Back at the front desk, this time the sergeant was more alert, and produced — grudgingly, so it seemed — a tray that contained my mobile (dead battery, sod it) and other belongings, plus a set of papers, which the officer told me to sign.
The text was in Indonesian.
‘What’s this?’ I said.
He offered me a ballpoint. ‘Sign. You free, can go.’
Free? Did he say free?
Oh, the irony. For some unfathomable reason my liberty was being offered, yet not unconditionally. In most circumstances I’d sign my life away and be out of that hot-house hell before I bloody-well melted. Instead, I grimaced. ‘No,’ I said. ‘I’m not signing anything I don’t understand.’
‘Freedom’ shrugged his shoulders, waited.
What the hell. I swallowed my mistrust, picked up the pen, glowered at ‘Freedom’, and scribbled my name on the documents.
That was it. ‘Freedom’ counter-signed (looked like Kolonel bloody-dog’s-bollocks), and handed them back to the scowling sergeant, who opened the desk drawer and filed them away. I was escorted to the entrance by ‘Freedom’ who tapped me on the shoulder as he opened the glass door.
Outside stood Charles, holding a folded umbrella, looking like he’d been out for an evening stroll. The Officer pointed at Charles. ‘You have powerful friends,’ he said to me. ‘Lucky for you. But go now, Mr. Richard. And don’t come back.’
Powerful friends? Charles?
I was soon to find out. Charles sniffed the air when I approached, and greeted me as if I had emerged from a swamp.
‘First, we’ll go back to the guesthouse where you can take a shower and change,’ he said, eyeing my dishevelled clothes, ‘and then I’ll debrief you.’
Debrief? I had more pressing needs. ‘A hot meal wouldn’t go amiss, either,’ I said. ‘I’m starving.’
He didn’t answer. Used his umbrella to flag down a passing taxi, and hopped in beside the driver.
‘Hurry up,’ he said. ‘We’ve got a lot to discuss.’
I didn’t like the sound of that. But intrigued all the same, I executed a shit, shower, and shave, plus donning a clean shirt and shorts at the guesthouse, in record time.
Not that Charles concurred.
‘About time,’ he said, making a conscious effort to stare at his watch when I emerged. ‘I thought you’d dozed off.’
I didn’t bite. Charles had his serious face on, not his baiting face, or his dismissive face, but one that gave me concern.
‘What’s up?’ I said. ‘Can we talk over dinner?’ More a directive than a question, and Charles nodded at my tone.
‘Perhaps a discreet place out of town. I’ll hail a taxi.’
We were taken along the coast road to an open-air restaurant, next to a home resort. Inside, it had several unoccupied tables.
‘We’re early,’ said Charles. ‘That’s good.’
Indonesian cuisine at its finest proclaimed the dog-eared menu, which seemed at odds, somehow, especially when a Chinese waitress — or so she looked — came to take our order.
I toyed with choosing Ayam Tangkap —- a spicy chicken dish, but much to our surprise the waitress said Babi Panggang —- grilled pork with rice —- was available that night. And beer.
Pork? Trust the chinks.
Charles looked around as if he suspected we were about to be set-up again, but the lure of ‘forbidden meat’ found two allies. After my brush with Sharia police, my one-fingered gesture seemed appropriate.
‘Up yours’, echoed Charles.
The beer, typically, was served up in a large tea-pot —- a face-saving concession to Islam. Even poured into china mugs lost nothing in taste.
Our initial euphoria passed, and Charles relayed how he had negotiated my release, not forgetting to add that we had better scarper quickly before they changed their minds.
‘Not without Eko,’ I said.
He nodded. ‘We’ll check with Tevfik. Can’t be too many home resorts here. We’ll pick Eko up tomorrow morning, God willing.’
I sighed. ‘Inshallah, you mean.’
His manner lightened. ‘I’ll drink to that.’
By then, the restaurant had filled out with a few groups of Aid workers, and noisy chatter dominated. Over our second teapot and, with Charles relaxing, I reflected on his debrief. Throughout, I sensed he held something back but I suspected it affected him rather than me. Ibrahim dropping charges seemed unlikely, without compensation.
But I didn’t press. Eko back and ensconced in the House, would be reward enough.
If it happened.
That doubt remained in my head the rest of the evening, although the beer dulled its edge.
With my phone out of action, nothing I could do about it. Wait and see.