THINGS DONE: BAIT AND SWITCH
Chapter 3
 

BYERS:

In a way, I'm grateful to Sari for pushing me to the wall to tell
Muladharma. I have better resources at my disposal for computing, and
not engaging in subterfuge (on his account) has made things easier and
calmer between Sari, the family and me. At first, I felt terrible; I
almost wish Muladharma had really chewed me out. I recall leaving his
office feeling whipped and his never having done anything but be
friendly and civilized.

"He's gifted. What can I say?" Sari shrugs. "You do it for a living,
you're bound to develop some skills."

Sari and Devi have been hard at work on some translation projects.
HarperCollins decided the Japanese market was ripe for romance novels
and made a few tentative entries into the populace a few months back.
Apparently the public--both men and women--couldn't get enough of them,
and they've launched into a massive campaign to get their entire line
translated. Devi hadn't done freelancing in a long while--most of her
work is with the State Department in the US--but she latched on to the
offer with glee, despite a few raised eyebrows from her more staid
relatives. She wasn't expecting such an overwhelming workload, however,
and enlisted her older sister with a great deal of nonsubtlety. Sari
immersed herself in refining her Japanese, and gets me involved in the
process as well. I'm enjoying learning the language. There is one
serious drawback to this, however. The novels that they're translating
are of the 'lust in the dust' variety (or in expensive homes, or
secluded beaches, or other locales conducive to such activity). Needless
to say, we've been spending more than a little time distracting
ourselves when the subject matter becomes too intense. Neither of us
reads romances, and the dialogue and narrative are frequently more comic
than anything else, but laughter also can lead to seduction, and there's
been plenty of that.

Laughter, and working air conditioning. The Tamil unrest has subsided,
and services are far more consistent. The curfew has been lifted and we
are able to get out and enjoy some walks and dinners in the local eateries.

It feels good to be able to laugh and love with her so easily. It gives
me an escape from dwelling on finding Jimmy and nailing Runtz, which,
I'm sorry to say, I haven't done as well with as I'd hoped. If
Muladharma is disappointed, he hides it well, assuring me that all
things take patience.

"And when you find out how to get it, let me know," he commented
acerbically one time when I was complaining about my lack of progress.
"I'll be in negotiations with the Indian trade associations next month.
Patience is only the start in that regard."

What I really need are to have Frohike and Langly with me. Three heads
are better than one at this sort of thing. The fact that I sometimes
feel schizophrenic does not count. I haven't yet proposed the idea to
Muladharma; I suspect he'll shoot it down, anyway. And, at least for
now, he is, as Langly has dubbed him, the Grand Poobah. He sees the
emails, of course, and I thought he'd be offended, but when he read it
the first time, he burst out laughing. Palin then explained that the
title came from the Flintstones. He and I were then forced to explain
the Flintstones to Muladharma, who concluded that he'd had a deprived
childhood. Sari and I sang the theme song for him. He urged us not to
give up our day jobs. This led to hours of singing--badly off key--every
theme song from every show we'd ever watched as kids. I was
impressed--Sari knew all the lyrics to the theme song from "My Mother
the Car."

It's the silliness that's keeping me sane right now. Now that I no
longer need to be furtive in my work, I spend more time with it. At
times it gets overwhelming. Langly and Frohike assist as they can, but
without them in the same room, the dynamics are all off, and the stress
relief isn't there. I honestly believe we'd do better together, but
there's probably no point in even approaching the subject. I haven't
even mentioned it to Sari. She'd understand my need to work with them,
but she'd also probably agree that the three of us in one place could
jeopardize everything.

Sari appears in the doorway of the office I've been given. It's late
afternoon.

"Care to join me in a drink on the portico?" She asks. "I don't think I
can look at another Japanese character without going blind. And let's
not even discuss what we have to do with syntax."

"Let me just check my email, see if I have anything new from Frohike or
Langly. A word on Jimmy might be helpful as well." I am, however, not
holding my breath on that one. I'm really starting to wonder if he's
still out there. I squelch that thought. As long as I've not heard
otherwise, I'll continue to believe that he's out there and doing all right.

"What's going on here? Can't get King Workaholic away from his
computers?" I hear the loud voice of Devi coming through the hallway,
increasing in volume until she arrives in the doorway with her sister,
whom she elbows upon arrival. "We're going to have some wine. Mula got a
lovely Riesling from the German consul. A prick, but he does send
fabulous wines."

"Gee, Devi, why don't you tell us what you really think?" Her older
sister teases her back.

"I would, but I'd be thrown out of every civilized country. You coming,
John?"

"I'm just checking my email. It won't take but a minute."

"In that case, we're going to stand over you until you're done to make
sure you don't spend till darkness in here," Devi decides.

"It really won't take that long."

"That's what you said last time, and we waited two hours for you," Devi
chides. "Cocktail hour is sacrosanct in this house, you know. Especially
when we've got a premium vintage Riesling just screaming for us to
uncork it."

"Devi, settle down. You'll get your drink." Sari pats her arm. "You'd
think you were about to have the DT's."

"Who says I'm not?"

I have 2 emails, one from each. Langly's came first. I click it on and
start the decryption algorithm. In less than one minute, I have text
from him.

"You've got mail." Devi comments. "Too bad it's not porn spam."

"Devi!" Sari glares at her, but this just makes Devi laugh--and me blush.

Langly's text, as always, is short, but this time, it's not about Runtz
or Jimmy or bank records or anything else of that nature.

"Is something wrong?" Sari asks. My face must have involuntarily changed
expression.

I glance at it again to make sure I read it right. "Langly thinks
Deborah is pregnant. So does she."

"Deborah?" Sari's face creases. "She's a doctor. Surely she wouldn't--"

"She was waiting for a shipment. She had one set of rods left--I'm
assuming she means Depo-Provera--that she was going to use for herself,
but one of her patients begged for it, and seeing as the woman was under
30 and already had had 9 pregnancies and 7 living children, Deborah
conceded."

"You'd think they'd at least use a condom," Devi says.

I shake my head. "Oldest story in the book. Langly says they got a good
shipment of liquor and imbibed. He thinks that's the night it happened."

"She doesn't know for sure?" Sari asks me.

"She's waiting on her next shipment of supplies. Apparently she ran out
of test kits as well. They won't know for certain until tomorrow,
assuming she gets her supplies."

"Does he say how she is?" Sari's voice is riddled with concern now.

"Sick. She hasn't been feeling well."

"If she's pregnant, she's got to get out of there." Devi's preoccupation
with opening the Riesling has shifted. "Conditions are terrible there.
She could jeopardize her baby and herself."

"Langly wants to get her out of there, but she made a 6-month commitment
and she's determined to stick it out."

Muladharma appears in the doorway. "I thought cocktails were going to be
on the portico." He scans our expressions. "Bad news?"

"I don't know if you'd call it bad, but it is worrisome," Sari tells
him. "Deborah and Ringo think she's pregnant."

Muladharma's expression reveals nothing. "They don't know for certain yet?"

"They don't have testing supplies," I offer. "They should know in
another day."

Muladharma frowns. "She can't stay there."

"Langly says she won't leave until her commitment is up," I add. I agree
with him, but he should know what her input was on the subject. "He said
she didn't even want him to bring it up, but he's worried."

"He should be," Muladharma says. "And it's not her choice to make.
Doctors Without Borders doesn't allow pregnant workers to stay in the
field." He stares thoughtfully into space. "When you respond, tell him
he's to email you immediately with a confirmation either way. From
there, we'll see what needs to be done, if anything." He frowns for a
moment. "I wasn't aware they were planning on having children."

"They certainly weren't planning on having them now," I say.

"Have you heard from Mr. Frohike?" Muladharma asks me. He always refers
to them as 'Mr. Langly' and 'Mr. Frohike.' You can take the boy out of
the English boarding school, but you can't take the English boarding
school out of the boy.

"I was just about to open his lastest."

"Well, let's hope if he has something to tell us, it's good news,"
Muladharma says, laying a hand on his wife's shoulder. "It is cocktail
hour, after all, and we already have one potential problem we may have
to look at."

I open Frohike's email. While it decrypts, Muladharma moves in closer to
me. He gets a copy on his own computer (yes, he watches me like a hawk),
but he's in my office, not his own.

Frohike, always a man of few words in the flesh, emulates said style in
writing. He's quick and to the point.

"I may have found Runtz. The bad news is, he may have found us. Grand
Cayman, George Town, La Campanos Restaurant. App. 2 hours ago. Send
available intel. MJF."

Not many things leave Muladharma speechless, but that one left his jaw
slamming the Persian carpet in my office.

After a moment, he recovers his composure and looks up at his wife.
"Devi darling, perhaps we should serve the wine in here. Either that, or
bloody cocktail hour's going to be a long time in coming."

***************************************************************************************

Muladharma and I spend a long time downloading anything we have from
Interpol and various government agencies. Frohike does not, of course,
have a photo of Runtz, but maybe with what we've given him, we can get a
positive ID.

Sari and Devi take a leave to get dinner going. We don't have random
relatives floating about tonight, Palin is off at a friend's home, and
Devi, except in the case of extremely large parties, does her own
cooking, just as she does in DC. By the time they finish preparing the
meal and Muladharma and I have exhausted our own resources, it's after 9
p.m.

Muladharma and I are silent through much of the meal. Sari and Devi chat
away, but their tone is subdued.

"The Mels are in danger there, if that was indeed Runtz," Devi comments.

"I'm aware of that. The question is not getting them out of there, but
how," her husband responds. "Anyone with brilliant ideas, please feel
free to share them." His tone is acerbic, but I know he means it.

"Courier flight?" Sari suggests. "To some neutral nation."

"We're talking about Runtz. There are no neutral nations. A courier
flight makes sense, but it's always risky to begin with." He sighs.
"I'll call George in Grand Cayman, see what he can do to help, but I've
already pressed on his services in this regard. I didn't have to explain
myself last time. I might not be able to get away with it this time."

"How about bringing them here? It's not as if we don't have the room,"
Devi quips as she pours herself her fifth glass of wine. "And you've got
carte blanche here, Mula."

He sighs. "You're talking about bringing them halfway around the world
unnoticed. Once they're here, I can protect them, but in transit, that's
quite another thing."

"Military transport?" I offer.

"A possibility, but they'd have to get to Hawaii, then to the
Phillipines, then to Bombay, then on to Colombo. It could take several
days. And no military bases in the Caymans. They'd have to take
commercial or charter out." He pours himself another glass of wine.
We've long exhausted the Riesling and are now working on a luscious
Burgundy, whose dazzling flavors are taking second place to keeping my
panic in check. I should be drinking Thunderbird for what I'm looking to
get from a wine right now, I think wryly.

Muladharma has extremely quiet. I help Sari and Devi clear the
table--all the servants are off tonight. As I return to fetch another
stack of dishes, Muladharma stops me.

"Perhaps I was wrong all along. I think at this point, our best strategy
is to bring you all together under one roof."

I almost drop the china I'm carrying. I'm glad I didn't. It's Limoges.

"You mean, bring them here?" I can feel my heart begin to beat wildly,
both in fear and joy.

"Yes."

"Can you do that?"

"Ah, that's the trick part of the question, isn't it?" He rises from the
table. "Knock off for the night, John. Do something pleasurable. Get
some rest. The hard part is only beginning. If you'll excuse me."

Yes, the hard part may only be starting...but to see my friends again?

I don't care if all the reasons they need to come here are terrible
ones. I just need them to get here.