Friday, June 15, 2012

The Prince and His Harem - Epilogue

Epilogue – 6 months later

“Thank you so much for coming to our bersanding ceremony.”  Rickie paused for a moment, and surveyed the throng assembled to celebrate the third and final phase of the marriage ritual.

Meaghan was laughing with Tina, who was looking at the henna designs adorning the bride’s arms.  As if she felt his gaze, she looked up at him, warm chocolate eyes meeting his, and he momentarily lost his speech.  A few individuals sent knowing looks towards her, radiant in her white and gold gown.   She walked over the dais where he was standing, and placed her hand on his.  He turned back to the crowd of well-wishers.

“And so begins the final, and best part – the feast!” A cheer rose up from the good natured crowd.  “So eat up and enjoy yourselves!” The partygoers began to line up behind the bride and groom to go down the buffet line.

As they picked up their plates and walked down the table, the groom laughed to the bride, “That is an interesting combination of food.”  Alongside traditional Malaysian wedding fare, plates of sushi were strategically placed next to a large tureen of spaghetti.  Meaghan smiled happily.

“I wanted to include some of your favorite foods.  Besides, there are foreigners here as well.” 

The crowd included personnel from his companies, former coworkers from the BKN, the members of his task group, relatives, and neighbours.  Since the incidents in June, most of the terrorism indicators dropped down, and the Harem was disbanded. 

Rickie thought it was great to see Ahjummabunny, Alua, MJP25, and the others from the think-tank.  In the corner of the tent Meaghan’s boss Cynthia and Hillary were chatting.  His father, along with JoAnne at his side, was at a table talking with several investors.   Leaf and Sethe were over by the entertainment stage; Leaf was playing an impromptu tune on her seruling while the members of the music ensemble followed her lead.  Sethe was trying her hand at playing the congas and laughing.

Rickie was amazed at everything that had happened since that fateful day at Miri in May. Now he was beginning a new phase of his life at the beginning of the calendar year.  He turned to the woman who was now his whole world and kissed her cheek, careful not to spill anything on the lace and satin of her traditional gown.  She smiled with eyes full of love, and carefully brushed a few hidden kernels of yellow rice out of his hair.

~     ~     ~

The makan beradab was winding down as the guests left the property with final wishes for the couple’s happiness.

Rickie hugged his wife, sharing a moment of peace after the hectic pace of the bersanding.

“Thank you, sayangku.  Thank you for becoming my wife.  I love you.”  He placed a hand where the neckline of lace was open, and rubbed his thumb against the curve of her collarbone, before swooping down to nibble at her lips.

After a moment, Meaghan broke away to take a breath, placing a finger against his mouth when he would try to steal another kiss.

“You’ll love me even more, when I tell you a secret.”  She dropped her voice lower and stood on tiptoe to breathe into his ear.

“I have peppermint ice cream and cheesecake in the kitchen just for us later on.”

With a whoop, Rickie picked her up and swung her around, her laughter pealing the sky.  She looked into those cerulean eyes sparkling with laughter and love, and knew in her heart.

This impossible, wonderful man was hers forever.

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 85 (final)

Chapter 85

Rickie was sipping his second cup of coffee when a tentative knock sounded on the office door, a knock that could only be one person.  He grinned as he opened it, and saw the vision in front of him.

Meaghan was dressed in a baju kurung of red, orange and yellow batik.  She looked like a pillar of flame; it was very different from her usual cool tones.

“You should wear more colors like these.”  Rickie wrapped a hand around her waist and pulled her towards him.  Meghan willingly moved into his embrace, putting her hands on his shoulder and tiptoeing up for a kiss.

“That’s a fun way to begin the day!”  A tinny voice came from the desk, and Meaghan broke away to see Raine’s face on the laptop.  She hoped the creeping warmth on her face couldn’t be seen on the other side of the webcam.

“Hi, Raine.  I didn’t know you and Rickie were still talking.”

“You’re looking rosy-cheeked today,” Raine smirked, “I can wait.”

Rickie sat down at the desk, and grabbed one of Meaghan’s hands.  “So what did you find on the SD card?”  He used his thumb to idly stroke across her knuckles.

Raine became all business.  “After you dropped it off last night, we cross-referenced the data and found the organization had been using your Nice office to launder and funnel money to their main organization in Shanghai. Because of the data backups here in Malaysia and the files we received from Meaghan and the late Ivoire, we have a complete history of all their dealings, accounts, and overt personnel.”

Meghan tensed at the mention of her friend’s name; Rickie, sensing her distress, placed a swift kiss to her palm and pulled her a little closer.  She sat on the armrest and rested her other hand against his nape, taking comfort in his presence.

“With the intelligence that we gathered, we coordinated a strike team with the Chinese Ministry of Secret Service, and overnight we captured almost the entire organization, including Mystisith.  She had apparently made it into the country.  She is going to be extradited back to France to stand trial for the explosion.  As far as we know, everyone identified in the Tornos' file has been either captured or killed.”

“So it’s finally over,” Meaghan whispered, a lump in her throat.  After everything that happened, it was an almost painful relief to know that those who caused her parents’ deaths were brought to justice, and that she and her sister were safe.

A lone tear slid down her cheek.  “Thank you,” she said to Raine, almost inaudibly.  Rickie moved her to his lap and caught her in a strong hug as the tears began to flow in earnest.  Rickie nodded at the screen; Raine gave a quick salute and disconnect the comlink.

Rickie rocked Meaghan gently and waited for the storm to pass.  Eventually the tears slowed down, and with a final hiccup, she pulled back and looked at him, still perched on his lap.

Even with her face swollen and red from her meltdown, she never looked more beautiful to him.  He leaned forward to open a drawer on the left side of the desk and pulled out a small purple velvet box.

“Maybe this is the wrong time to do this, but I’ve got you captive now.”  She became still as she realized the import of his words. “I want us to become a true family, to live together, have children together, and grow old together.”  With that, he opened the box and pulled out an exquisite square-cut solitaire diamond ring.  Meaghan touched it with her finger and admired the rainbow flash of the perfect X within the faceting.  “I love you, Meaghan Torno.  Will you be my princess?”  He slipped it on her finger; it was a perfect fit.

“Yes,” she said and began crying again, this time tears of joy.

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 83 & 84

Chapter 83

The constables and agents finally left after what seemed like hours, leaving the house blessedly quiet.  Rickie had left with Raine, the precious memory card in his hand.

Meaghan was upstairs sitting on the edge of Tina’s bed; she marveled at the resilience of her younger sister.

“Where did you find that memory card?” Meaghan asked the drowsy teen.

“Abang Rickie asked me to look for it among everything I brought with me from our house.  I was going through it all when I noticed the frayed edge of ibu and bapa’s wedding album. I wiggled it a little bit, and that card fell out.  I stuck it in my pocket, intending to give to him, but Shel showed up, and she…she…”  Her bottom lip quivered slightly, and Meaghan stroked her hair to soothe her.

“It’s okay, Leaf.  No one is going to come to this house uninvited again.  I’m sure Tuanku Ahmad will make sure of it.”  Meaghan remembered seeing the unraveling threads on the corner of the wedding album after she dropped it, but had no idea that the information that had caused her parents’ deaths was hidden there beneath their smiling portrait on the cover.

A quiet knock on the door had Tina rubbing the moisture from her eyes.  Meaghan stood up and walked to the door, opening it to reveal the wheelchair of the elder Ahmad.

As JoAnne wheeled him in Meaghan felt a wash of gratitude for their actions that day.

“Thank you, Tuanku Ahmad, and En JoAnne, for protecting my sister.”   He made a careless gesture as JoAnne smiled.

“Where did you learn to shoot like that?”  Tina asked JoAnne, her eyes aglow with something akin to hero worship.  “That was amazing!”

JoAnne negligently shrugged her shoulders. “I am an excellent shot with several different weapons.  And I know how to use a grenade, plus I have great aim.  I’m just saying.”

Rickie’s father broke in.

“Never mind that.  I wanted to make sure the two of you were comfortable.”  He shifted in his wheelchair to face Tina.  “How are you holding up?”  Tina climbed out of bed and gave him a tight hug. 

He patted her back as she murmured, “Thank you, Bapa Ahmad, for everything.”  Meaghan gave a start and looked at the pair, but the gentleman looked pleased and not upset at Tina’s words.  He gave a wink to Meaghan and gently pushed the younger girl away.

“Now, get some sleep, and I’ll see at breakfast tomorrow.”  Tina nodded and climbed back into bed; Meghan kissed her cheek and followed JoAnne and the wheelchair out of the room.

Once the door to Tina’s room was shut, Meaghan turned to the pair.

“I can never be grateful enough for everything you two did in taking care of my sister.” Meaghan was alarmed at the tears that threatened but was too tired to stop them.  JoAnne stepped over and embraced the younger woman.  Meaghan felt her spine almost collapse as the weight of everything that recently occurred.  She felt rather than saw her hand being squeezed gently by Rickie’s father before JoAnne led her to another bedroom down the hall.

She barely remembered JoAnne’s assistance in changing into light cotton pyjammas and was asleep almost the moment her head hit the pillow.

Chapter 84

After a long interval of dreamless sleep, Meaghan became aware of heat radiating against her back and a warm weight around her waist.  Looking down, she saw a muscular arm draped over her. She twisted a bit, and gasped at Rickie, who was spooned against her.

At her movement, Rickie tightened his arm and snuggled in closer, planting a kiss on the top of her head.  She thought about elbowing him, but he was still injured.

“Sleep a little longer, sayangku,” Rickie murmured.  Meaghan paused in her struggles to hear the rumble of sound, and loosened a tiny bit.  Rickie smiled into her hair.

“What are you doing here?” She asked in a hushed tone.

“This is my bedroom,” he cheekily answered, “and this is my bed.  I’m happy you were here; it saved me time looking for you.”

Meaghan relaxed further.  “JoAnne brought me here last night.  I didn’t realize it was your room.”  Rickie choked back a laugh, but Meaghan could feel it across her shoulders.

“Remind me to give her a raise.”

Susceptible to Rickie’s charm, Meaghan nevertheless tried to wiggle out of his grasp.  He easily held her, and kissed her neck, freezing her in place.  She tried reasoning.

“I don’t want your father to know I’m in your bedroom.”

“I’m sure he already knows.  JoAnne wouldn’t have done this without his knowledge.  We can ask him at breakfast, if you want.  Sleep now, my Meggie.”

Meaghan decided to worry about the future later and just stay with the man she adored.  “Rickie, please move your arm.”

Reluctantly, he released his hold around her waist, only to have her rotate around until she was facing him.  Reaching out a hand that only trembled slightly; she cupped his face and kissed him, a benediction and a promise.  His breath went out on a sigh as she laid her head against his chest.

They both fell asleep, their hearts beating together in sync.

~     ~     ~

Meaghan woke up when the sunlight from the mullioned windows moved into her eyes.  She stretched, automatically reaching across the bed, only to discover she was alone.  She felt a pang of disappointment, then chided herself.  It was better that he left the room so they weren’t seen leaving it together.

She noticed a small note left underneath a bud vase containing a single bird of paradise.  She carefully slid the paper underneath the crystal and unfolded it.

[Meggie – I wanted you to sleep as long as possible.  I wanted to speak with my contacts at the BKN this morning.  When you are ready, come down for breakfast; I’ll be in the office which is the second door on the left once you reached the bottom of the stairs.

Love, R]

She felt a giddy leap in her heart as she jumped out of bed and padded towards the bathroom.  A thump on the door halted her in her tracks.  Cautiously opening the door, she saw JoAnne there, holding a bundle of colorful cloth.

“Selamat pagi, Meg.  I hope you slept well.  I thought I’d bring you some things to change into.  They’re Sethe’s, but they should fit alright.  And guaranteed to make Rickie happy!” 

Meaghan opened the door and JoAnne stepped inside.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Prince and His Harem - Character List

Ahjummabunny Part of think-tank
Alua Part of think-tank
Ani saboteur on FLNG platform
CMRPrindle Prindle, phone contact - Chinese mole
Cynthia Meaghan's boss
Hillary Jambu Restaurant owner / computer nerd
Ivoire French connection, fled to Thailand
JoAnne Rickie's father's  Assistant
John  saboteur on FLNG platform
Jules took over for Meaghan
Leaf Tina, Meaghan's little sister
MJP25 Part of think-tank
Mystisith French connection - saboteur
Raine BKN Agent, Rickie's former boss
Ricky Rickie the main lead
Sethe Rickie's little sister
Shel Meaghan's neighbor, kidnapper
Shuk Mercenary, kidnapper on Bayliner

Color Legend:

Good Bad Neutral

The Prince and His Harem - Final Inspirations

OT Object Chapter  OT thread
"always be by my side" Ch 47, Ch 79 trope
"Blushy" Ch 8 224
"Kotohuadan" (Thank you in Kadazan) Ch 18  
"Pillow Prince" Ch 75 224
"sequinned silver-thread-embroidered harem pants" Ch 29  
"Why, do I sparkle?" Ch 16  
Alliteration Ch 66  
Back hug Ch 33, Ch 75 trope
Bourbon's Bar Ch 11, Ch 17, Ch 25 223, 235
bubble tea Ch18 220, 229
chocolate cake Ch 12, Ch 33 224
coconut ice cream Ch 12, Ch 33 224
CREATIVE SPARK  thread 56.4.2 223
Durian - "buttery pungent goodness" Ch 16 221,223, 
Durian (name) cake, Ch 8  fruit, Ch 16, Ch 74 224
Eyelash wish Ch 34  
"Fruits" instead of "fruit" Ch 74 238
green apple (cruelsummer's paint color) Ch 16  
Hiding in a cave Ch 73, Ch 74  
Hospital Gurney run Ch 55 trope
In some bad book / Kdrama Ch 37, Ch 58 trope
Internet in Malaysia Ch 9, Ch 16, Ch 47 233
Korean Pop Ch 81 trope
Nasi Lemak Ch 4 221, 226
Number One on the Speed Dial Ch 60 trope
Nutella Ch 60, Ch 76  
Patrick Starr boxers Ch 43  
Raine's cello rant Ch 11  
Rickie's Abs shot Ch 74, Ch 75 236
Soju Ch 11 trope
Tragus piercing Ch 5, Ch 13 223
Tucking hair behind ear Ch 31, Ch 75 trope
White Bathrobe Ch 29 223
Wiggle and pout Ch 25 ongoing

The Prince and His Harem - Glossary

Glossary and Information

Abang – “Older brother” in Malay

Air Harimau Bintang -  The name of Rickie’s boat “Water Tiger”

Apa khabar – “How are you” in Malay

APMM – The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and the equivalent of the US Coast Guard.  The acronym comes from Malay: Agensi Penguatkuasaan Maritim Malyasia

The Astana - The Astana is a palace in Kuching, Sarawak, on the north bank of the Sarawak River, opposite the Kuching Waterfront. It is the official residence of the Governor of Sarawak.

Bapa – “Father” in Malay

BKN –  Malaysian’s National Security Division.  The acronym comes from Malay: Bahagian Keselamatan Negara.  It is a department under the Prime Minister, and is responsible to oversee and regulate the intelligence community for the country

Compliant Tower (CT) – A form of petroleum platform that consists of a flexible narrow tower permanently attached to a foundation on the seafloor that extends up to the platform, used in deeper water (up to 3000 ft) wells

Damnoen saduak – The Floating Market in Bangkok, Thailand; it’s a famous area where hundreds of boats sell everything from produce to hot food

Duanwu / Dragon Boat Festival – Held on the 5th day of the 5th month based on the lunar calendar.  The focus of the celebration is eating rice dumplings known as zongzi, drinking realgar wine, and racing dragon boats, similar to sculls.

Durian – A spikey-skinned fruit popular in Southwest Asia, with custard-like edible seedpods, and is native to Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia.  It is known for have a strong odor

En – Malaysian honorific; the equivalent of Mr. / Ms. / Miss

Engkala – A fruit-bearing tree that grows wild in the Philippines and Indonesia, and cultivated in Peninsular Malaysia

Farang – “Foreigner” in Thai

FLNG – Floating Liquid Natural Gas platform –  A petroleum drill that extracts natural gas from underground petroleum deposits and concentrates it into liquid form for shipping

Forteen – A four-boy Malaysian idol group

Gawai Dayak – A festival celebrated in Sawarak on June 1st.  It starts at sunset on May 31st, and includes a ritual cleansing of the family home, visiting relatives or going to the ancestral homes, dancing and other forms of celebration

Ibu – “Mother” in Malay

Itaewon - Shopping area in Seoul, Korea, known to be the main area where foreigners shop

Jalan – “Road” in Malay

Kakak – “Sister” in Malay

Khabar baik – “I am fine” in Malay

Khao San Road – An area in Bangkok, Thailand which is known for eclectic clubs and fancy restaurants that is a favorite with travelers and tourists

Kotohuadan - "Thank you" in Kadazan

Kuching, Sarawak – A port city on the South China Sea

Leftenan Komander – A Grade 41 Major position in the APMM

Leftenan Madya Maritim - A Grade 32 Lieutenant position in the APMM

Michael Veerapan –A Malaysian jazz pianist

PASKAU – The acronym comes from Malay: PASukan KhAs Udara. A special counter-terrorism force and special operations tactical within the Royal Malaysian Air Force.  It’s main responsibility is to conduct combat search and rescue missions and the recovery of downed aircrew and is a fully-qualified coutnter-terrorist assault unit

Perempuan – “woman” in Malay

Perempuan bodoh – A very strong insult, the equivalent of “stupid woman”

Pulau Burung – An island off the coast of Penang

Pulau  Serasan -  A small island in the South China Sea between Malaysia and Indonesia

Putrajaya - Capitol and government seat of Sarawak

Sayang – “Beloved” in Malay

Selamat pagi – “Good morning” in Malay

Selamat petang – “Good evening” in Malay

Selamat sejahtera – A formal greeting in Malay

Selamat tengah hari – “Good afternoon” in Malay

Seruling – A small wooden flute native to Malaysia

Si Manis – “sweety” in Malay

Siti Nurhaliza – An internationally-known Malaysian singer, songwriter, and record producer

The Solianos –  A four-generation vocal group specializing in 7-part harmony

STAR – Acronym for Special Task and Rescue, it is the Special Forces for the MMEA, tasked with hostage rescue works in shallow waters under MMEA jurisdiction, as well as anti-terrorist action in Malaysian waters alongside the Malaysian Navy

Terima Kasih – “Thank you” in Malay

Tuanku – Traditional honorific for Malaysian individuals that are descended from certain royal lines

Yusof Ghani – Malaysian sculpture artist, specializing in stylized metalwork

Additional Trivia

The speech by the Chinese Foreign Minister in Chapter 30 is fairly accurate to an official statement made in September 2011, disputing India’s state-run petroleum explorer’s 3-year agreement with Petro Vietnam for developing long-term cooperation in the oil sector in certain blocks of the South China Sea.

In February 2011, PETRONAS awarded the first contract for a FLNG platform to a consortium that included Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering.  It was scheduled to have a capacity of one million tons per year.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 81 & 82

Chapter 81

“I can’t believe this whole time you were working for the group that killed my parents,” Meaghan ground out between clenched teeth, as anger and hurt overcame her fear.    The object  of her anger just shrugged.

“Our goals and responsibilities are heavy burdens, but we gladly bear them.  It’s important that the world understand that we are a force to be reckoned with…”

A snort interrupted her.  She looked sharply over at Rickie, his hands on his hips and a cheerful smile on his face.

“You are some of the worst operatives I have ever seen, Berry.  After all this time, you didn’t manage a single goal, and your so-called responsibilities are a joke.” 

The mercenary flinched as if he struck a physical blow, but then she straightened up and stared malevolently at Rickie, who was standing tall but relaxed, as if she was a guest in the house.  Meaghan looked at him with growing concern.  What was he doing?  She almost immediately answered her question: he was making himself the center of attention, and forcing Shel to become angry enough to make a mistake.

Rickie began ticking off on his fingers.

“You failed to destroy or even significantly damage my FLNG tower.  You failed your kidnapping attempt.  You failed in procuring the data file.  You’ve lost troops with no casualties on the other side to balance it out.  Let’s face, perempuan,” Rickie deliberately put as much contempt as possible in his voice, “there was no significance in anything your little group planned.”

Shel narrowed her eyes at him before visibly forcing herself calm.  She took a step behind her and picked up her bright cellphone.

“I still have the card, and with this knowledge, we will correct our mistakes and disappear.  Then your precious BKN won’t discover our next mission until it’s too late.”

“It’s all false information on the chip,” Rickie said bluntly, “I even added some Korean Pop music to it.  Big Bang, to be exact.  I thought it was apropos.” 

Rickie now openly laughed at the incredulous look on her face, and couldn’t resist. “It’s fantastic, baby.”

“Stop laughing.”  The calmness was now gone, and the terrorist was vibrating with anger.   "Maybe this will change your tune.”  And she swung the barrel towards Meaghan, who was still standing near the coffee table throughout this exchange.

“Now!” A deep voice yelled to their right. 

From their respective locations, Rickie and Meaghan sent a startled look over at their family members as Tina unexpectedly leaped from her chair, the fireplace poker in her hand.

The rest of what happened was a blur in Rickie’s mind, yet crystalline clear in slow-motion. 

He saw the mercenary swing her handgun towards the younger girl, sensing the threat that bloomed from that area, and he knew he was too far away to stop her from bringing the gun to bear. 

His father came to life and grabbed a crystal ashtray with his good hand. He tossed it, and the object arced through the air until it connected with Shel’s arm and knocked her gun aside, spinning her slightly so that she now faced Rickie.

Rickie hesitated a moment too long, torn between protecting his love, and saving his family.

The hate from Shel’s eyes was almost palpable as she took aim at him. 

Meaghan felt her heart speed up when she realized how unstable her former neighbor was. Without a thought for herself, Meaghan lunged for Rickie and pushed him out of the way.

The sound of a single shot was loud in the ensuing silence.

Chapter 82

“Meg!”  Tina’s cry was faint over the sound of her blood pounding in her ears.  Face down on the floor, for a brief moment, she thought she was hit.  But there was no sharp pain, only a dull throbbing where her body impacted the floor.  She scrambled to her knees and crawled over to Rickie, who was still on his back, staring at Shel.

“Are you okay?” Meaghan cried, cupping his face and staring into his eyes.  Realizing her back was to the mercenary; she twisted around and placed her body between Shel and Rickie.

Shel was standing, arms akimbo and with the gun hanging loosely in her grip.  A bright red stain spread quickly across the front of her blue t-shirt, as she stared uncomprehendingly past the couple, then, with almost a graceful movement, the woman collapsed to the floor.

Meaghan swiveled around and saw that JoAnne was standing by the door, a vicious looking handgun still pointed at the now-prone extremist.  She walked over to the body and competently checked for a carotid pulse.  Satisfied, she holstered the weapon and smiled at Meaghan, who was stock still for a moment.

“Great timing, JoAnne,” Rickie said, as Tina dropped the andiron and ran to Meaghan, where she hugged her older sister and cried.  Rickie touched Meaghan on the shoulder, not wanting to break in but needing to make sure she was okay.  She gave a steady nod of her head and turned back to Tina.
Rickie stood up, brushed his pants, and walked over to his father, who was watching the two sisters.

“Are you okay, bapa?”  He grabbed both of the older man’s hands; he nodded and squeezed back.

“It was Tina’s idea for me to pretend to be incapacitated.  Even with this almost-useless hand, I was able to untie her while we were alone.  Your sister hid among the staff, but since that woman knew Tina, we couldn’t do that for her.”

The sound of pounding feet was heard outside the still-open door, and soldiers poured into the room with drawn weapons.

“Glad to see the troops have finally arrived,” JoAnne stated sardonically.   Rickie left his father’s side and talked briefly with the lead soldier; he gave him the location of the house staff and Sethe.  The soldier gestured at the other men to withdraw room.  The lead snapped off a salute and followed behind his team after promising to update Rickie.

Meaghan held fiercely onto her trembling sister and stroked her hair, barely noticing the troops leaving the room.

“I was so scared,” the younger girl hiccupped, “but I knew I had to pretend in order to protect everyone.  Why, Meg?  Why did Shel become our friend?”  The last part was said with bewilderment.

“She was after something she thought our parents had,” Meaghan replied.  She decided not to bring up the facts of their parents’ deaths, until she could find a quiet moment with just the two of them.  “I found out that she had our house confiscated, just to find some electronic file.”

“You mean, like a memory stick?  Like this?”  Tina reached into the front pocket of her jeans and pulled out a small blue SD card.

The Prince and His Harem - Ch 79 & 80

Chapter 79

Rickie held a headset to his ear and handed a phone to Meaghan.  With hands that were only trembling a little, she took the offered cell phone, and dialed the familiar number.    Shel picked it up by the second ring, and Meaghan identified herself.

“Meaghan!  So nice of you to call.  I just had a chat with your sister, and was wondering when you would show up.  Did you bring the files I requested?” 

The voice was so calm, as if she was talking about a grocery list, and Meaghan knew that the madness she had glimpsed in the boat now had finally taken over her soul.  She desperately tried to think of something, anything to protect her sister and the other hostages.

“I found it in their belongings, just like you said, Shel.  It was a small memory card; that’s why I couldn’t find it before.  I have it with me, though.  Can I come in and give it to you?”

Ricky vehemently shook his head, but Meaghan ignored him, listening to Shel’s low laughter.

“I know you would find it, Meg,” Shel said with satisfaction, “I always knew you were bright.  Now, what to do about that information.”  Meaghan heard a faint tapping noise, and realized it was Shel’s nervous habit of tapping her front teeth.  'Perhaps she wasn’t as in control as they thought', Meaghan thought, and filed that away in her head.  The tapping noise stopped.

“Ok, Meg, I’ll let you in through the back door, but know your sister’s life is forfeit if you try anything.   Oh, and you can bring your lover along, too.  After all, this is his house and he is the head of household.”

Meaghan felt a cold stab of fear.  “What did you do to Rickie’s father?!”

“Nothing,” Shel,stated matter of factly.  “What can you do with something that just stares and drools?  Your sister, however, is tied and gagged, and the servants are locked in a closet, so I would strongly suggest you cooperate.  Just you, Ahmad, and that file.”

Meaghan could feel the anger rolling off Rickie, but she focused on the leader of this operation.  At the commander’s nod, Meaghan replied.

“Okay, Shel, we’ll do it your way.”

As soon as she disconnected and returned the phone, Rickie grabbed her wrist and pulled her away from the command vehicle to a small stand of palm trees.

“Why would you volunteer to go in?” he all but hissed, “It’s too dangerous!”

Meaghan winced a little at the violence in his voice, but knew he would never hurt her.  Reaching up with her free hand, she gently cupped his face.  With a deep sigh, he pulled her into his embrace.

Muffled against his broad chest, she replied, “If I can help keep our family safe, I’m willing to do it.”  She pulled back and looked into his eyes. “I can do this, because I know you’ll be by my side.”

His anger gone but not his fear, he gave a swift kiss to her nose before he released her, then he reached for her hands.  He entwined their fingers and gave a little squeeze.

“Then we do this together.”

Chapter 80

Meaghan stepped up to the rear door of the house, aware of Rickie just a short step behind her.   The SD card containing false information seemed to burn her hand as she took a deep breath and knocked on the solid teak door.

It opened a crack.

“Let me see the card.”  Meaghan held up the card at eye level, then dropped her arm and pushed the card into her front pocket.

“I want to see my sister,” Meaghan spoke firmly in spite of her terror.  Shel opened the door slightly wider.

“Let’s make sure neither one of you is carrying a weapon. Ahmad, lift your shirt and turned around slowly.”  Rickie complied, aware that the lives within the house were in the balance.

“Now, Meg, your turn.”  Meaghan repeated Rickie’s actions.

“Please, Shel, may we come in now? I want to see my sister.”

The extremist looked past them at the soldiers standing at the perimeter, but, after a brief moment, gave a brusque nod, and opened the door just wide enough to let them both enter.

~     ~     ~

The house was blessedly cool after standing outside in the humid sun.  Shel quickly closed and locked the door, then turned to the two of them.

“Ahmad, you go first, and remember, I’ve got my gun trained on Meg.  You know where we are going.”

Silently, the trio walked through a spacious dining room into a hallway and passed two doors before Rickie turned and opened a door to the right and proceeded inside.

“Alright you two, stand right there.”  And they came to a halt as she sidled around them deeper into the room.

A swift look showed Tina sat in a chair next to the ornate fireplace with her hands tied behind her.  His father alarmingly looked slack-jawed and unseeing to Tina’s right, a small table between them.

Rickie curled his hands into fists, knowing that his father may have had another stroke, but there was nothing that could be done until the immediate threat was neutralised.

Shel was several feet to the left of the pair, standing so that she had both the hostages and Rickie and Meaghan within her field of view.  Her handgun was steadily aimed at Meaghan.
Meaghan looked over at the hostages. “You okay, Leaf?” she asked softly.  Tina glanced over at Shel and her eyes began to well.

“Y…yes, Meg.  I’m okay.”  Meaghan nodded and gave an encouraging nod.

Shel cleared her throat.  “Ok, reunion over.”  She lowered down to the floor, eyes still on the standing pair, and placed her phone on the floor.  She straightened up and, with a push of her foot, slid it towards Meaghan.

“Put the card in the phone and give it back to me.”  Meaghan picked up the pink phone, turned it over, and inserted the card into the reader; she took two steps towards Shel.

“Now place it on the table here.” With a flick of the barrel, she pointed to the coffee table to her right in front of a beige leather couch.  Meaghan complied, aware she was placing herself between Rickie and Shel, and dropped the phone with an audible thump on the mahogany surface. 

She turned and glared at her ex-friend.