Chapter 79 & 80
Rickie held a headset to his ear and handed a phone to Meaghan. With hands that were only trembling a little, she took the offered cell phone, and dialed the familiar number. Shel picked it up by the second ring, and Meaghan identified herself.
“Meaghan! So nice of you to call. I just had a chat with your sister, and was wondering when you would show up. Did you bring the files I requested?”
The voice was so calm, as if she was talking about a grocery list, and Meaghan knew that the madness she had glimpsed in the boat now had finally taken over her soul. She desperately tried to think of something, anything to protect her sister and the other hostages.
“I found it in their belongings, just like you said, Shel. It was a small memory card; that’s why I couldn’t find it before. I have it with me, though. Can I come in and give it to you?”
Ricky vehemently shook his head, but Meaghan ignored him, listening to Shel’s low laughter.
“I know you would find it, Meg,” Shel said with satisfaction, “I always knew you were bright. Now, what to do about that information.” Meaghan heard a faint tapping noise, and realized it was Shel’s nervous habit of tapping her front teeth. ‘Perhaps she wasn’t as in control as they thought’, Meaghan thought, and filed that away in her head. The tapping noise stopped.
“Ok, Meg, I’ll let you in through the back door, but know your sister’s life is forfeit if you try anything. Oh, and you can bring your lover along, too. After all, this is his house and he is the head of household.”
Meaghan felt a cold stab of fear. “What did you do to Rickie’s father?!”
“Nothing,” Shel,stated matter of factly. “What can you do with something that just stares and drools? Your sister, however, is tied and gagged, and the servants are locked in a closet, so I would strongly suggest you cooperate. Just you, Ahmad, and that file.”
Meaghan could feel the anger rolling off Rickie, but she focused on the leader of this operation. At the commander’s nod, Meaghan replied.
“Okay, Shel, we’ll do it your way.”
As soon as she disconnected and returned the phone, Rickie grabbed her wrist and pulled her away from the command vehicle to a small stand of palm trees.
“Why would you volunteer to go in?” he all but hissed, “It’s too dangerous!”
Meaghan winced a little at the violence in his voice, but knew he would never hurt her. Reaching up with her free hand, she gently cupped his face. With a deep sigh, he pulled her into his embrace.
Muffled against his broad chest, she replied, “If I can help keep our family safe, I’m willing to do it.” She pulled back and looked into his eyes. “I can do this, because I know you’ll be by my side.”
His anger gone but not his fear, he gave a swift kiss to her nose before he released her, then he reached for her hands. He entwined their fingers and gave a little squeeze.
“Then we do this together.”
Meaghan stepped up to the rear door of the house, aware of Rickie just a short step behind her. The SD card containing false information seemed to burn her hand as she took a deep breath and knocked on the solid teak door.
It opened a crack.
“Let me see the card.” Meaghan held up the card at eye level, then dropped her arm and pushed the card into her front pocket.
“I want to see my sister,” Meaghan spoke firmly in spite of her terror. Shel opened the door slightly wider.
“Let’s make sure neither one of you is carrying a weapon. Ahmad, lift your shirt and turned around slowly.” Rickie complied, aware that the lives within the house were in the balance.
“Now, Meg, your turn.” Meaghan repeated Rickie’s actions.
“Please, Shel, may we come in now? I want to see my sister.”
The extremist looked past them at the soldiers standing at the perimeter, but, after a brief moment, gave a brusque nod, and opened the door just wide enough to let them both enter.
The house was blessedly cool after standing outside in the humid sun. Shel quickly closed and locked the door, then turned to the two of them.
“Ahmad, you go first, and remember, I’ve got my gun trained on Meg. You know where we are going.”
Silently, the trio walked through a spacious dining room into a hallway and passed two doors before Rickie turned and opened a door to the right and proceeded inside.
“Alright you two, stand right there.” And they came to a halt as she sidled around them deeper into the room.
A swift look showed Tina sat in a chair next to the ornate fireplace with her hands tied behind her. His father alarmingly looked slack-jawed and unseeing to Tina’s right, a small table between them.
Rickie curled his hands into fists, knowing that his father may have had another stroke, but there was nothing that could be done until the immediate threat was neutralised.
Shel was several feet to the left of the pair, standing so that she had both the hostages and Rickie and Meaghan within her field of view. Her handgun was steadily aimed at Meaghan.
Meaghan looked over at the hostages. “You okay, Leaf?” she asked softly. Tina glanced over at Shel and her eyes began to well.
“Y…yes, Meg. I’m okay.” Meaghan nodded and gave an encouraging nod.
Shel cleared her throat. “Ok, reunion over.” She lowered down to the floor, eyes still on the standing pair, and placed her phone on the floor. She straightened up and, with a push of her foot, slid it towards Meaghan.
“Put the card in the phone and give it back to me.” Meaghan picked up the pink phone, turned it over, and inserted the card into the reader; she took two steps towards Shel.
“Now place it on the table here.” With a flick of the barrel, she pointed to the coffee table to her right in front of a beige leather couch. Meaghan complied, aware she was placing herself between Rickie and Shel, and dropped the phone with an audible thump on the mahogany surface.
She turned and glared at her ex-friend.