“Thank you, Shao Xiao. Good hunting!”

Meaghan felt the boat rock, then the sound of an engine accelerating away.  The cabin door was momentarily blocked as the figure of Shuk descended the ladder.  She pulled a heavy tarpaulin out of a locker, and, without warning, tossed it over Meaghan, completely enveloping her in its heavy folds.

“Just stay still like a good little girl, si manis, until I come back down here.”   She climbed back out, shut the door, and the boat started moving.  Meaghan desperately tried to wiggle out from under the stifling cloth, and do anything to stop them from leaving.

Fatigued after a short time, she could only concentrate on pulling air into her lungs as the vessel moved farther away from shore and safety.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 65 & 66

Chapter 65

Rickie stood unmoving on the beach, his binoculars trained at the Waterfront some distance away, where constantly-shifting throngs of people swirled around, intent on watching the colorful boats and their rows of straining men.  Outside the buoys marking the race course, vessels large and small lay quietly at anchor.   And in one of them, his very heart lay trapped and surrounded by evil.

Lost in reverie, he was startled by a touch at his elbow.

“The boat’s almost here,” Raine said, “We need to go down to the APMM dock and meet them.”

After showing their credential to the guards, they drove to the main pier and parked Raine’s car.  As they walked down to the dock, a dark gray cigarette boat eased up alongside the deck, and an unsmiling soldier in dark fatigues on the bow tossed a rope, which Raine expertly caught.  She wrapped it around the capstan and pulled, causing the boat to move towards the bumpers.  When the vessel touched the side of the dock, both Rickie and Raine jumped aboard.

Raine and Rickie made their way aft to the staging area.  There the STAR troops, dressed in their American-style Army Combat Uniforms and already familiar from the sabotage situation, were being briefed on the available information.

“We have two rigid hulls here right now to try and find the terrorists’ boat or boats.  From what intelligence data we have, we know that the vessel containing the hostage is constructed, at least partially, of Fiberglas.   We have set up a discreet perimeter around the harbor, and are scrutinizing each vessel, although we are only detaining and searching a percentage of these.

“Our analysis states that these terrorists will remain in the area until they are able to procure the files they are looking for or can confirm that it has been destroyed.  We are not sure what information is entailed in that data;   the Special Branch has determined that this covert organisation may be the one that their agents were investigating approximately a year ago.

“Are there any questions?  Good luck, men.”  As a whole, they saluted and then began preparing their gear.  Rickie walked up to the front podium.

Leftenan Komander, which team am I assigned to?”  The commander shook his head.

“You are injured, and a liability in this operation.  I request that you stay at the command base  and wait for any new information.”  Rickie looked ready to argue, and the officer clapped a hand to his shoulder.  “You need to think what’s best for the hostage.  You’ll be doing her a disservice if we need to abort the operation to return you to base.”

Rickie bowed respectively, but privately fumed to Raine once they were back on shore.

“How can they keep me out of this?!  I’ve already been up against them, and I know their strengths and weaknesses.  I have a better chance of spotting them.”   Raine pulled back on his arm to slow down his stride.

“You have to admit, Rickie that you are badly injured.  Everything he said is correct, and I agree with him.  You are too emotional here, my friend, and that’s not what’s needed now.”

Rickie nodded curtly, then took a deep breath and blew it out.  “I understand.  I just hate feeling helpless.”

“You wouldn’t be our Prince if you just sat on your bum,” Raine chuckled.  She gave him a quick hug.  “Are you going to come with me to the command post?”

Rickie shook his head. “I think I want to be by myself for a little bit.  Don’t worry, I won’t sneak aboard.”  Raine looked at him with narrowed eyes, but then shrugged.

“Call me if you need a ride. Otherwise, if you start walking, you’ll be there in about 15 minutes.” She pointed out the building a short distance away, and Rickie nodded.  And with that, Raine walked to her car and drove off with a wave towards the main building.

As soon as Raine’s vehicle was far enough away, he opened his cell phone and called the personnel at his boat house.

Chapter 66

Meaghan looked at her ersatz neighbor and friend, and internally shuddered at the coldness in her eyes.  Still, she mustered up enough of her flagging courage to ask a question.

“Why did you do all this?”

“I love Bangkok.  A lot of people like the Damnoen Saduak and all the boats floating in the market, but that’s too touristy and busy for the work that I do.  Had your friend gone there instead of the Khao San Road district, perhaps we wouldn’t have met up and she would still be able to talk.  As it was, she refused to give us any information right up to the end.  A remarkably strong woman, that Iviore.”

Meaghan couldn’t believe her ears. “You killed her? But why?  What did she do to you?”  She could hear the edge of hysteria in her voice, but tried to hold on to her tenuous control.

Shel nodded at Shuk, who stood up from the office chair and moved to casually lean against the bulkhead.  Shel swiveled the chair and sat down, leaning her arms against the seatback.

“She was a minor obstacle; she figured out we were laundering money through the company you worked for.  It was funny, funneling the money that was funding the destruction of that family’s business.  The furor was fantastic when Mystisith did such a fine job with the trail.” Shel smiled, but it never reached those chilly eyes.  “I don’t suppose it really matters what you found in those files. That is now just a footnote in all this.” She finished dismissively. Then she leaned forward and Meaghan involuntarily shrank back.

“Where are your parent’s files?”

“I don’t know.” 

Without warning, Shuk stepped forward from the bulkhead and slapped Meaghan.  She fell back onto the bunk with the jangling of the chains competing with the ringing in her ears. 

The older woman grabbed her wrist shackles and yanked her back up.

Shel continued conversationally, as if nothing happened. “If the BKN had the information, they would have already shut us down.  They didn’t have anything on their persons; we even check to see if it was embedded somewhere on their bodies.  It wasn’t in their belongings, so the only thing left is…you.  Well, you and your sister.”

“Don’t you dare touch my sister! I’ll kill you first!” Meaghan all but yelled, but Shel appear unaffected.  Shuk, however, pulled her hand back to strike her again, only a sharp rebuke from Shel stopping her.  She reversed until her back was again on the bulkhead, but the casual stance from before was gone.  Instead, she looked at Meaghan with happy malice.

“So, where could your dear, dear parents secured it?  It’s going to be a long afternoon for you if we can’t figure this out.”

~     ~     ~

Rickie thanked his employee as he stepped inside the rollcage of the small 2-seat jetsprint boat.  It was a vessel he normally used for racing between friends.  The 5-meter long straked vee-hull made it very maneuverable and the 6-litre engine produced up to 650 horsepower on aviation fuel.   It was not a boat for the open water, but Rickie thought it was perfect for inside the harbor, as he intended to look for Meaghan no matter what.  He waved at the now-stranded worker and hurried to the other end of the harbor, where the Duanwu Festival was in full swing.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 63 & 64

Chapter 63

Meaghan looked back at her jailor, who looked relaxed and unconcerned as she stared down at the bed with sharp blue/gray eyes. 

“So, I can see those questions floating around your eyes, perempuan bodoh.” Meaghan recoiled as the insult slapped at her.  “Go ahead and ask away, if you can handle the answers.”

Meaghan tried to pull her thoughts together.  “Does my kidnapping have something to do with the tower sabotage attempt?”

“You’ve been a thorn in the side of this organisation long before that little bit of mischief.  Your parents were always in search of our group, but they were clever enough to have hidden their offspring from us.  It’s a pity about your parents last year.”  The last part was said with a sneer.  “If they had cooperated with us during interrogation, you would have never been involved.  Of course, it turned out great for us, since you got drawn in on your own.”

“You…how do you know about my parents?”  Meaghan tried, but could not entirely remove the plaintive note in her voice, something that did not go unnoticed by the mercenary, who smiled unpleasantly.

“They never made it onto that commuter plane; we caught them, squeezed them for information, and then disposed of them.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the file containing the information on us.  We’ve been searching ever since; that’s why we seized their assets by faking loan documents, but it wasn’t anywhere in their belongings.”

Meaghan’s mind whirled with this new knowledge.  Her parents didn’t leave her and her sister without anything; it had been stolen from them.  And Shel?  She remembered when the woman moved into the neighborhood, so soon after her parent’s accident, and the different times she tried to get inside her house.

They think I have this file,’ Meaghan thought.  Her breath hitched when she realized that her ersatz neighbor had a hand in her parent’s murder.  The anger she felt bolstered her.

“I want to speak with Shel.”  The woman examined her for a moment, and then gave a sharp nod.

“She wanted to know when you were awake.  I’m sure you two have a lot to talk about.” She smiled, but there was no humor in it.  She pulled out a black phone from her back pocket and flipped it open.

Shao Xiao Shel, this is Shuk.  She’s awake.  Ok.”  She snapped the phone shut and walked back to the desk.  “You’re about to get your wish, perempuan bodoh.”

After a very short time, the cabin door opened, and a shaft of sunlight haloed her neighbor and former friend.  Shel was wearing a faded pair of jeans and a blue check man-styled long sleeve shirt knotted at her waist.  Her boyishly short hair lent her an almost harmless appearance, but Meaghan was now very well acquainted with the intelligence and forceful personality behind those blue eyes.

“So, are you ready to have a nice chat with me, Meaghan?”

Chapter 64

Rickie hovered behind Hillary, watching as her nimble fingers flew over the keyboard and roller mouse of her personal laptop.  She had already manipulated the video feed, focusing on the background and area around the captured woman, and came to the conclusion that Meaghan was on a floating vessel.   Using some type of sophisticated software, Hillary determined it to be some type of cabin cruiser boat, approximately eleven meters in length.  There were no markings that would help identify the manufacturer, although it did not appear to be a military or government vessel.

Rickie agreed with Hillary’s assessment, but there were many waterways in Kuching, so how could they narrow it down?  Thanks to the Dragon Boat Festival, there was a large influx of pleasure craft in the area.  And was Meaghan even still in Sarawak?

With a large blue headset perched incongruously on her head, Hillary was now analysing the audio signal.  She cocked her head to the side.

“I think I hear something, but I can only pull a fragment around the caller’s voice.”  She clicked the mouse, and a brief noise came over the external speakers.  She played it several times to the rapt audience.

Rickie recovered first.  “It sounds like Mandarin.  Where would that be in Kuching?”

There was murmuring between everyone gathered in the room, then Ahjummabunny snapped her fingers, and all but shouted, “The open theatre at the Waterfront!”  
Rickie felt like kissing her; he walked over and gave her a hug as she awkwardly patted his back.  When he released her, he turned to Raine, who was already on the comlink.

“She must be on one of the private vessels watching the dragon boat races at the Duanwu Festival.  That would put it at the west end of the Waterfront area.  How soon can the troops be mobilized?” 

Raine completed her call and pulled the earpiece off.  “We can head there now, and meet the team at the docks.  Meanwhile, anything else you can get us that would be helpful, please call us.”  A chorus of clapping and cheers from the Harem erupted; Hillary waved them off, still hunched over her computer.

As Rickie and Raine hurried to the elevators, JoAnne called his cell.  Swiftly, Rickie brought her up to date with the information.  JoAnne agreed with Rickie that it was best to keep Tina out of harm’s way.

“I’m taking her to the house now, so your father and I can keep an eye on her.  Just keep us in the loop, if you can.  Oh, and Leaf wants to talk with you.” 

There was noise while the phone was handed off.

“Rickie?”  Leaf asked falteringly, “Is my sister going to be okay?”

Rickie swallowed a sudden lump in his throat. “We’re going to do everything we can, and we’ll get her back.  I’m not willing to lose either of you, alright?”  There was a sigh of acceptance in his ear.

“Thanks.  I love you, Abang.”  Rickie eyes grew moist at Tina’s words.

“I love you too, Leaf.  Stay strong.”  He hung up and then looked at Raine, who was driving like a fiend but still managed to glance triumphantly over at him.

“So you’ve acquired a harem, I see,” Raine smirked.

Rickie shook his head.  “No, I’ve gotten a family.”

Chinese Pavilion and Theatre, West End Waterfront, Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 61 & 62

Chapter 61

The sound of Rickie’s phone rang in the silence.  It was an unfamiliar number, but he answered it.


En Ahmad?”  Leaf’s tentative voice sounded nothing like the happy girl he knew.

“Leaf?  It’s Rickie, how can I help you?”  A small sob was the only thing he heard at first.

“I came home after spending the day at a friend’s house, but Meg isn’t here and someone trashed our house.”  There was more sniffling as Rickie gripped the phone harder.  The voice sounded even younger. “Can you come here, please? I’m scared.”

“Leaf, can you go to your neighbor’s house?” Rickie urgently said, his eyes already darting around to find his car keys.

“I knocked on Shel’s door, but she’s not here, either.  I don’t know what to do.”

JoAnne put a hand on Rickie’s arm, seeming to understand that something bad had happened.  She spoke in a low tone, “Have her go to a public place nearby, and I’ll go get her.”  Rickie nodded.  He strode over to his desk, where he pulled out some note paper.

“Listen to me, Leaf.  I want you to grab your important stuff and some clothes and go to that market by your house, okay?  Do you remember, the one where I ordered the ice cream for your birthday?  I’m going to send JoAnne to pick you up, while I go and find your sister.” 

JoAnne motioned for the phone, and Rickie gave it to her as he scribbled the address of the market.

“Leaf, honey, this is JoAnne.  Is this your cell phone number?  I’m going to call you on mine, and I want us to stay together on the phone until I reach you, okay?”

She gave her number to Leaf, then closed Rickie’s phone and handed it back to him.

Rickie’s phone immediately rang again.  He quickly turned away from JoAnne and opened his phone again, hoping it was Meaghan.  Instead, it read “Unavailable”.  He answered it anyway, and an unfamiliar female voice spoke.

“Good evening, Prince.  I hope you’re feeling proud of yourself regarding yesterday’s events.”

“Who are you?” he all but growled.

“I’m just looking for some information from you.  And before you hang up, you might want to see this.”

A beep on his phone announced the delivery of a video.  Rickie was stunned speechless, his heart in his throat.  The picture was distorted and wavered a bit, but there was no mistaking what he was seeing.

A featureless interior.  And an unmoving Meaghan, her hands in cuffs with leg irons attached to her ankles.

Rickie felt a howl trying to get out as his free hand curled into a fist.  A gasp from behind showed that JoAnne has also seen it.

The video was quickly turned off, and the female voice continued.

“I believe you have something I want.  You and I are going to come to an arrangement.  I will contact you back later for more details.”  The phone immediately went dead.

Chapter 62

Meaghan slowly crawled out of unconsciousness, forcing her eyes open.  Her body refused to obey her commands, and as she became more aware, she realized one of the reasons why.  She was lying on a curved cushion on her left side, her arms and legs shackled. 

Carefully glancing around, all she could see was blank white walls that appeared to be made of Fiberglas.  A low humming and the slight movement of the room made Meaghan think she was on a boat of some type.

She winced as she tried to move to a more comfortable position, which caught the eye of someone.

“Oh, good, you’re awake, perempuan.”  She looked down near her feet where an older woman was leaning back in a chair, near a tiny desk bolted to the cabin floor.  The woman had white hair pulled into a high ponytail, and was dressed in blue urban camouflage pants and a black t-shirt.  She straightened up and walked the few steps to Meaghan, menace in every step; her right hand casually rested on a shiny black sidearm on her right hip, and a sheathed knife was tied off around her left leg.

Meaghan swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly dry, but she licked her lips and attempted to talk.  Her voice came out hoarse.

“Why am I here?”

The answer was succinct and threatening, and she choked back her fear.


~    ~    ~

It had been hours since Rickie’s world was turned over.  Throughout Malaysia, the celebration of King Harijadi Agong was concluded, but Rickie could care less what happened to mark his monarch’s birthday.  He raked his hand through his hair and tried to focus on the displays in front of him. But the picture of his Meggie, chained and unconscious in that video phone call, made Rickie feel like he was losing his mind.   Raine was there to lend a steadying hand, but it was a close thing.

“Don’t worry. We’ll find her.” 

“It’s already been too long, and we haven’t found anything.  Nor have we heard again from the bitch that took her.  She could be anywhere!”  He felt his frustration rise in proportion to his terror, and his hand fisted so hard his nails were digging into his palm.  He wanted to punch something, anything to help with the impotent anger and helplessness he felt.  The rest of the task force was there:  Alua, Jennifer, Ahjummabunny, and MJP25; but since there was little information, they could only provide emotional support.

Rickie’s cell phone rang, and he swiftly answered it.

“Rickie?”  Hillary’s voice was muffled by the sound of wind, “I’m on my way there.  JoAnne called me about what happened, and I want to look at the video feed and see what I can do to help.  I’m bringing my big guns.”  Rickie felt a trickle of gratitude cut through the ice around his heart.  Hope kindled inside him, when he thought about his friends and comrades in arms and their assistance.

Terima kasih, Hil.  Thank you so much. Please hurry.”  After disconnecting, he told Raine, who approved of Hillary’s assistance as well.

“I think it’s a good idea to have her involved; we need different eyes on this.  Also,” Raine snapped her fingers, “I’ll contact Cynthia and see if she’s seen anyone lurking around the office or following Meaghan.  We’re going to find her, don’t worry.”

Rickie just hoped Meaghan would be okay when they found her.

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 59 & 60

Chapter 59

Rickie pulled into an overnight café near her neighbourhood, turned the key in the ignition, and looked over at the silent woman in the passenger seat.  Meaghan slowly opened the car door and slid out onto the pavement, and began walking towards the open door of the business.   Rickie quickly alighted from the vehicle, and caught up with her just inside the lobby.  After waiting a moment to look over his options, he steered her over to a secluded booth, and sat down next to her.  She looked down at her shaky hands.

“How did that man know me without an introduction?  And what was that about my parents?” Meaghan then looked up at him. “And who are you, really?”

He grabbed her hands, shocked at their cold trembling.  “I didn’t mean to hurt or deceive you.  My family has been in business for several generations, but until a half-year ago, I worked for the government security agency.  Thanks to your report, we managed to stop a terrorist group from sabotaging the gas platform.”

“But what is all this about my parents?”

Rickie rubbed her hands between his in an attempt to warm them.  He looked directly into those chocolate eyes, now clouded with confusion.

“They were BKN agents, too.  In fact, I worked with your parents directly, right up until…the plane crash.”

Meaghan looked at him in surprise.  Just then, the waitress walked over to their table.  Rickie ordered two café Americanos, and waited for Meaghan to respond.

“You…you knew my parents?  And you’re telling me, they were spies?”

Rickie shook his head impatiently.  “They were government agents, not spies.  They helped monitor activity between Malaysia and the other countries.  They were heading over to China when their plane went down.”

That knowledge was another blow to her stunned mind; she pulled her hands from his grasp.  “So, you’ve known all along who my parents were and didn’t tell me.  Plus,” she held up a hand when he opened his mouth. “You had me transferred to your think-tank, taskforce, harem, whatever you want to call it.”  Meaghan took a deep breath, the pain of hundreds of icy needles piercing her chest.

“You have been manipulating me all along, Prince versus the poor mouse.  You must have laughed at my naiveté when you were leading me around.  All you had to do was crick your finger and I would do whatever you asked of me.  Did you ever really care for me…?”

Meaghan’s voice trailed off on a sob as tears burned her eyes.  Rickie made a move towards her, but she stepped back, her left hand palm out as if to hold him off.

“Don’t.  I can’t do this now.  I’m leaving.  Since this business is done, there’s no reason for us to see each other anymore.” 

Rickie was ready to argue, but the bright pain those beautiful eyes stopped him cold.  He could only stand there, tears pooling in his eyes as the woman he loved picked up her things and walked back towards the glass door.  Only when he could no longer see her through the café windows did he collapse into the cool vinyl of the banquette, despair welling up from the depths of his soul.

Chapter 60

As the sky turned pink, Meaghan trudged towards her home, feeling drained.  The events of the night had both physically and emotionally exhausted her, and she wanted nothing better than to take a bath, have a good cry, and sink into her bed and sleep.  The noise from the Gawai Dayak celebrations barely registered as she made the turn onto her street.  Her feet quickened as she realized she was almost home.

“Meaghan!”  Her neighbor, Shel, was walking briskly towards her.  Meaghan didn’t feel like talking, but courtesy demanded she respond.

“Hi, Shel.  I see you’re back from your trip.  Look, I’d like to chat, but I’m really tired.  Can we do this another day?”

Shel’s concerned face focused on Meaghan’s.  Nodding, she put an arm around the younger woman’s shoulders and clucked sympathetically.

“I know you’re tired, but there is something I need you to do for me.” 

Meaghan barely registered the bitter-smelling fabric covering her nose and mouth before, without even a chance to protest, she slipped away into darkness.

~    ~    ~

Rickie drove home in a daze, the events of the day and the confrontation with Meaghan leaving him feeling strangely detached.

After coming home, he spent some time explaining to his father what had happened at the FLNG gas rig.  He didn’t tell mention what happened between Meaghan and him; that experience was just too raw to go over. 

After declining breakfast, he went to his bedroom to shower and change, taking care not to get the incision site wet.  When he came out, there was a plate containing fruit, toast, a pat of Nutella, and a glass of juice on the nightstand next to his bed.  He methodically ate, not even noticing the taste.  After finishing his repast, he began pacing in his bedroom, feeling wide awake, then he stopped and pressed the number one on his speed dial.

“Please leave a message after the tone…”  Rickie hung up before the announcement finished, desperately wanting to hear Meaghan’s voice and not some mechanical voice reading a script.

Several hours later, Rickie frowned at his cell phone.  He had attempted to contact Meaghan several times that morning, but her phone stubbornly went to voice mail every time.  He debated going to her house to explain things in greater detail, but was afraid she would refuse to let him in.  He snapped the cell cover shut, shoved it back into his pocket, and resumed pacing his bedroom.

A knock sounded on his door, and his father’s assistant walked in.  JoAnne took one look at his face, and shook her head.

“You’ve got it bad, don’t you?”  Rickie’s protest died as he looked into her eyes, and saw a similar pain. 

JoAnne nodded.  “I don’t regret my daughter, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t hurt over the bastard that fathered her.  You really love Meaghan, don’t you.”

His throat tight, Rickie gave a brief nod, and JoAnne took a step forward and hugged him hard.

“Oh sweetie, I’m happy for you.  But what happened?”

“What is there to be happy about,” Rickie bit out, a wave of anger overriding his more tender emotions, “She doesn’t want to see me, and I don’t know what to do to fix this.”  He pulled away from the assistant and resumed pacing.

JoAnne, ever the practical one, had brought bottled water with her, and handed one to him.

“I think the two of you just need to sit down and talk.” 

Rickie shook his head at his. “I don’t think talking will solve this.  She thinks we are in different social circles, and she thinks I lied to her.”

JoAnne made an exasperated sound.  “You are in different social circles, and you did lie to her.”  Rickie wheeled around and gave her a fierce look, but it was completely lost on her. 

“An omission is still looked at as a lie, and you never told her you worked with her parents or that you knew them personally.  That’s why you two need to talk.  Allow her the chance to know everything, including that you love her, and let her make the decision.  She’s a smart cookie; I know she’ll choose correctly.”

Rickie blindly reached out for a chair and sat down, his muscles suddenly too weary to keep him upright.  His response was quiet, pushing out around the pain in his chest.

“What if she doesn’t choose me?”