Chapter 47 & 48
Several hours later, Rickie was exhausted. After the endless phone calls between his staff and fire department personnel in France, he was ready to rest. JoAnne capably fielded calls from the newshounds and the curious; pictures of the fire had already spread through the internet. The French investigators believed some sort of accelerant was used in portions of the building; the preliminary finding of arson hung heavy in his mind.
Taking a sip of still-warm coffee, he turned to JoAnne, who was hanging up after another call. He gave her a tired smile. “Thanks for your help.” JoAnne shrugged.
“Once I convinced your father to have a lie-in, it was easy to help you. And thanks for the food.” She waved at the table, where chocolate pieces and cheese curls were side by side with turkey sandwiches and sliced vegetables. JoAnne stretched and sighed after looking at the wall clock. It read 7:35 pm. “I’ll follow up with everything in a couple of hours, our time. Hopefully by then, we can determine what can be salvaged from all this.”
Rickie gave her a one-armed hug. “What would my father and I do without you?” he asked with affection. She smiled and lightly punched his arm.
“You can always give me a raise to show your gratitude. I still have my kid’s college tuition to pay for.” She picked up her bag, gave a little wave and headed out the door.
Rickie sat down and rubbed his temples. What a mess. The Nice servers were physically backed up to magnetic tape once a month and stored offsite, so everything was not lost. It was going to take a long time to rebuild, though, and some records were irretrievable. He thought about the main office here in Kuching.
Of course. He snapped his fingers. The monthly reports were compiled from data from their various distribution locations, so maybe the data could be reconstructed from those records…
Meaghan. Somehow, with the turmoil of this evening, she had left his thoughts. He quickly pulled out his cell phone and saw Meaghan had tried several times to reach him. He dialed for his voicemail and sucked back his breath when he heard her strained voice.
[“Rickie, please call me back. I…I found something bad. I think someone’s going to destroy your gas tower, and I think it’s going to happen tonight.” With a sigh, Meaghan continued. “I’m really worried, so please call me. Please.”]
The voicemail ended. With a curse, Rickie quickly dialed Meaghan’s cell phone.
~ ~ ~
Meaghan was perched on the couch in a pair of jeans and a green cable-knit long sweater. Tina had already gone to her room to study, after she was unable to keep her big sister from pacing. Her dizziness had finally abated, but she was still experiencing weakness. She picked up the phone again and willed Rickie to call. After the first voicemail, she had called several times, but each time it rang several times without Rickie answering, and she hung up before leaving any additional messages.
The strains of Minnie Ripperton’s “Loving You” came on immediately after her phone vibrated. “Finally!” Meaghan breathed and quickly answered.
“Rickie?” At the sound of her worried voice, Rickie sharpened his focus.
“Meggie? How are you feeling?”
“Nevermind me,” she stated impatiently, “I need to talk to you about my information…”
Rickie interrupted her. “The Nice office burned down today.”
Meaghan was stunned by the appalling news. And, yet, given the conclusion she found, it made strange, terrible sense. “Are all the employees safe? What about Mystisith? Has anyone seen her since this happened?”
“I don’t recognize the name, but I was told all employees were accounted for, why?” Rickie questioned.
Meaghan replied, “I think she started the fire.” Swiftly, she gave him the information from Ivoire’s files, as well as the altered files of Mystisith, and her conclusion. “And I think those two consultants are some type of terrorist or saboteurs, and it’s going to happen tonight.”
Rickie made some swift calculations. The sun was already setting, so it would be close to dark before he reached the structure by boat. Given the situation, though, he thought the boat would be the most viable option.
“I’m going to get in touch with Raine and the team, and try to prevent anything from happening. Just stay home, and if something happens, someone will contact you.”
“You can’t go alone!” Meaghan cried, “It’s too dangerous!” She gripped the phone tightly in her trembling hand and whispered, “Please don’t go.”
Rickie sighed. “I have to. It’s my family’s property, and I have to protect it. And I can’t send anyone out until I know for a fact that something is happening. I believe you,” he said, to stop a protest he knew was already on her beautiful lips, “but I’ll need more evidence before I can activate the troops. Don’t worry; I promise I’ll be careful.”
Meaghan bit her lower lip. “I wish you wouldn’t go, but I understand.” She closed her eyes and willed her voice to stay steady. “Do what you must, and come back to me.”
A lump formed in Rickie’s throat, and he had to cough several times to clear it. He realized how much he had grown to crave for this incredible woman, and how much she cared for him. “I will always be there for you, my Meggie, and I hope you will always be by my side.”
A quiet sob greeted those words. Rickie finished. “Now I have to go protect what is mine. I give you my word that, when this is over, you and I will have a very important conversation.”
“Be careful.” It was little more than a whisper, but it reverberated in Rickie’s chest and settled warmly in his heart, and he blinked back sudden tears.
Rickie called Raine and swiftly explained the situation both in France and Malaysia to her as he hustled to his Rexton.
“I’m heading out to the boathouse right now. I’ll let you know what I find when I get to the platform. If the team is correct, everything is going to happen tonight, but I won’t be completely sure until I arrive.”
“Should you take a helicopter? It would be faster.” Rickie shook his head as he climbed into the cab and turned the engine over.
“If they have set up any type of explosive device, the sight of a helo might cause them to set it off. I’d rather take the boat; it will be only about a half-hour to reach it. Raine, just stand by until I have some information; that way we don’t have a false alarm to the APMM.”
There was a pause, then Raine replied, “Okay, but if I don’t hear from you within the hour, I’m sending the troops.”
Rickie agreed, snapped the phone shut, and concentrated on reaching his boathouse in the shortest possible time.
~ ~ ~
The sleek white boat sped across the waves towards the gas rig. Rickie hoped that his hunch and the data collected by his team were incorrect, and that his family’s property was not the target of a terrorist act. He had attempted to contact the tower by phone, but was unsuccessful; and, as the steel scaffolding of the platform showed as black webbing against the barest orange glow from the sky, he slowed his pace and regarded the structure.
Outwardly, everything appeared serene, with nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe we are wrong about this, Rickie thought, a thread of doubt surfacing for the first time as he approached closer.
A bright puff of light exploded near the helipad, and suddenly the exterior lights illuminating the helipad and tower shut off, plunging everything into almost total darkness to his dazzled eyes. Rickie immediately slowed to a crawl and turned off his running lights. He swore when he realized his cell phone wasn’t showing a signal, so he grabbed the boat radio and switched it to an emergency frequency while he waited for the retinal afterimages to fade.
“May Day, May Day, this is the boat Air Harimau Bintang from Ahmad Holdings.”
“This is APMM Maritime District 11, Leftenan Madya Maritim Najib bin Talib speaking. What is the nature of the emergency, over.”
“This is Rick Ahmad; there appears to be a possibility of a terrorist act at our FLNG platform, Compliant Tower # 3, GPS location 2.459538 / 109.126682. Director Raine of the BKN is aware of the circumstances and may already be in touch with your office. Please activate STAR on our behalf. At this time, I am unable to contact you by anything other than this radio at this time, over.”
“We copy, and recommend you wait until we arrive and confirm the situation, over.”
“Negative, Maritime. I intend to recon and make sure my crew is okay. I’ll contact you again once I am on the tower, over.” Rickie switched off the radio before they had a chance to protest. After he signed off, Rickie stared into the night, where he could just see the tower, and, as quietly as he could, continued his course until he was directly underneath the drilling platform by the dock.
An unfamiliar black and white Bayliner was moored to the dock; Rickie shut down his engines and glided in, jumped out and secured the bow of his boat before tying off the aft section. He loaded his Glock 17 and placed it in a holster in the small of his back, and headed for the stairs leading to the upper decks but paused every few steps to listen for any disturbance.
On the lower deck, where the employees’ quarters were located, he saw several lighted windows and decided to sneak a look through one of them. The sight that greeted caused his heart to skip a beat.
It had already started.