Chapter 67 & 68
Rice dumplings, wine and dragon boats define the Duanwu Festival. Generally held in the fifth lunar month, countries all around the South China Sea have embraced this Chinese holiday. The human-powered longboat races is one of the most popular traditions, which meant both the harbor and the waterfront teamed with people and pleasure craft, jockeying for the best position to view the races.
To Rickie, all this additional confusion was an added frustration in finding the enemy.
From huge luxurious yachts to small gigs containing a single family, the water was a
panoply of noise and color. Throttling back, he slipped between a pontoon boat containing European tourists drinking champagne, and a small wooden boat containing a wizened grandfather selling wrapped packages of rice dumplings.
His cell phone began ringing, and Rickie glanced down to see that it was Raine. He grimaced but answered it, then pulled it away from his ear immediately and waited until Raine stopped to breathe.
“Raine, everything is fine, don’t worry.”
“Rick, your employee just showed up at headquarters. What are you doing, going out on your own? Do you want to jeopardize this operation? Do you want to put Meg in more danger?”
Rickie felt close to losing his composure. “I haven’t done anything besides take a boat out into the harbor. If I find anything, I will call you.” At the silence, he burst out, “I love her! And I didn’t protect her! I have to do this, can’t you understand?!”
A short laugh greeted this. “Well, I lost the pool. I had expected it would be the end of June before you pulled your head out and decided you loved her. Damn, Cynthia beat out JoAnne, too.
“Okay,” her voice gained a professional edge, “you’re already out there, so there’s nothing to do about that. You know we’ve got the two patrol boats out there and a helicopter on standby; you were there for the briefing. Without a radio, you’ll need to call me directly if you find something, and I’ll coordinate it with the team. We all want her safe and the enemy captured, so don’t do this on your own.”
Rickie felt a wave of gratitude towards his friend and colleague.
“Just let me win the wedding pool.” She disconnected before he could reply.
He allowed himself a tiny bit of amusement, then concentrated on the task ahead. He continued to scan the colorful display in front of him, trying to mentally will a connection with Meghan.
He had a feeling time was running out.
Meaghan was battered, inside and out. Shel kept up her interrogation while the older mercenary applied painful pressure points or physically struck her, until Meaghan felt wrung out.
“I didn’t even know they were spies! I don’t know anything about this!” She protested through bleeding lips. Shel shrugged.
“Meg, they still could have hidden a thumb drive or memory card somewhere.” Shel sat back, annoyance cracking her previous expressionless demeanor. “This is getting tiresome, and we’ve been here long enough.” She reached for an incongruously pink phone with a Hello Kitty case and dialed.
Rickie grabbed his phone and immediately answered it, recognizing the previous phone number of the kidnappers.
“Mr. Ahmad, so glad to pick up the phone so quickly. You know we are serious about this. The Tornos wouldn’t like you putting their daughter in such a situation.”
“I won’t do anything until you let Meaghan go,” Rickie bit out, still scanning around him for anything, any clue to stop this feeling of helplessness.
Shel chuffed. “You know that’s not how it works, Prince. Yes, I know of your reputation in the government. You also need to know how serious we are.” She nodded to Shuk, who proceeded to twist Meaghan’s upper arm until she elicited a cry.
“Okay! I’ll find it! Just don’t hurt her anymore.” Rickie gritted his teeth, overwhelmed with the need to pummel something.
“Very good,” Shel purred, “I’ll call back in an hour.” She disconnected the call. In the meantime, Shuk was on the radio with someone, and, when she signed off, she walked over to Shel and respectfully nodded.
“Shao Xiao, Tiger Team advised the maritime boats are getting nearer to our current location.”
“Then, we are going to split up and reconvene at our rendezvous point. Call in Tiger to pick me up; you’ll proceed alone so don’t bring attention to yourself. We’ll make the diversion.”
Shuk saluted and took the ladder to the upper deck.
Shel looked at Meaghan huddled on the cushion. “Your lover has run out of time. Pity all his effort will be for nothing.” With no further words, Shel left Meaghan alone in the cabin.
Through the open door, however, she could faintly hear their conversation abovedeck.
“We’ll see up at our next location. Shuk, ever forward.”
“Thank you, Shao Xiao. Good hunting!”
Meaghan felt the boat rock, then the sound of an engine accelerating away. The cabin door was momentarily blocked as the figure of Shuk descended the ladder. She pulled a heavy tarpaulin out of a locker, and, without warning, tossed it over Meaghan, completely enveloping her in its heavy folds.
“Just stay still like a good little girl, si manis, until I come back down here.” She climbed back out, shut the door, and the boat started moving. Meaghan desperately tried to wiggle out from under the stifling cloth, and do anything to stop them from leaving.
Fatigued after a short time, she could only concentrate on pulling air into her lungs as the vessel moved farther away from shore and safety.