The resort seemed homely enough, if a little run-down. When Richard told me his latest plan, I begged to differ. I’d have breakfast first, give Eko a chance to show himself, and if he failed to turn up, I would catch the morning ferry. That’s what I told Richard.
It wasn’t the whole truth.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something stank. This Jubair-Tevfik set-up. Whether Eko was part of a bigger strategy, I didn’t know and deep down I didn’t care. Sure, I’d accept him as our general dogsbody, and maybe I’d get to like and value him, but by now I’d had enough of philandering around Sumatra — and going on a wild-goose chase with Richard. I yearned to get back to the solitude of the House, patch things up with Delcie, and pass the rest of my days being content.
I decided to call her right then, but her phone was switched off. And my battery was low.
Toast and coffee suited my palate, but I couldn’t face the chicken noodle soup that Richard slurped with great passion. Hence, when Eko — unsurprisingly — didn’t make an appearance I asked the resort woman if she could call me a taxi.
After reaching the heights of hopes and found it wanting, Richard became morose. He kept shaking his head, mumbling to himself.
‘Are you sure?’ he kept asking the woman ‘Where is he?’
She didn’t know.
I felt sorry for him. ‘Look,’ I said. ‘There must be a place in town that sells phones. Go and get yours recharged.’
‘It won’t help,’ he said.
He looked at me, hesitated. ‘I haven’t been…um…totally straight with you. I bought Eko a phone a while back, but Mae’—he pointed to the woman—‘said he lost it. His number’s unobtainable. I haven’t been in touch for weeks.’
Christ! I mentally slapped myself.
Should have known he’d keep tabs on his boy. Still, I persisted. ‘What about Tevfik? You could call him.’
He snorted. ‘You heard what Jubair said. He’s not contactable, and he’s not here, is he?’
My army schooling held firm. Gave him an order. ‘Richard, go and get it sorted. We need to stay in contact if something turns up.’
His expression discounted that possibility, but he mumbled okay.
A few minutes later my taxi arrived. I thanked Mae for her hospitality, and rested a hand on Richard’s shoulder to bolster his confidence.
‘Stay strong,’ I said. ‘I’ll touch base with you, later, old boy.’
He didn’t answer.
Up to him.
Outside, the early morning rain had abated to a light drizzle. I glanced at my watch. Nearly eight o’clock. Good. In time to catch the first ferry back to Aceh. I told the driver to step on the gas, which was misunderstood, as he dawdled his way back to the pier, while holding a lengthy conversation on his mobile.
As it transpired, I was the penultimate boarder — there’s always one, I thought — and she — and her claim to being last — was swallowed up by the crowd lining the deck. The drizzle became more persistent, and I headed for the nearest shelter. One or two vacant bench seats, and I slid into one.
Next to the ‘final’ woman.
Coincidence? Or Fate?
‘Hello,’ she said, offering her hand. ‘I’m Shana Ganardi.’
Young and a head-turner, which ruled out either option. I played it cool, shook her hand. ‘And I’m Charles Fother…’
‘Her interruption was timed to perfection. ‘Yes, I know,’ she said. ‘I followed you. Or more to the point, I waited for the taxi to drop you off.’
‘You did? How?’
‘I talked to the taxi driver. I speak fluent Bahasa.’
The ferry listed. Outside, stormy winds buffeted the windows. I shuffled in my seat. Her composure had rattled me. ‘I really don’t understand. And how did you know..?’
‘You’d sit next to me, you mean?’
‘I saved you a seat.’ She tossed her head. Golden locks glittered in the gloom. ‘Anyway, I would have found a means to strike up a conversation.’ She took a deep breath, which had I been a voyeur, would have been a delight to watch. She smiled at me. A knowing smile. ‘Or are you scared of young ladies chatting you up?’
Ouch. After Tanya, I wasn’t so sure. I couldn’t begin to surmise what was her seduction game — if any — so I asked the relevant question. Politely.
‘What do you want?’
She touched my arm. Stroked it. ‘It’s what you want that counts.’ She repeated her deep-breathing exercise. ‘You do want me, don’t you?’
Affirmative. Stupid question. But not this Army Major. Made of sterner stuff. ‘I may regret this for the rest of my natural, or indeed suffer a heart-attack just by watching you breathe, but the answer is negative. No, in other words. Most definitely, not at all. No way.’ I got up to leave, but she hauled on my arm.
‘Wait,’ she said. ‘Hear me out first, okay?’
I looked around. No-one near was paying us any attention, a few were dozing or sipping drinks. With about another three-quarters of an hour or so before arrival, and the rain spitting outside, I sat back down.
‘Okay, Ms. Ganardi,’ I said. I was going to add “I’m all ears”, but in my case it was “all eyes”.
Shallow, old boy. Shallow.
‘You passed the test,’ she said, the deep breathing replaced by shallow intakes, and her voice now business-like.
‘Eh? I did?’
She nodded. ‘I’m Amera’s P.R.O. at Muslim Relief. She asked me to find out whether you were an English gentleman, or a phoney with no conscience and possibly a murderer.’
I nearly jumped off my seat. ‘What!’
‘I can tell,’ she said. ‘You’re past it, anyway.’ She smiled. ‘A fuddy-duddy. But kind of cute.’
‘Not that,’ I said, my feathers ruffled. ‘The murder bit.’
She lowered her voice, bent close. I could smell her perfume. Lavender. ‘A partly-dressed male body was washed up on the beach after your last meeting with Amera. By all accounts, not a pretty sight.’ She paused to let me take it in. ‘A Muslim Relief ID card was found tied round his neck. It bore the name of Ibrahim Metakclis.’
Shit. Shit. Shit. Ibrahim. Shit. Shit. Shit. Kostya.
She sat back. ‘Is this making any sense?’
What have I done? Now I knew what the Russian pig meant by “attitude adjustment”, but I wasn’t going to tell Ms. Ganardi.
Stiff upper lip, old boy. ‘No,’ I said. ‘It doesn’t.’
Her eyes bored into mine. I held firm. Finally, she averted her gaze as if satisfied — or more likely, she preferred the sound of her own voice.
‘Amera thought you might know more than you let on.’
Here we go. A rehearsed speech. Typical media report. She was all blah, blah, now.
‘Naturally, as I am the Public Relations Officer, I was charged with quashing any bad press. I made enquiries. Apart from you and Mr. Richard, these led to two Muslim Relief colleagues, Jubair and Tevfik.’
Pieces were falling into place. Jubair leaving post-haste, and Tevfik going AWOL. I interrupted her flow. Bullshit, for all I knew.
‘But how did you know where to find me?’
She nudged my arm. A pleasant tingle. ‘Easy. This morning, Jubair contacted me, said where you were going with Mr. Richard who was looking for his houseboy, Eko. I phoned the resort, and the taxi that took you to the pier was one of our regular drivers.’
I shook my head. ‘How did you know I was going to hire a taxi?’
She sniffed the air. ‘How else were you going to leave? Helicopter?’
‘Look,’ I said. ‘This is ridiculous. I could have stayed with Richard until Eko returned, or we both could have left together.’
She smiled. ‘Plan B,’ she said.
My throat became dry, as I sensed an underlying threat. ‘Does this plan B involve Eko?’
‘Not now,’ she said. ‘Would you like to meet him?’
Meet him? Good God.