After an enjoyable viewing of “Young Frankenstein” (mainly because it’s one movie that everyone can agree upon), we all sleep through the night. The guys have no incidents. They’re looking a lot more rested in the morning, and alternate the day between getting on line and napping.
The guys are actually well enough to go downstairs for dinner. Their appetites still aren’t back completely, but that they want to eat at all is a hopeful sign.
“Hey, for everyone that doesn’t know him, this is my husband Muladharma,” Devi calls out cheerfully, introducing us to a handsome, dark man who is helping her set the meal on the table. He looks to be somewhat older than Devi, with streaks of gray in his black hair, and he’s casually dressed in khakis and a dark green polo, appearing much more as if he just stepped off a golf course instead of a plane from halfway around the world. “Mula, I don’t think you’ve met Mel Scarlett.”
He extends a slender hand in my direction. “A pleasure,” he comments. His voice is quiet and lilting. “Please, everyone, sit down.”
“Can I sit by Mr. Uncle John?” wheedles Palin.
“Of course,” John says to him as his parents nod in approval. “I was hoping you would.”
Palin plants himself between Aunt Sari and Mr. Uncle John, happily regaling him with his victories on the soccer field today. I smile wistfully. I hope I see my grandchildren again.
The food is unveiled, and I’m a bit surprised to find a roast turkey, complete with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, baby green beans, and cornbread.
“Wow, that looks awesome, but we’d have like eaten anything you cooked,” Ringo says to Devi.
Muladharma smiles slightly. He was apparently educated in Britain, and his demeanor demonstrates that.
“I told Devi she could make whatever she wanted, just so long as it didn’t involve curry, rice, or fish.” This admission surprises me, and I’m afraid I’m not very good at concealing that fact. He looks in my direction. “Don’t be so shocked. I rather like American cuisine.”
“You can get American cuisine in Singapore,” Sari says, laughing.
“Not Devi’s American cuisine, alas.” He smiles at his wife. He seems to be a reserved man but he blatantly adores his younger, more vivacious wife.
She lays a hand on his shoulder. “Flattery will get you nowhere with me.” Her smile is wicked.
“No, that generally requires jewelry,” he comments dryly. “Please, help yourselves. Would anyone else like a Samuel Adams? One of the reasons I’ve developed a fondness for being in this country.”
“I don’t think you guys should be drinking,” Deborah announces to the three, and they look crestfallen.
“Hmm. Perhaps one wouldn’t be a problem,” I counter. It’s been a long time. We have them on fairly low doses of clonazepam. Alcohol consumption isn’t recommended, but I don’t think one will be a problem. “Anndie? Anything to your knowledge that would cause us to enforce Prohibition again?”
“I don’t think if they have one it’ll be a problem,” she says, happily taking one herself.
The meal is served family style, so everyone helps themselves.
“Devi’s related to me your recent...experiences.” Muladharma is obviously one accustomed to getting down to business. “I gather everyone is feeling much improved?”
“You have no idea,” Ringo says happily as he piles his plate. I think his eyes are bigger than his stomach, but I’m not about to say anything. Devi cooked enough for a few extra people. Like about 80.
“She’s related as well that, for reasons of personal safety, you need to disappear for a while.”
Definitely not a man who likes to waste time.
He continues, “Sari and John will be going to our house in Colombo. Of course, you’re all welcome to join us there, but Devi indicated that perhaps it would be safer were you to not be in the same location.”
“Unfortunately, very true,” Mel responds, his voice sad.
“Perhaps I can be of some assistance,” Muladharma says after taking a long pull on his Sam’s. He says this as casually as if he were saying it was warm and sunny outside, which, in fact, it was all day. “Mr. Frohike. Have you made plans?”
“We’ve got a friend in the Caribbean. Mel and I will be traveling there, assuming we can find safe passage.” Jolly Roger responded earlier in the day, stating that it would be fine were we to come there. His e-mail was hardly enthusiastic, but the three assured me that Jolly Roger is not known for his vivacity.
“Where in the Caribbean?”
Mel suddenly appears nervous. “Cayman Brac.”
Muladharma becomes thoughtful. “A good friend of ours from the Embassy there has a private jet. He makes regular trips back to Grand Cayman. I doubt very much he’d object to taking some passengers.”
“Considering all the times he’s passed out on our floor, I doubt he could protest,” Devi comments, getting a slightly raised eyebrow from Muladharma, but he then laughs.
“And that’s the least of his sins, the others of which are not appropriate for dinner conversation with a minor present.” I like this man, with his soft voice and droll wit. And his very open heart. “I’ll get in touch with him. Mr. Langly? What about you?”
“Uh, it’s just Langly.”
“Whatever you prefer, the question is, what can I do for you?”
“Well, like, Deb here, she’s thinking she wants to join Doctors Without Borders, but she sorta got in trouble at GWU, she like left without calling in and--”
Muladharma waves his hand as to say, no explanation is necessary, nor is it desired. He turns to Deborah. “I gather your young man wants to travel with you.”
“He’d better.” Deborah winks at Ringo. “I’ve been to the website, but considering our...situation, I’m not sure I can get my credentials pushed through. I’m pretty sure I’m persona non grata at GWU, and I’d be pretty easy to track.”
“Not necessarily,” Muladharma assures her. “I’m actually on one of the committees that sponsors the organization in Southeast Asia. I suspect I can call in a few chits so that you’re not found. In the meantime, from the time your credentials are verified till the time you’re sent on assignment is generally six to eight weeks. You’ll need to be somewhere else in the interim.” He’s thinking. “Devi darling. Your mother’s family, the relatives that retired in Provence? Perhaps you could get in touch with them. Ask them to help us out.”
“I’m not quite sure how I’d explain this one,” Devi sounds a bit wary.
“Oh, just do what you always do and charm them to death. If you could do it with my family, theirs should be a pushover.” He stares at us. “My family was dead set against my marrying an American girl. Then they met her, and within an hour, she had them eating out of her hand.” He smiles and shakes his head, then stares at his wife. “If I could bottle what she has, I’d be a bloody billionaire.”
“You forgot. You already are.” Devi teases him lightly.
“No, that would be my father,” he clarifies. I suspect Muladharma’s assets run into the mere millions. “I’m simply allowing you to bankrupt his estate, dear.”
Devi’s rich laugh fills the room. “I’m doing my best.”
“Soldier on, keep up the good work.” I smile happily as he says it. The affection between these two is so obvious without being nauseating. I suspect he keeps her grounded, and she keeps him laughing.
“Jimmy and Anndie need to get to Australia,” John says quietly. Jimmy hasn’t spoken--he’s been too busy stuffing himself. The only time he’s spoken is to flatter the hostess on her culinary skills.
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Muladharma says. “They’ll have to go by way of Singapore, which is not the quickest nor easiest way to go, but believe me, several ministers there owe me quite a lot, especially after this latest bullfight laughingly called negotiations.”
He and Devi serve dessert--hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream. The pie is homemade. No wonder Muladharma craves her cooking.
He kisses his wife at the end of the meal. “You know I only come home for your cooking, dear, don’t you?”
“Hmm. I knew it wasn’t for my body.” Mula appears slightly embarrassed by her comment, but recovers rapidly.
“All right, I have some work to do, and I’d like to be done in time for Ben Stein,” he announces.
“Ben Stein? Wasn’t he at your last party?” Mel asks him.
“Ben’s at every party. I’d kill him for flirting so shamelessly with my wife except that he’s damn brilliant and actually understands something about politics on the Asian subcontinent. And despite his politics, he’s a good friend.”
“Yes, but he’s on CNN in the morning, isn’t he?” Perhaps the jet lag and travel from halfway across the planet has made him as disoriented as we all are.
Muladharma shakes his head and looks mildly amused. “Not CNN. I’m talking about ‘Win Ben Stein’s Money.’”
“And ‘The Osbournes’ are on right after that,” Devi adds cheerfully.
Her husband’s bemused expression never fades. “Just make sure Palin is asleep.”
After dinner, Muladharma retires to his study, and Devi presumably goes off to call her mother’s relatives in Provence. We all gather in the TV room.
“60 inch screen. We can watch the Orioles big as life,” Jimmy grins like a little kid.
“Watch them get ambushed, you mean,” Sari replies tartly. “Really, I think we’ve seen enough baseball recently. I know I have.” She then catches all eyes on her, like daggers. Too much baseball? I don’t think there is such a thing.
“We won’t be seeing any once we’ve left for Sri Lanka,” John is trying to negotiate with her.
She sighs. “All right, watch the game. Not that they can play it from what I’ve observed.”
“They’re just in a temporary slump,” Mel assures her.
“Just like we were. And look at us, we’re way on our way back,” Ringo snuggles into Deborah, yawning.
“And on our way out,” I murmur, too softly for anyone to hear, but I know they’re all thinking it.
No point in depressing everyone. Besides, the opening pitch is about to be thrown.
The men don’t make it through the game, which is just as well—it wasn’t a game, it was more like wholesale slaughter, with New York pounding them 7-2. Just before Ringo conked out in the bottom of the fourth, he commented, there is no game here. Despite the agony of defeat, it’s a pleasant evening. Mel curls up and snores happily against me (he made it to the top of the fifth) and Sari and John are tangled around each other on the sofa (I think he lost interest in the second inning). Deborah and Ringo are on the floor, his head snuggled in her lap as she leans against the back of one of the sofa that Sari and John called dibs on. Don’t let those two fool you. They can be as bad as grade schoolers about certain things.
Muladharma and Devi join us, and we watch ‘Win Ben Stein’s Money together, at least those of us that are awake. Even Deborah is fading during ‘The Osbournes,’ which clearly, Muladharma only watches so that he can be in the presence of his wife.
We sleep late the next morning. Apparently Muladharma has done the same; he’s the last one to breakfast. Devi has prepared waffles and fruit, and she puts Waffle House to shame. Not that it’s particularly difficult to put Waffle House to shame, but they do have decent waffles. These aren’t decent. These are heavenly. I notice that Mel eats a little more than the night before. Ringo’s appetite is improving a little. John is still picking at his food, and he’s the one with the least flesh on his bones. Jimmy, of course, dives in with a vengeance, and even Anndie has lost some of her drained look and decides that it wouldn’t hurt her to enjoy a meal.
“Jimmy and Anndie, your flight is at 10 p.m. tonight,” Muladharma announces. “You’ll first go to Hawaii, where you’ll spend approximately 2 days.”
“Hawaii! Oh, God, I always wanted to go to Hawaii!” Anndie’s earlier anxiety has given way to glee.
Muladharma nods. “Then you’ll travel to Singapore. Singapore is regarded as a safe place, and it can be a wonderful place to visit, but I suggest you get your tourist instincts out in Hawaii. I’ll have written instructions for you as to whom to meet and how to proceed. Make certain you only talk to the individuals I’ve specified.”
Both nod in agreement.
“Can’t tell you how much we appreciate this,” Jimmy says, between mouthfuls of waffles. “I mean, you’re like putting yourself out and getting nothing out of it—“
“That’s where you’d be wrong,” Muladharma informs him crisply. “Believe me, there is a quid pro quo here.”
The guys suddenly become suspicious, as do the rest of us. Even Sari looks in askance at her brother-in-law, whom I assume she knows well.
“What, exactly, is this quid pro quo you’re talking about?” Sari asks him quietly.
“It’s quite simple, really,” Muladharma continues, piling his plate with a second helping of waffles, strawberries, blackberries, and cantaloupe. “Devi tells me that you’re involved in this mess because of a certain—I hesitate to call him a gentleman—person by the name of Edward Runtz.”
“The arms dealer,” Mel’s face goes pale. “You’re acquainted with what he does.”
“I’m more than that. I’m acquainted with him. I’ve known him since Eton.”
“That’s grade school in England,” Sari allows for those of us not in the know.
“He was two years ahead of me. We were also at Cambridge together. Not a good egg, even from the start. So don’t get the idea that we were ever friends. Even Devi couldn’t move him to be a human being.”
“I’m not sure I’d welcome the opportunity,” Devi says, shuddering slightly. That says something—I don’t think this woman particularly fears anyone.
“You wouldn’t have it,” Muladharma continues. “He keeps himself well concealed. Interpol’s been trying to capture him for years, and he’s always one step ahead of them. But you have the unique advantage of knowing who’s working for him, since he got you into this bloody mess.”
“That’s easy,” Ringo pipes up. “We got nailed by this dude Morris Fletcher.”
“He also has a daughter,” John says quietly. “But she isn’t working for him. She was trying to stop him.”
Jimmy glares at John. I think he wanted to keep Lois out of it.
“Morris Fletcher.” Muladharma contemplates. “Not acquainted with the name, but I can certainly find out about him.”
“He works at Groom Lake, Area 51,” Mel tells him. “Although I think he’s in business for himself mostly.”
“He should be easy to locate then. The question then becomes, who is the middleman? Because there’s no way Runtz would ever deal face to face with him, or even directly via any form of communications. Runtz doesn’t like contact with his grunts. It absolves him of responsibility.” Muladharma’s voice is hard.
“You might try someone by the name of Jack Monroe,” John suggests. “Although he’s gone underground and is going by a variety of aliases. He was originally at White Sands, New Mexico.”
“Interesting. Now you say he has a daughter. What would be the likelihood of my interviewing her?”
“You can’t do that,” Jimmy pipes up. “She’s not working for him. She’s against everything he’s about. And…”
“She’s gone underground,” adds Mel.
“We need to locate her.”
“Do you…need us to help you?” For once, Ringo sounds hesitant.
“Good gods, no! I want you all to stay as far away from this as possible. Runtz is dangerous. How do you think the Pakistanis got nuclear capability?”
“I thought they bought it from China,” Mel says. “That was the party line.”
“No. There’s no indication that there was ever any sale of technology or materials from China. Not that that necessarily means anything, but we believe it was Runtz that sold them the means by which to construct their own warheads.”
“What about the Russians?” Sari asks.
“Give up their strategic advantage? I think not. We have evidence to the effect that it was Runtz who was directly involved, but we don’t have him. He’s never screwed up before.” Then a small smile plays across his lips. “Except perhaps this time. You may not realize it, but by doing what he did to you, he could very well have made a fatal misstep.” The thought alternately entertains and worries him. “He is, believe it or not, one of the biggest dangers to political stability in Asia, which, as you well know, is always tentative at best. There are a lot of us who want to see him put out of business. Permanently. He’s not particular as to whom he sells to, just so long as he’s making the sale. I think we can safely thank him for the situation of India and Pakistan right now.” His voice is turning more bitter.
“We could like help you out,” Ringo offers.
“Absolutely not. And I’m firm on this,” Muladharma looks at him, deadly serious. “Let us do our jobs. I think you’ve most certainly done yours. Your best strategy right now is to make yourselves scarce until Runtz is caught.”
“If he’s caught,” Sari adds cautiously.
He shoots his sister in law a sharp look. “No. This time, he is not going to win. Tell me, have any of you read ‘The Art of War’? Because if you haven’t, it’s required reading. There are several copies in the library downstairs, and I will have Devi obtain one for each of you.”
“I’ve read it,” John indicates.
“Then consider it a review. I also need to know what the virus was that you were infected with, and who helped treat you.”
“I’m not going to put that person in jeopardy,” Deborah declares stubbornly.
“We’re not trying to jeopardize her. We need her assistance. Who is it?”
We all look at each other. Maggie does not deserve this. I feel like a traitor.
“Why do you need to know that?” Deborah is acutely annoyed with him. I myself don’t quite see the relevance.
“We need to know if this person has anything to do with Runtz.”
“She doesn’t. That I’m sure of.”
“But she knows of what he’s done. That puts her in danger. And you’ve already revealed to me that it’s a woman. How many women virologists in the world would know how to deal with this? You can ensure your safety—and hers—by telling me who she is.”
Deborah looks as if she’d rather be shot at point blank range. “Margaret Rose. From the CDC. And she’s my friend. Without her, these guys would be dead.”
“I’m acquainted with the name. No, I don’t believe she’d be involved with Runtz. Are you aware of her work?”
“Not really, except that she’s good at it,” Deborah continues.
“She’s been trying to genetically alter the tuberculosis bacteria so that the disease never becomes virulent. TB is a major problem in much of the world, as you well know. But we do need to contact her.”
“She’s going to England,” Deborah admits grudgingly.
“I know that you feel you’re betraying your friend, but you’re not. She helped you. I believe she’ll help us. I’ve met her once, at a World Health Organization meeting. We need to know what she knows.”
“Leave her alone,” Anndie insists. “You don’t need to bother her. We have everything she did here. She gave us all the copies.”
“Are you willing to relinquish the work?” Muladharma asks her.
“Do you think we want to be carrying it around? Forget it,” Ringo says. “You can have it.”
“I think it’s fair that if we turn over her work, you leave her alone,” Mel adds. “She’s placed herself and her career on the line for us. She’s asked that she not be contacted.”
“I think we should respect that,” John adds.
“Please don’t bother Maggie,” Deborah is almost pleading.
“Very well. Give me her work, and we’ll leave her out of the equation unless absolutely necessary.”
“Not good enough,” John insists. “We gave our word that she would not be bothered.”
Muladharma thinks that one over. “All right. But others will see her work. You do understand that.”
“Then maybe you should talk to her first,” I look over at Deborah, my eyes suggesting that it would probably be best if that were the case.
“Okay. But only you,” Deborah remains stubborn on that.
“I’ll agree to that,” Muladharma assents. “Let me state again: you are not to get involved in tracking down Runtz. This is not a negotiable point. Do I make myself clear?”
“Crystal,” Mel says, taking another sip of coffee.
“Then on to the next phase of business. Mr. Frohike—“
“As you wish. You and Ms. Scarlett—“
“—will be traveling to Grand Cayman aboard George’s private jet. He leaves in three days. I’ve insured that you will have no trouble with entry into the country. You’ve indicated that you’ll be staying on Cayman Brac?”
“For a while, at least. Until we get sick of our host.”
“You should be able to move about freely without problems between the islands. I see no difficulties there. One word of advice, though. Buy liquor by the bottle, not the drink. Unless you enjoy wasting money.” We all laugh.
“We haven’t got any to waste,” Mel says to him.
“I’ve provided you all with $50,000 US in unmarked accounts. Use it judiciously. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to continue to work on arrangements for Dr. SaintJohn and Mr. Langly. Amongst other things.” He thanks his wife for the breakfast, and heads out for his office.
Mel looks over at Devi. “Tell me, does he just eat people for breakfast on a daily basis?”
Devi chuckles. “Oh, goodness no. Sometimes he just chews them up and spits them out.”
Go To Chapter 13