(Part 1 can be found in an earlier post.)
Life on the Left Side of the Fast Lane
By Reynold Conger (copyright 2010)
(As Ron Cooper starts his search for the missing Usman, he borrows Usman’s office and begins his investigation under the cover of a routine consulting visit.)
After a short nap and lunch, Ron set himself up in Usman’s office with a scattering of file folders and technical manuals across Usman’s normally tidy desk. Then he set about his normal routine of inspecting machines.
Kubla Kahn stuck his head into the office Ron was using and said, “Come, we go to inspect the mango orchard.”
Once the car was safely in traffic, Kubla Kahn said in a disappointed voice, “I see you have been very busy in the factory.”
Ron answered, “So it should appear, but actually I have spent most of my time searching Usman’s office and going through the papers in his desk.”
“Do you find that useful?”
“Fortunately, Usman does most of his work in English. His desk drawer contains several file folders of literature on computers. His telephone log indicates he has had a lot of contacts with stores who sell computer equipment. I presume he has been buying, or at least specfying, computers.”
“Yes, he thinks we need to modernize our data processing. His goal is to have new computers in all departments in six months. He wants to have the computers talking to each other in a year.”
“Usman’s note pad has several cryptic notes about computers plus a few names including that of a woman named Shauna. The detective agency sent a man by to get the information. They will see if any of the names have significance.”
“I see. Well, just having you here gives me great comfort.” In Urdu, Kubla Kahn gave Zuftikhar instructions to return to the factory.
That evening Zuftikhar picked up Ron and delivered him to Kubla Kahn’s house. Kubla’s younger daughter, Amna, rushed to greet Ron. “Mr. Cooper. It is so nice to have you back with us.” She only shook his hand, but it seemed to Ron that she held his hand much longer than was necessary.
Ron said, “I brought your sister shampoo and you some American chocolates.”
“Oh, good. Now that I have finished high school, you must treat me as a woman, but I still like chocolates. Thank you very much.”
A strained silence overshadowed the meal in spite of the fact that the Kahn family smiled and tried to carry on a conversation. Kubla Kahn made occasional remarks about business. His wife attempted to make small talk about the kinds of gifts she expected Usman to bring back from the U.S.. The older daughter seldom contributed much to diner conversations, and that night said nothing. Amna broke the silence with frequent questions about American styles and rock stars.
They finished with ice cream and fruit in the living room. Just as Ron was reaching for another grape, Amna said, “I have taken up painting. Would you like to see the mango flowers I have painted on the garden wall?”
Ron expected Amna to lead her through the garden to where the cars were parked, but instead she stopped near the back of the garden, where a large flower was freshly painted on the wall.
Ron stopped to admire the flower. Amna allowed him to look for a minute. All the while she was looking around. Suddenly, she grasped his arm and pulled him into a dark shadow at the corner of the wall.
Amna threw her arms around Ron and said, “I have always wanted a chance to kiss you. Please kiss me.”
Before Ron could protest, Amna’s lips were against his. After the kiss, Ron said, “I thought we were going on a ride so we could discuss mangos.”
“We will talk about Usman. We are alone here, but we would arouse suspicion if you and I were to leave unescorted together by car at night,” Amna said as she moved slightly away from Ron but remained in the circle of his arms.
“But Zuftikhar. . .”
“Drivers drive the car. They do not act as chaperons. Everyone knows this.”
“Then how can we be alone in the garden?”
“Only the family will see us, and they know you are a gentleman to be trusted.”
“And the servants?”
“They will not intervene unless you threaten to hurt me. That is why I kissed you. So the servants will think we are talking about love and not about Usman.”
“But Amna, certainly they will not think an old man. . .”
“When you came to install the first machine, I fell in love with you. I was a foolish girl of 13. The houseboy heard me telling my sister how much I love you. The servants know how I feel about you, and now that I am an adult, you must treat me like a woman. That means stealing a kiss in the garden.”
“What a clever cover. I hope you father doesn’t hear about this.”
“He knows. I told him I would do it, but I did not tell him how much I was looking forward to kissing you.”
“Amna, you’re only 18. I’m much too old for you, and besides, I have a wife.”
“I keep hoping that you will become a Moslem and take me as your second wife.”
Amna let out a sparkling laugh that floated across the garden. “Of course, you will never be anything other than a Christian, and you are right about our ages. You are much too old for me, but I still love you. I can dream can’t I?”
“Very well, let’s get down to business. You brought me here to discuss your brother’s disappearance.”
“Yes, we will talk about him, but first you must hold me tight and promise me you will help me. The most terrible thing is about to happen to me.”
(to be continued)
(The next installment will be posted in late January.)