Chapter 11 & 12
It had been several days since he saw Meaghan Torno at the waterfront, but Rickie was unable to dismiss her from his mind. Last year, when her parents disappeared during a covert mission to mainland China, there was a frantic scramble of BKN agents to determine their fate. The remains of the plane were found near the island of Hainan, but the waters were too deep to send an investigative team, and it was decided to announce that they had died in the crash, in order to keep their identities under wrap.
On impulse, he called his old supervisor at the department and invited her out for drinks. Since it was late afternoon on a Friday they swiftly made plans.
He arrived first at Bourbon’s, a local bar that served good food and was currently one of his favorite hangouts. With his arms on the scarred wooden table, he contemplated the bottle of soju on the table.
“Still into high-class establishments, I see,” A petite, dark-haired woman sat down across from Rickie, dressed casually in jeans and a blue patterned jacket over a white t-shirt. She reached out for the bottle and poured a shot into the extra glass, drinking it with the ease of familiarity. “So how’s civilian life treating you?”
Rickie smiled wryly. “The atmosphere here is great. I miss the buzz from learning each new assignment, but right now I’m where I’m most needed. How have you been? I’m sorry I didn’t make it to your last performance.”
Raine heaved a sigh. “I almost poked a guy in the eye with my bow. He had the gall to ask me if I liked playing the guitar. The guitar!” She forcefully set the glass down, rattling a plate of sweet potato balls. Other customers looked up briefly, and then returned to their conversations. “Stupid man, can’t tell a cello from a damn hole in the wall.”
Rickie laughed out loud. Raine was very passionate about her music, and very prickly about her Turkish-made instrument. She was also one of BKN’s best agents, rising from field assignments until she became the head of the China division within the company.
Raine stabbed a sweet potato ball with a toothpick and popped it into her mouth. Chewing thoughtfully, she stared at him and asked, “So why did you really ask me to meet you?”
He cleared his throat and thought for a moment. “I recently bumped into the Tornos’ daughter, and it started me thinking back to last year. Has there been any new development to the case, or is everyone still convinced they are dead?”
“There haven’t been any rumours of any captured agents along my lines of communication,” Raine said, “so as far as the command staff believes, they did die in the plane crash. Why the sudden interest?”
“Like I said, meeting up with their daughter made me wonder a bit, since it’s been six months since I was there.” She made a noncommittal grunt that made Rickie feel defensive. “And that’s all.”
“Well, I’m happy you contacted me, anyway. I was going to call you to ask if you would like to do some consulting on the side with us. Even though you’re now caught up in your family’s situation, you were still one of our most intuitive agents, and we would like to continue to use those skills. No field work is involved, and you would be compensated for your time.” Raine looked up expectantly. “Are you willing to help us?”
“Absolutely.” Rickie smiled. “I’d be happy to.”
Raine beamed. “Welcome aboard again, Prince.”
Rickie winced at his old moniker, created no doubt because of his illustrious ancestor, but secretly he was happy. It seemed he could still be involved in the business, even with his wings clipped by current circumstances.
It was a sunny Saturday, and Rickie was driving along Jalan Stampin, ostensibly checking out several properties for sale in the area. In reality, he was heading for Meaghan Torno’s neighbourhood. He got her address from Raine, who razzed him good naturedly but shrewdly; luckily, he managed to deflect most of her pointed comments. Still, he was happy to finally be out of her presence.
He slowed down as he approached the final turn onto her street. The terrace houses were typical of the area; two -storey attached homes with small front yards and chain link fencing. His palms started to sweat as he realized what he was doing. He pulled over the SUV and stopped; this felt tantamount to stalking. But, he argued to himself, since she hadn’t called him and hadn’t given him her phone number, the only way to contact her was face to face.
His inner monologue was broken by a tapping on the driver side window. He rolled it down to see the blonde teenager from that evening in Miri. She was grinning from ear to ear, her blue eyes twinkling.
“Hi! I remember you. Was the party fun? I had to wait for my sister to finish that night before we could leave. It was boring, so that’s why I went outside so I could practice my music. You said you liked my playing. Do you play the flute too? What are you doing here?” The questions came out rapid-fire, as Rickie sought a way to answer them.
“I’m in the neighbourhood looking for some properties for sale. Do you live nearby?” Rickie asked carefully. The girl put her hand on the door.
“We live a couple of blocks from here. I’m Tina,” she added, “but my sister calls me Leaf. She might be home now. Do you want to stop by?”
“If it won’t bother anyone. Is it just you and your sister at home?” Rickie couldn’t believe his luck. “If you want, I can drive you there.”
Tina opened the door and hopped inside, taking in the burlwood dashboard and leather seats. “This is really nice,” she said admiringly. “Just take the first right and I’ll show you where our house is.”
~ ~ ~
Today was payday, and Meaghan had walked home with an armful of groceries. Leaf’s birthday was coming up soon, and her favorite cake was chocolate fudge with coconut ice cream. The ice cream would have to wait until right before her birthday; the freezer portion of their old refrigerator wasn’t cold enough to keep the ice cream from becoming soft.
She hid the bittersweet chocolate behind some dishes and had begun sorting the rest of the foodstuffs into the pantry when she heard the front door open. Leaf was home, and apparently brought a friend from the way she was chattering. Meaghan wiped her hands on a dishcloth and stepped out of the kitchen to welcome them.
The dishcloth hit the floor with a soft plop as Meaghan looked into the cerulean eyes that had haunted her the past week.