The Malacca Conspiracy
- Wednesday, August 18, 2010
The river narrowed.
Panoramic colors and the salty smell of a small, Asian seaport greeted their senses. Several small craft, mainly single-engine skiffs, glided up and down the river in both directions near the shoreline.
Automobiles crawled along a small, urban street parallel to the right bank. To the left, bright, rainbow-colored houses and apartments scrunched up to the riverbank. Laundry hung from clotheslines behind the houses and apartments.
Perkasa extracted a cigar from his shirt pocket and offered it to his companion. The doctor declined.
The general lit the cigar and sucked satisfying tobacco smoke into his mouth. He swirled the warm smoke around his tongue and teeth.
His young Malaysian escort began to drone on like the tour guide he was. "For hundreds of years, Malacca was the busiest port on the Malaysian peninsula. The Portuguese, Dutch, and British have all seized this port. Now Singapore, just 180 miles to the south, has taken away most of the shipping traffic. But Malacca will always be the birthplace of Islam in Malaysia. Arab traders brought Islam here in the 1400s."
The general, a short, middle-aged man with a thirty-eight-inch waistline, cocked his head back, basked his face in the warm, overhead sunshine, and opened his mouth into a round circle. Concentric smoke rings rose into the tropical air, then dissipated in breezy wisps. He flicked ashes over the side of the boat into the calm waters of the river.
"Now it is a quiet place," the fellow babbled. "Small among Malaysian cities. This peaceful harbor is inaccessible to oceangoing vessels."
He should pull his gun on this babbling idiot just to shut his mouth. But he needed the fool to guide him to the rendezvous point and, afterward, to get them out of the country again.
"Our dock is there." The guide pointed to a pier just past a bend in the river.
The pilot throttled the engines into idle and steered the wheel to the right. The boat floated toward the dock. Two men, one Asian and the other with Middle Eastern features, stood at the edge of the dock.
"Our ride awaits us, General," the guide said, tossing a rope to the Asian man.
The general stood, and as the boat inched to the dock, stepped off to the outstretched hand of the Middle Eastern-looking man.
"Ah, General Perkasa," the man said. "I am Bander Omar, chief assistant to Farouq Al-Fadil."
"Mr. Omar." General Perkasa withdrew his hand and motioned to his companion. "This is Dr. Guntur Budi."
"A pleasure, Doctor," Omar said. "I have heard of you and also your father. He was a great man." Two jeeps were parked on the street just behind the docks. "Come. Our Malaysian hosts await us."
The general got into one jeep. The doctor sat in the jeep behind him. They pulled forward, and in a few minutes turned left across a bridge spanning the Malacca River.
On the north side of the river, the jeeps turned left, driving a short distance down a street paralleling the water. They turned right off the river street and stopped in front of a small hotel. The white stucco building with ornate exterior features suggested a bygone era.
"Welcome to the Hotel Puri," Omar said. "It dates back to the 1800s, and has about fifty rooms. My boss has rented them all for our meeting."
"Yes, I know this place." The general took a drag from his cigar, which had burned down about half an inch. "Your boss is expecting many guests?"
"No, General. Just you, the doctor, and a select few others." Omar nodded at the hotel. "Shall we?"
"After you." Perkasa tossed his cigar onto the lush green grass beside the sidewalk. He stepped out of the jeep, waiting for Dr. Budi.
"Follow me, gentlemen." The Arab motioned for the general and the doctor to follow. As Omar pushed open the front glass door of the hotel, Perkasa felt the grip of his pistol. He switched off the safety, readying the pistol to fire.
The lobby was cool from the air conditioning. A large, sparkling chandelier hung down over a round table. Six chairs with red velvet cushions were positioned in a circle around the table.
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