Meaghan felt her pulse accelerate when those words registered. She gulped, unable to think of anything to say.
“Meggie?” The unfamiliar endearment caught her off guard, but settled her emotions somewhere near her heart.
“I’m here.” She sounded surprisingly calm, given the tumult inside. She licked her lips and gripped the phone tighter. “I miss you, too.”
Rickie felt his soul soar as he heard her say that. He settled back against the leather, barely noticing anything in his surroundings, his whole focus the beautiful words and the woman behind them.
“I was busy all day today; otherwise I would have stopped by your desk. Is everything to your liking at work?” He nearly cursed out loud – why suddenly talk about work?
He could hear her smile. “Yes, it’s been challenging, but I’ve enjoyed it so far. As a matter of fact, I have something I’d like to show you. I think there may be a link, but I can’t seem to put the pieces together. Do you have any time tomorrow?”
“How about we discuss it over lunch?” Rickie blurted. A low laugh greeted this; it slid down his spine like warm honey.
“I don’t think we’d better.” She said, “I’m going to get fat if I keep eating at restaurants.”
Rickie tried again. “How about a picnic? I could have something put together, and we could go to the waterfront.” He held his breath.
Meaghan thought a moment, then regretfully replied.
“I don’t think so. I don’t want people gossiping about…us.” Her voice trailed off as she realized she was already thinking of them as a couple. “Some other time perhaps. I can’t do anything after work because…”
“…because of your sister’s birthday party.” Rickie finished, then tensed.
“Oh, I didn’t know I had told you about it,” Meaghan blithely continued, “but, yes, it’s going to be a slumber party, so it’ll be hectic, but fun. Tina is turning sixteen, so I decided to allow her a slumber party.” She chuckled, a sound that caused Rickie’s gut to tighten. “It’ll be hectic, but fun for her.”
Rickie tried for a casual tone. “So what are you doing now?”
“I just finished all the prep work, so it was just quiet time here.” Rickie decided to just jump in.
“Can I see you tonight?”
Meaghan pulled the phone away from her ear and stared at it owlishly. Tonight? She put the phone back to her ear.
“I’m not really up to guests tonight, Rickie. I’m sorry.”
“What about the front porch? That’s safe, right?” Rickie’s voice became wheedling.
Meaghan almost smiled at the little-boy tone. She thought of a quick way to squelch this.
“Only if you can be here in five minutes,” she said smugly, sure that she had crushed his hopes.
Instead, she heard a quiet knock at the door, and heard it echo in her ear. Suddenly realizing she outfoxed herself, she looked down at her pyjamma pants and t-shirt. While comfortable, they might as well be sequinned, silver-thread-embroidered harem pants in this situation. She quickly ran to her bedroom, grabbed her favorite white bathrobe, belted it tightly, and went to carefully open the door.
She could only stare for a moment. Rickie, his dark blonde hair bright in the moonlight, stood before her door, his cell phone still in his left hand. He looked her up and down, then, with a devilish grin, grabbed her arm and pulled her outside and into his warm embrace.
In many metropolitan areas of the world, the destitute and forgotten claim the night as their own. Living on the fringes of society, they eke an existence from the leftovers of their more fortunate brethren. It was no different in Bangkok, a city 12 million people called home.
Near the Wat Chana Songkram Buddhist temple, the old man was looking through a rubbish heap left over from the restaurants and clubs nearby. Finding several half-empty beer bottles, he quickly drained their contents and stored the bottles in a tattered sack. He had reached a large dumpster and was looking to climb inside when something shiny caught his eye. Walking around to the brick wall, he peered in the gap between it and the metal container.
A figure lay crumpled in a heap, the lone streetlamp reflecting off a silver and bronze bangled bracelet on one unmoving wrist, brown eyes staring up, unseeing, framed by curly short hair, now matted and dull. Like a necklace of death, a thin wire still was tangled around her neck.
With a yell, the man leapt back, turned towards the direction he came from, and hobbled quickly away. He turned back only once, glancing where darkness had already swallowed up his gruesome find as he melted back into the background of the night.
~ ~ ~
Less than 100 nautical miles from shore, the sinuous curve of the Milky Way and the waxing moon supply the only natural light; the inky darkness of the water the only way to identify the Earth from the heavens. Far from shore and lit up by man-made light, the gas rig squatted above the gentle waves like a steel spider, the sounds of machinery and the occasional yell rolling across the waters.
On the helipad, a man and a woman stood and looked out over the drilling platform, assured of privacy by their location.
“The subsea drilling template has been cemented to the seafloor,” John commented, “and the blowout preventer installation completes tomorrow. We are on schedule to have the marine riser in place by next weekend. And then, my dear, the real fun begins.”
The woman shivered, from the cool breeze or from anticipation, it was impossible to tell. He handed her a missive from a Malay newspaper.
[Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu, stated, “China enjoys indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea. China’s stand is based on historical facts and international law. China’s sovereign rights and positions are formed in the course of history and this position has been held by Chinese Government for long.
[“On the basis of this China is ready to engage in peaceful negotiations and friendly consultations to peacefully solve the disputes over territorial sovereignty and maritime rights so as to positively contribute to peace and tranquility in the South China Sea area. We hope that the relevant countries respect China’s position and refrain from taking unilateral action to complicate and expand the issue. We hope they will respect and support countries in the region to solve the bilateral disputes through bilateral channels.
[“As for oil and gas exploration activities, our consistent position is that we are opposed to any country engaging in oil and gas exploration and development activities in waters under China’s jurisdiction. We hope the foreign countries do not get involved in South China Sea dispute.”]
Ani snorted. “Stupid politicians, using words when actions are needed. After next week, no one will question our ownership of these waters.” She tore it into small pieces and threw it up into the wind.
John draped a companionable arm across her shoulders as they continued to gaze past the gas rig towards the north.