Chapter 25 & 26
East meets West along Bangkok’s Khao San Road, where sleek clubs and eclectic market stalls vie for a visitor’s attention. Called “the backpacker’s ghetto”, it is a location teeming with cheap places to stay, eat, or buy. During the lunch time, both farangs and native Thai seek a break from the events of the morning. In a converted cocktail bar, a curly-haired black woman toyed with the rim of her frosty glass, seemingly lost in thought, a half-eaten bowl of seafood curry at her elbow.
After leaving some baht on the bar surface, she slipped through the front door and headed to a nearby Web Café. After paying her user fee, she sat down at one of the monitors and booted up her email. There were no messages from Malaysia, and she hoped that Meaghan was alright. There was still one more file of evidence from the France office, but she wanted to hand it directly to her friend, sure that whatever shadowy people that dogged her tracks in France would never be able to track her roundabout travel to Thailand.
With a beep, another email message popped into her Inbox, and Ivoire began to breathe faster.
[We know where you are, Ms. Ivoire. You need to return the files you took, and all will be well. Mystisith.]
Ivoire quickly deleted the email without a reply, shut down the computer and all but ran out of the building into the streets, intent on reaching the hostel she where was staying. She never noticed a female figure carrying a long duffel bag quietly detach herself from the crowd and follow the tall woman down the street.
~ ~ ~
Bourbon’s was not quite at capacity, but it was a close thing. As Rickie and Meaghan approached, a slim figure wildly waved from one of the outside tables.
“Selamat tengah hari, Meaghan! I’m so glad you could make it!” Unable to stop from smiling, Meaghan nodded and sat down, very aware of Rickie’s warm hand on her back as he helped her into the chair. He in turn sat across from her as indicated by the young girl. A waitress discretely approached with menus, and placed a small dish of snacks in the middle of the table.
Choosing to ignore the tingling in her back, Meaghan focused on the young woman seated to her right.
“Are you getting used to being back in Malaysia, Sethe?”
Sethe nodded. “I have to practise driving on the opposite side of the road again. In fact,” she turned imploring eyes to her brother, “I could really use a vehicle to drive around for a bit.”
Rickie almost choked on a sweet potato ball. “You need to ask our father about that. There is no way I’m letting you drive mine.” His sister pouted and wiggled in her seat, but he was unmoved. He quickly turned and focused on the woman in front of him. “Do you drive?”
Meaghan demurred. Although she had an operator’s license, she hadn’t driven anything since her parent’s death. “I normally use the bus,” she replied.
Sethe turned back to her brother. “Rickie, if you help me get my license back, then, if Meaghan needs a ride, I can drive her.”
Meaghan looked at him, unsure of his reaction.
Which was a smile. “If she needs to go anywhere, she can just ask me,” he drawled, enjoying the sensation of both disappointing his sister and startling his employee, “and I’ll take her anywhere.”
“Perfect!” Sethe clapped her hands in an abrupt about-face. “Meaghan, the next time I need to go shopping, you can be my friend and come with me. That way we can use his services, too. He can carry stuff for us!” She laughed, filling the silence from the older pair at the table.
The conversation remained light throughout lunch; although Meaghan could not remember exactly what she ordered, it was delicious. Rickie paid for all three of them, much to her consternation, but she didn’t want to show Sethe how it bothered her.
After saying her goodbyes and giving Sethe her phone numbers, Meaghan was thoughtful on the drive back to the office.
“En Ahmad, is your sister serious about shopping?”
“It’s Rickie,” he said, automatically, “and, yes, she is very serious, especially about shoes.” Meaghan looked down at her serviceable pumps and wondered how anyone could be obsessed with footwear. She looked back up at the handsome man competently driving through the afternoon traffic.
“I want to pay for my portion of lunch,” she insisted. Rickie just looked at her; she felt defensive at his stare. “It’s not a supervisor’s responsibility to pay for food.”
“I didn’t invite you to lunch as your boss.” Rickie smoothly said. He took his left hand off the steering wheel and, before she could protest, grabbed her right hand and brought it to his lips. Momentarily shocked, she could only stare with wide eyes as, with his eyes still on the road, he turned her hand over and kissed the palm as well.
“I just wanted to spend time with you.” He lowered their hands to the buttery leather but kept them together, only releasing her when his cell phone rang. His eyebrows shot up as he looked at the Caller ID, and, giving a quick glance to his silent passenger, flipped open the phone and answered it.
“This is Rick. Apa khabar. How are you? It’s what…ah, this Saturday? I can probably be persuaded…mmhmm…okay, you’ve convinced me. I’ll be there.” He hung up the phone, then attempted to recapture Meaghan’s hand, which she successfully avoided. Rickie just smiled as they turned into the parking deck for their building.
Meaghan slammed the door to the vehicle a little hard, then felt ashamed for her little tantrum. It wasn’t the fault of the vehicle that it belonged to someone who thought nothing of setting up a date with one woman while he was with another. “It’ has nothing to do with me,” she mumbled, then looked up to see if he heard her.
She needn’t have worried; he appeared completely oblivious to her muttering, and ushered her into the cool green lobby towards the elevators.
Meaghan had just sat back down at her desk when Alua came to her desk.
“We’ve got some information from our contact in Guangzhou. CMPrindle sent us some wiretap information I just translated. En Ahmad wanted to see if any of the information correlates with what you’ve already reviewed.”
Meaghan nodded, happy to be distracted from her lunch with her boss. Alua gave her several sheets of paper. She read through them quickly, until one passage caught her eye:
Meaghan rooted through the other reports until she found the other reports. Nothing seemed to be a link until the name “Samui Group” showed up. It was a small group of techsperts in petroleum geology and geophysics that had recently been in demand locally for identification of potential oil and gas deposits. Several of them were currently at Compliant Tower # 3, an offshore platform from Rickie’s family.
Meaghan mused a bit at the info. “Samui” was the name of a Thai island, and the name in Malay meant “safe haven”. Suddenly, she remembered the information emailed from Ivoire. “Chang Mai” was also a Thai province, and meant “New City”. She wondered if there was a link. She decided to shelve that for a minute until she had more information.
Booting up her computer, she researched festivals in nearby countries. There were several that were within the next two weeks, and she decided to focus on traditional Malay and Chinese festivals. The research kept her busy until the end of the day.
When it was time to leave, she was relieved that the door to Rickie’s office was closed. Quickly stepping out into the late afternoon sun, she shielded her eyes and headed towards the bus stop.
Rickie, leaving the lobby, stopped to admire the view of Meaghan walking away, her hips swaying from side to side as she strode purposefully down the street. He thought about the moment he kissed her hand, her natural scent in his nose as he hovered over her palm, and felt happy. He thought about the phone call he received while driving back to the office, and his grin got even wider. Whistling, he headed back to his SUV.
When he arrived back home, his father was in the main parlour, reading a book with a blanket tucked around his body. He smiled at his son.
After formal greetings, he spoke to Rickie.
“You seem to be in a pretty good mood. Is the job that enjoyable?” Rickie didn’t hesitate, and, as he turned to head upstairs, said, “I have a terrific set of employees.” He didn’t see his father sit up straighter, a thoughtful expression on his face.
After Rickie disappeared up the stairs, the older man reached for the phone by his elbow, and dialed.
“JoAnne? I have a special request project for you…”