I’m expecting Mel to want a nap after breakfast—he and the others are still extremely worn out—but instead, we pile into Deborah and Ringo’s room, except for Jimmy and Anndie, who need to be ready to travel in a few hours. I’m not looking forward to the goodbyes. I think it’s going to be extremely painful for all parties involved.
Ringo starts dialing in. “Don’t know about you, but I’d like a little more 411 on our host.”
“Muladharma is totally trustworthy,” Sari says, very defensively. “And I don’t think he’d appreciate this.”
“Well, when we check him out a little more, we might find out he would,” Mel tells her.
“I think it’s quite rude,” John says. “They’ve done more for us than anyone ever could have or should have. This is wrong.”
“What did your brother-in-law do before he became a diplomat?” Mel asks Sari.
“He was a military attache for the government of Sri Lanka,” Sari says.
“And how much of his past do you know?” Mel continues. I confess to being uncomfortable myself. I don’t think I like where this is going.
“As much as I need to,” Sari shoots back. “Muladharma has done nothing but good in his life and his career. And I’m offended that you feel like spying on him. I’m quite tempted to inform him of what you’re doing.”
“Go ahead,” Ringo challenges. “We’re just kinda curious, though. How come he knows some of the same people we do?”
“You have to admit, Sari,” Mel says softly to her, “that in our line of work, we come into contact with some pretty sordid characters.”
“The world is full of them,” Sari retorts. “I’m sure he’s met some along the way. Diplomacy is just war with better clothes.”
Ringo is spidering his way into the FBI database. I’m very uneasy. He looks up at me and grins.
“Hey, this is an old hack for us. Nothing to it.”
“Oh, I’m sure.” Since their closest friends were members of the FBI, this isn’t really surprising. “And did you spy on them as well?”
“All the time,” Mel assures me. “Kept their butts covered because of it, too.”
“This is a little different,” John says, his discomfort clearly rising—but curiously, he’s sticking around.
Mel puts a hand on his shoulder. “Listen, buddy, we’re not trying to anything to upset your future in-laws—“
“Would you stop!” Sari snaps harshly.
John puts his arms around her. “I’m sure…they have their reasons.” He glares at Mel and Ringo as if to say, and they better be damn good ones.
“Ooh, here we are. Here’s our boy,” Ringo grins, licking his lips.
“Ringo, you are such a brat,” Deborah chides him. “And you DID hear him say that you were to stay out of chasing down Runtz?”
“Yeah, I heard him,” Ringo’s voice suggests that yes, he heard, and it’s about to stick as well as a soap bubble.
“So what juicy tidbits do we have on him?” Mel asks, leaning over the screen.
“You guys are awful,” Deborah groans, falling into a chair. “I suppose you did the same thing to me?”
“Of course we did, dear,” Mel says gently.
“Great. That’s very flattering,” she grouses.
“Wow. Our man Muladharma is way cooler than I even thought. No wonder he knows everyone,” Ringo says.
“He’s a very pleasant and sociable man,” Sari reminds him tartly.
“Yeah. Good assets to have if you work in intelligence,” Mel says, looking straight at Sari.
“He was an attache!” Sari shakes her head in disbelief.
“Indeed he was. He was all that and more,” Mel says. “He’s been commended by nearly every government on the planet for his work, too. That’s tough to do in the espionage business.”
“You’re telling me Muladharma was a spy? That is absurd!” Sari is nearly shouting. “You know what? I’m going to go get Devi. I want you to tell her what you’ve told me. And let’s see what she has to say about it.” She stomps off, slamming the door behind her.
John shrugs. “I never said she didn’t have a temper.”
A few minutes later, Sari returns, Devi in tow. “Hey guys, what’s going on?” Devi asks cheerfully. “Sari says you wanted to ask me something.”
Everyone is acutely ill at ease. Ringo, the least tactful of the bunch, poses the question.
“Hey Devi, what’d your husband do before he got into being Mr. Pass the Sweet and Sour Shrimp?”
Devi laughs. “Officially, he was a military attache. That’s a nice way of saying he was involved in espionage.”
Sari’s jaw drops. Devi looks at her aghast. “Don’t look so shocked, girl. How do you think you get trained for this job?”
“You knew this?” Sari is still in a bit of shock.
“Of course I knew this!”
“Well, how come you never told me?” Her older sister demands, looking more hurt than angry.
Devi shrugs. “That’s how diplomats become diplomats. I figured you just knew that.”
“So this is true,” Sari is trying to digest it.
“Duh! How did you think we knew such an interesting cast of characters to invite to all our parties?”
Sari shakes her head. “I’m not even going to go there.”
“Sari, you say ‘spy’ like it’s a dirty word! Get over it!” Devi laughs as she exits. “Mula’s done a lot of good for a lot of people. You of all people know that.” Before she leaves, she turns to the rest of us. “You know, you guys could have saved yourselves a lot of trouble and just asked him. He’d have told you.” She giggles as she disappears behind the door.
“She’s right, you know,” John says to her, comforting her. “You don’t hold it against me that I do what I do.”
“It’s not that,” she says, settling herself. “I was mostly put off by the way you approached it.” She stares reproachfully at Ringo and Mel. “As Devi said, you could have just asked him.”
“How come you never did?” Ringo shoots back.
“I—just never thought of it,” Sari says, laughing a little. “I assume you’re all satisfied that he’s on the up and up now?”
“It’s not like we didn’t think he was—okay, we suspect everyone,” Mel concedes. “Especially people who are nice to us.”
“Since there are so few of them,” Ringo mutters.
“Let’s face it, no one’s done more for us than Devi and Muladharma,” Deborah concedes. “Maybe except for Maggie. I wasn’t happy to give her up to him, even if he is a great guy.”
“I don’t think you need to worry about that,” Sari says softly. “And he promised he would do it himself. Muladharma keeps his word.”
“I know. It’s just…this has been such a mess. I don’t know how we’re ever gonna repay them for all they did,” Deborah says sadly.
“They don’t expect repayment. Getting Runtz will be more than sufficient payment for Muladharma,” Sari says quietly.
“And for us,” Mel adds.
We nap the rest of the day, until it’s time to say goodbye to Jimmy and Anndie. The first goodbye. And it’s brutal, for all of us. Jimmy has tears in his eyes.
“I barely know you guys, and I already feel close to you,” Anndie says as she hugs everyone.
“Your help has been invaluable,” John assures her.
“We couldn’t have done it without you,” I tell her, and I mean that. There’s no way this would have happened without her and Maggie. And Jimmy. Jimmy grabs me in a huge bear hug and almost crushes my ribs.
“You take care of the old man, now,” he whispers to me. “I need him.”
“So do I.”
“And don’t tell me you don’t hug,” he says to Mel, holding out his arms and tossing them around him.
“Obviously you didn’t listen the first time,” Mel grunts at him. “Hey, Gigantor. You take it easy. Thanks for everything. We’ll be in touch.”
Ringo and Deborah consent to be hugged. “Stay outta trouble, okay?” Ringo admonishes. “Should be a lot easier without us around.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Anndie says, her smile teasing.
Finally, he comes to John and Sari, and with Sari, he gets an extended hug, and one from John as well. John actually looks a bit misty eyed. “Be careful, Jimmy. We’ll contact you when we can. You remember everything we talked about, right?”
“What he doesn’t, I will,” Anndie offers up.
Devi hugs both of them. “I’m glad we met,” she says to Anndie. “Next time we visit it’ll be under happier circumstances.” She plants a kiss on each cheek of each of them. “Jimmy, I’ll miss you. You’ve been a godsend.”
“Nah, it was nothing.”
Muladharma does not hug, and even Jimmy respects that. “Be well, my friend. Remember my instructions. You’ll be safe. Now hurry. The driver is waiting.”
I suck in my breath to keep the tears from leaking out. In less than three days, we will have to repeat this ritual. And it’ll be Mel and me doing the leaving.
Mel’s expression is unreadable, but that is not unusual for him. I know he’s hurting, though.
He taps me on the shoulder. “Let’s get to bed.”
The day of our departure comes. We’ve learned in the interim that Deborah has been accepted into Doctors Without Borders. She and Ringo will first go to Provence to stay with Sari and Devi’s Aunt Gretl, who is a retired archeologist and their mother’s older sister.
“You’ll love her,” Sari assures them. “Aunt Gretl is such a kick. Her arthritis is bad, which is why she no longer goes on digs and settled into a warmer climate, but you’ll have so much fun with her. Think Devi with blonde hair.”
After that, they’ll move on to Germany, and from there, Deborah has been posted to Bangladesh. We all shudder a bit—Bangladesh has not gotten the best press in the world. They’ll have to wait 8 weeks to go there after they arrive in Provence—it takes that long for the immunizations they have to have to take effect. I got to do the honors on that one. I have to admit that Ringo does have an incredibly nice butt. Deborah and I were both concerned how he would react to the immunizations after what they’ve been through, but he seems to be fine. We repeat the process with John and Sari, who do a lot less carrying on about the whole affair. Deborah was absolutely the worst. She’s not very good on the wrong end of a needle.
John and Sari will be headed for Colombo in Sri Lanka, where they will be at Devi and Muladharma’s house. They won’t leave for several weeks. It’s going to be tough—they can’t leave the consulate, so in away, I guess we’re lucky. Mel and I are at least headed for tropical paradise.
Departure time is here.
The guys are all trying to be casual about it, but it’s obvious that this is extraordinarily painful for them. All the joking and ranking on each other can’t conceal how upset they are about being separated.
“As soon as we can safely be together again, we will be,” John promises.
“I hope it’s gonna be soon. Man, I hope they’ve got electricity where we’re going.” Ringo is whining already.
“Provence has plenty of electricity,” Sari teases him.
“You know what I mean! I mean, how’m I gonna get my email if I don’t have electricity?” Ringo carries on. Translation: I’ll die if I can’t keep in touch with you guys.
“Remember, no chasing Runtz,” Muladharma warns.
“You have our word on that,” Mel promises him, but the expression he passes to his two beloved comrades says something otherwise. We’ll have to discuss this, but this is not the time nor the place.
We thank Devi and Muladharma profusely. Muladharma shakes his head. “I think you’ve helped us more than you know already.”
“And you will let us know when the situation is resolved,” Mel reminds him.
“You’ll be the first to know, I’m sure.” Muladharma’s dry tone suggests that he didn’t believe Mel’s earlier promise, but he’s not going to mention it right now.
“We’ll see you again. Soon,” Devi promises, her voice hopeful.
I hug Deborah, hard. “You still gonna kill me for getting you into this?” She asks me.
“Maybe later.” We both laugh, but we’re crying a little, too. “Right now I’m thinking sunblock and umbrella drinks.”
“A good idea,” Muladharma nods. “Be well.”
Stepping out of the door and into the car, I feel empty and lost. I think Mel is even more so.
“Are you all right?” I ask him softly when we’re on our way to the airfield.
“I will be,” he says, very softly. “Eventually.”
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