All very well of Charles to attempt to make amends with Eko, but it didn’t help me right then. However, it made sense to sort out Jane’s funeral first. If we could. I had no idea how to go about it here in Aceh, and I said as much.
Charles nodded. ‘Well, if you’re up for it, we’ll go and see Donaldson, find out the state of play, then drop in on Mary—if she is well enough—to set a time and date.’
‘And if she isn’t?’
Charles grinned. ‘We’ll hop on the next ferry to Sabang.’
‘Good,’ I said. ‘Bring Eko back. I’m sure Delcie will be delighted to welcome our new housekeeper.’
Charles rubbed his chin. ‘You sure he can cook?'
I chuckled, mimicked Charles. ‘Plan B, old boy.’
By the time we actually reached the hospital carrying an overnight bag — being prepared, as Charles put it — it was mid-afternoon, and reception told us Donaldson was in a private consultancy. We exchanged glances, shrugged shoulders, and backtracked out to a waiting taxi to the docks. Just in time to catch the slow ferry.
A following wind was with us on a tranquil sea — a favourable omen — and we arrived at Sabang before dusk. I led Charles to the home-stay resort owned by Tevfik, but a signboard attached to the door announced closed until further notice.
I looked at Charles and groaned. Hadn’t I learned from Lampu’uk? Why hadn’t I checked? Made a simple phone call? Maybe I was too wrapped up in the sheer euphoria of meeting Eko again.
I shook my head and fished out my phone, cursing under my breath as I made two calls. One to Tevfik and the other to Eko.
I tried again.
With darkness fast approaching, I left Charles standing in the road outside while I made a circuit of the resort. My luck was in. One of the lodges had a light on inside, and I made my way to the door. Knocked and shouted hello.
‘Who’s that?’ said a querulous voice. Male, sounded old.
‘Open up, I’m looking for Tevfik, the owner.’
I heard shuffling inside and the door creaked open. A face peeked out. Weather-beaten and leathery, on top, wisps of white hair. ‘Not here,’ he said, scratching at stubble on his chin, ‘they’ve gone.’
‘Gone? Gone where?’
He turned back inside and began to close the door.
‘Wait,’ I said, ‘it’s important I find him.’
The door banged shut.
I aimed a kick at the door, but withdrew it when my leg twinged. I rubbed the tender spot instead. Still suffering the dengue after-effects. I nosed around some more but couldn’t find any other lodge occupied.
So much for favourable omens.
I trudged back to Charles who seemed to be on sentry duty. Guarding our overnight bag.
‘No luck,’ I said. ‘One old geezer who knows sod-all.’
‘Plan B,’ he said. ‘We find a place to stay,’ — he half-smiled — ‘preferably open for business. After we’ve freshened up we’ll go out to a restaurant that provides wine to stimulate the brain cells. Civilised.’
I couldn’t argue with his logic, and he had let me down gently. A very different Charles.
‘Your plan B it is, then. As it happens, I do know a suitable venue in town.’
‘Good, he said, picking up the bag. ‘Let’s do a recce.’
An hour later we were seated upstairs at the international restaurant I previously visited, after booking in to a nearby guesthouse. This time, only a sprinkling of foreigners were eating. Muted conversation. The same smiling waitress showed us a blackboard of the day’s dishes, and we both chose the three-course special plus a bottle of Chianti Classico. Sod the expense. While we waited, I squinted out over the road below. At night the same few lamps shone, my view shaded by the branches of the same overhanging tree.
I didn’t expect Tevfik to materialise out of the ether, and neither did Charles. He screwed up his face as if thinking back in time. He glanced around — appeared satisfied we were not being observed — and leant forward.
‘We face a battle,’ he said in a low voice. ‘This Tevfik, and your Eko, have gone AWOL. Neither are contactable, and we don’t even know if they are still on Sabang.’
I nodded. ‘And your plan is..?’
He lifted a hand and pointed a finger at the street below. ‘It’s not that simple. No battle plan,’ he sagely noted, ‘survives contact with the enemy.’
‘In other words,’ I said, ‘nothing goes as intended?’
He sat back, sniffed the air. ‘Exactly. We must adapt to the circumstances truly at hand.’
‘But…’ I paused while the waitress brought us our wine, an ice-bucket, and two glasses. She opened the bottle, lodged it in the bucket, and placed the cork on the table. Charles picked up the cork, sniffed it. Smiled at her.
‘Okay,’ he said, ‘leave it with us.’
It was a humid evening. Still air. Clammy. The wine would taste better slightly chilled. Not that I was a connoisseur, but I knew what I liked in this climate. Usually a large goblet of G&T with one ice cube.
Our bruschetta appetiser came and went without further comment on the battle plan. I reasoned, in light of Charles’ observations, we’d be better off going with the flow and hoping that something would happen.
A loser’s philosophy?
As was the braised “dover” sole in white wine sauce. Side dishes of sautéed vegetables, and a hillock of mashed potato with a sprig of parsley on top. A glass of red seemed out of place, but a perfect accompaniment with the cheese platter after.
We had resumed normal chit-chat, seemingly about nothing in particular — I was recounting my previous visit here — when I noticed a new couple arrive.
As they passed by us to another table, marked Reserved, the man glanced at me and looked away. Bespectacled, dressed in a sharp suit and striped tie. I sat up straight, put down my wine glass, and stared at his back.
I know that bastard.