Married by Mistake Chapter 55. World Online News Network

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Chapter 55. World Online News Network

Kaylee watched as raw feeds from Singapore online news scrolled across her screen. The sisters watched images of a man, escorted out of an airport in handcuffs.

“Authorities state they have arrested an accused drug smuggler and sources have stated, a known murderer from the United States. Although the name was withheld by authorities until they verify the suspected drug smuggler’s identity.” The talking head on the tv narrated while the video and images shifted on the screen.

But Kaylee recognized the airplane on which they captured this dangerous human being.

It was Tom.

Melanie’s boyfriend found a raw news feed web-site then used a cable to plug the tv into his tablet and they all watched the image display titled that an accused rich drug smuggler stand trial.

They tried to turn up the sound on the video but that did not help, the three of them did not understand the language, but the subtitles gave the story. While she watched the feeds on the TV, Kaylee held her hands to her face with tears in her eyes.

She knew where she forgotten her misplaced stash.

The Pacific Wizard, in the bedroom dresser on her side, second drawer from the bottom with her blindfold to help her sleep and aromatherapy oils. She closed her eyes and imagined what version of hell that a foreign drug smuggler’s life is like.

*And it’s not even Tom’s.* Her heart stood still. *Legal here, what are the penalties in that country?*

“What are the laws in, where’s he at? Singapore?” Kaylee asked.

Arthur, Melanie’s boyfriend rubbed his forehead in thought.

“Severe. They execute for drugs there that we have legalized.”

Kaylee looked out the window at the bay, to the west there was the horizon. She wished with all her heart she could fly over the horizon and rescue the man who suffered because of her.

*I wonder if he is safe?*

In a dusty jail in Singpore, sat a citizen of the United States. He was so exhausted he struggled to remember his own name.

Tom. His name was Tom. He had been awake so long, his deepest memories were fuzzy.

His books, a pirated movie that made the rounds and the assurances from the United States Ambassador had done little to help his state of mind.

He had just survived twenty-four hours of interrogation at the police station and Tom fretted like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. He sat alone at a table while police and prosecutors paraded in front of the judge and the narration cryptic law was in English, the direction taken by Singapore jurisprudence was obvious. 

“They are about to do what they do best,” A dapper-mannered man sat in front of him. “Crush an individual found with drugs and obscene devices. The blindfold that they found they will consider as evidence of a crime, your statement to the inspector that you smuggle women will compound your case.”

“You have passed blood and urine drug tests, you are clean except for medications for those you have prescriptions for. In other words, you are clean and not a user.” The lawyer read from a paper without a smile.

Tom relaxed as he heard this from his hastily appointed legal advisor, but then it took a decidedly dark turn when the lawyer held his hand up as Tom began to smile when he heard about his clean test results.

‟If you do not use the drugs, then you are a smuggler.”

‟No. That means I did not partake. They found it in a drawer, inside a woman’s toiletry bag that had a blindfold to help her sleep and I don’t know what else.”

‟Ah yes. And how did you know of the blindfold, and the drugs. Where is this woman?” The lawyer asked his client.

Tom looked into the face of the blue-eyed British legal esquire that practiced in Singapore.

Robert Mitch was born of English parents when Singapore was a colony of the Empire, left the country for England to get his legal degree and then became a lawyer in the busy center of business and crime. Over the years as he worked for defense of tourists that ran afoul of the law and their families, he often charged exorbitant fees.

They almost always paid the prices he often asked, the large income even allowed him to bribe the occasional official to look the other way while evidence vanished.

He smiled when he read the legal charges.

*This case promises a large payday! This client is a rich American!*

‟She is probably in California, I last saw her in Oregon.”

“She’s a prostitute then? Marijuana is legal in Oregon, yes? So, we can argue that the drugs were there, without your knowledge in a place where it is a legal drug.” He scribbled down notes on a yellow pad. “That will help. The obscene violations will also be investigated, we will argue that she brought the drugs on board without your knowledge. But I assure you that won’t matter.”

It was Tom’s turn to hold up his hand.

‟She is not a prostitute, she’s a friend and we had…” Tom paused. ‟A relationship. But it’s over now.”

‟Is she still alive?” Robert asked. “You’ve a reputation as a lady-killer that got away with the crime.”

‟What the f…” Tom exploded and was unable to speak for a moment. “What kind of question is that?”

‟The kind they will ask you in the investigation.” He looked at Tom. ‟The prosecutor is good at his job to put anyone in jail with drug charges. Right now they are have a court’s order for a thorough search your plane. Down to the last bolt.”

‟What does that mean?” Tom asked.

‟They will to take it apart to look for hidden compartments. Do you have any on board?”

‟I have a safety box, has legal papers in it. I would wish those to stay private.”

“In the course of investigation, no secret of yours will remain a secret or private.” Robert shook his head. ‟If the papers are on the plane, they will become part of the investigation and evidence to show the judge. What is on those papers?”

‟Jesus. Annulment papers.” Tom held his head in his hands. ‟Just annulment papers. We got married when she’d gotten stoned. Then it ended.”

‟So you drugged her into actions against her will?” Robert wrote on his pad of paper again.

‟NO! No no. Oh good God!” Tom nearly fainted. Even his defense lawyer was not on his side. “No, that’s all wrong. Not how it was.”

‟This is how they’ll present the investigation, in light of the reports about your family. Some archives say you might have had a hand in their deaths.” Robert shook his head and opened a local English language newspaper and showed it to his client. “Mr. Harte, at this point, if you want to keep your head out of the noose, I recommend you to not mention, at all, the circumstances of this annulment. You got married, it did not work out, it’s over.”

‟The noose? How about I stay out of prison?” Tom said in a panicked tone.

‟To be honest.” Robert put his pen down and looked at Tom. ‟There is not a strong hope for that at the moment. You were found with almost five-hundred grams of marijuana. This area is known to grow copious amounts of the weed. This is worth a life sentence, confiscation of your plane and seizure of any drug money. And report on the oil that was found is still not back yet. They will treat it as marijuana resin or hash oil for the moment. If tests show it is, in fact, a hashish oil? With the weed you already had on board, that is a mandatory death penalty and they will hang you. By this time next month, they will send you back to the states in a box.”

‟The oil, I don’t know, it might be a massage oil. Drug money. There is no money on that plane, just what was in my pocket.”

The lawyer stared at Tom for a long moment. He picked up his phone and dialed a number.

“It’s Robert Mitch. Yes, with the American now. Yes, that is what I have called about, thank you. It is? Thank you, again.” The lawyer broke the connection and looked back at Tom. “Good news, the oil is a mineral oil with traces of eucalyptus and rosemary in it.”

Tom and Robert both took a deep breath.

“That would have been a death-penalty, be assured of that.” Robert added. ‟Mr. Harte, You need someone who is local on your side before this goes any further. What is the reason you are in Singapore Mr. Harte?” Robert wrote down his question.

‟Tom, please, call me Tom.”

‟No, I don’t think so.” Robert said in a calm tone that did not reassure Tom and only increased his anxiety. ‟I don’t do that, it is a matter of respect. And while friendship lets someone call another by first names, we are not friends. I work for you and the courts and it’s not proper business otherwise.”

‟So,” Robert continued. “I ask again, why are you in Singapore?”

‟I was about to meet with someone to get my books published, perhaps printed here and maybe have a movie funded. Lee Kong Kuen, is his name.”

‟Lee Kong Kuen,” Robert froze in mid-scribble and looked up. “The Mr. Lee who-has-more-money-than-god, Mr. Lee?

‟Yes.” Tom said. ‟That’s him. Why?”

Robert sat up and his eyes wide, his price to charge the witless Yankee just reduced to a normal fee. If it became known that Robert gouged a business partner of Lee Kong Kuen? Mr. Lee would do things to Robert that were too hideous to think about.

Perspiration broke out on the lawyer’s forehead as he fumbled for his thoughts.

‟Maybe, you’ve a chance to get the hell out of this country if this hits the news.” Robert said, he became highly motivated to win. ‟Once it goes public, then this will back the law into a corner and motivate them to release you, it would make them look bad and cost them a great deal of money. Whether bribed, blackmailed or bro-manced for favors. No matter what punishment they would impose.”

‟Bro-manced?” Tom looked at his lawyer.

‟It has become a recent term here to describe favors the leaders here go through. It comes, I think, from an American tv comedy that is popular here.” Robert said. ‟I think you Yanks call it a ‟good old boy” system” and it works on a daily basis here.”

‟Let’s get it done then. Faster we can get me out of here, the better.”

Robert’s phone chirped and he looked at the text display.

‟Mister Harte, I think we need to turn on the tv.”

What Tom saw, made his jaw drop. A news story showed him as a prisoner escorted out of the airport.

‟Tom, you need talk to Mister Lee, right away.” Robert grimaced. ‟It may already be too late, if he feels you are a petty smuggler, he will not help you. But, if he will help, this will just evaporate in a second. Just assure me, that marijuana is not yours.”

‟Not mine.” Tom said. “I truly did not know it was there. I am here on business only, writer’s busines. I want to get my children’s stories published here in this part of the world.”

‟Fine, I will do all that I can to get you out of this. But with your nationality as an American and first time here? And if I can get the charges dropped?” Robert looked directly at his client. ‟You get on that big damned plane of yours, push the throttles all the way forward and get your red-white-and-blue butt out of Singapore. No stops, no explores, no Indiana Jones adventure-seeker games.”

‟Could I come back?” Tom wondered out loud. “For business?”

‟Well, you can, if you wish. But my advice, not for a couple of years.” The lawyer nodded. ‟And then, it would be bloody good to take my advice, do not have so much as a crumb of a drug nearby.”

Outside, Liem Han sat in the shade near his motorbike, waited for this rich American to come out so he could take more photos and video.

“Come out, Yankee, you will make me rich.”

It was a good day to be a photographer.

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Fire: The Oasis

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Fire: the oasis

He had worked his way up through the ranks of wildland firefighting. Part-time, seasonal, and then full-time, taking classes when they came out. He excelled with his motivation. Reibold Rasmussen was never much of one to laugh, his humor always kind of quirky.

But he feared fire since a child. His house caught fire when a car ran into the garage. Dad scooped him up with his two sisters and ran like a like an Olympic sprinter through the back door that mom held open, returning for the dog that was still in the house, barking behind the armored bars that covered the windows.

The deep boom of something rupturing in the house blew the door shut. Dad, hit the door going in like a human  freight-train breaking it off the hinges as he did so. Then appeared with the unconscious Great Dane in his arms.

Zeus the Dane, famous for his deep bark in the neighborhood would live to be Reibold’s best friend for years to come, except for the bald patch on one ear, he suffered no injuries in the fire.

In the years to come, the son of the family hero did the father proud. Firefighter of the year, EMT then a Paramedic. Finally becoming a Wildland Firefighter and traveled around the country, where the job needed or where classes could be 

His own son looked up to him, now seven-years of age, Nicholas watched for dad on every news report of forest fires.

The memory made Reibold smile as he touched the drawing of a heart with the three family members inside. “Team Rasmussen” in a child’s writing. He kept it for luck, taped to the inside of his locker door.

Well, not for luck. He just loved his son.

“Vegetation fire.”  The dispatch went out calling upon the men and women that were the foot-soldiers in the yearly dry-season battle of protecting life and property.

Reibold the father was different from Lieutenant the smoke jumper and a hand crew leader for ground fire attack in the forests. Glittering blue eyes missed little and showed a high intelligence with a quick wit that on occasion was misunderstood by his peers, often that making him laugh even harder at his singular wit that only his son might catch.

Today, in a parking lot barely large enough to hold all the equipment, the “Mountain Mike’s” shopping plaza became a wildland command center. The fire plan posted locations of the rest of the fire teams and equipment around the valley in the pockets of school grounds and church parking areas.

Weather reports came in and sent out from the command center, plotters predicted on the weather service map predicted that unpredictable winds with a low pressure system moving in.

Reibold sighed as he read the dispatch on the computer aided dispatch display, called a CAD for short. No part of the display was good news. 

A low pressure system meant a reasonable possibility of rain which would help. However the downside with the heat rising from the large wildfire could create thunderstorms. Lightning! By any measure, this would work against the fire campaign. The fuel for the fire, the wood and grass in the forest with months of heat and sun, became explosively dry.

By noon, dressed in his fire-resistant gloves, jumpsuit and helmet. They flew in by helicopters to an oasis at the foot of a mountain for a mission. Condor Mountain was the local name of the tall peak, at the base of this high desert rock was an oasis of fresh water that sprang naturally from bedrock artesian wells.

Today’s Mission: Create a fire break and save the oasis of palm trees and protected wildlife refuge.

The Plan: First arriving hand crews would clear back the light grass and brush before the arrival of the bulldozers that were on their way. The large equipment slow speed meant a delay of four-hours behind the hand crews.

Reibold lead his twelve-man crew while they cut and tossed brush to create a path that connected natural firebreaks around the oasis.

Sweating heavily under the unrelenting sun, the breeze began to pick up, alarming Reibold a little. The fire was on the far side of the mountain, some fifteen miles distant, but it could cover that distance faster than many people would think. 

Still, the fire observation radio code “Airboss” that flew in the two-seat spotter plane in circles kept reports coming in about the fire that threatened the mountain. Orders came from the Airboss to pull all personnel off the threatened side of the mountain. The fire was moving too quickly to stop it before they finished building a firebreak and fire command ordered the effort abandoned.

Reibold nodded; This put the pressure on Bravo-Team to save the oasis. Airboss just wrote off the mountain.

Bulldozers arrived and cut a line wider than an interstate, hand crews cleaned up the edges of the firebreak. A call of team leaders and Reibold answered.

Standing with the other leaders, each with a book out as the plans for the next effort of defending the line.

“Fight fire with fire.” Was the plan, a backfire would to burn up the close face of the mountain to the top. The speed of the mission was critical with the weather system moving in. Agreed and commanded, the leaders adjourned to their respective crews.

The planned backfire had the fire crews stand in line along the firebreak. Three bulldozer blades wide, down to bare mineral soil. Reibold stood his twelve firefighters in line. Ax’s, shovels, gloves and face wraps against the dust and heat.

The radio crackled with the “Go hot” with the order of the backfire. Two officers walked along the fire break with drip torches filled with diesel. Flames consumed the brush next to the bare mineral soil like a teenage boy consumes food from mom’s pantry.

A lot of heat came off the backfire. Too much! Lt. Rasmussen turned around and looked at some of the palm trees behind them.

The radiant heat was enough to force his crews look away from the flames and protect their faces. The firefighters watched for embers to prevent the fire from jumping the line, but Reibold had the angle to view directly behind them. And he saw it, a half-dozen tendrils wafting towards the main backfire the trees were smoking!

“Shovels! SHOVELS! Throw dirt on the trees! Cool the trees down!” Lt Rasmussen called.

“Too much fire, too much heat!” Another Lt. Yelled at the Forest Ranger in charge of the torch, who walked along the line.

Grabbing his radio, Reibold called and reported that the fire was flaring up too hot. The radiant heat off the mountain’s face was putting them and the oasis they were to protect in jeopardy. Bark on trees was smoking and they needed back pumps with water and shovels of dirt to stop the smoking trees from catching fire.

A flame, not large, grew rapidly up the trunk of a coconut palm. Extending its reach up to the dried and hanging palm fronds that hung down like hands. Paper thin, tinder dry.

Reibold lifted up his radio to his mouth. “Emergency traffic, zone 6, crew 4488. Fire in the trees, crowning fire.”

The worst words possible, “crowning fire”.

The first tree lit like a match, three officers and the Forest Ranger all nodded and gave orders to their crews.

“We are bugging out.” Reibold sounded as if he was ordering a burger at a leisurely pace in contrast to the stress he felt. “All crews in zone 6 pull back to fire safety zones. We have lost the oasis.”

“RUN! RUN!” The Fire supervisor yelled to the dozen men and women that carried hand tools. A wind was building and blew in their faces.

Behind them the flames from the one burning tree hit the dried palm fronds of the line of trees and like a match that ignited in a matchbook. The gale force wind became a hurricane wind of heat and grit, drawn in by the column of fire and smoke that rose up into the atmosphere. The fire made its own weather had produced the winds that rushed to feed the intensity of the firestorm 

Lt. Rasmussen fought his way with the increasing wind that tore at his clothing, he tried to protect his face with the shovel, only to have it torn from his grip by the screaming wind that fed the monster that ate tree, bush and flower.

Although it was midnight, Reibold could see his shadow was visible on the ground as he looked down.

Looked down?

Wait, what? LOOKED DOWN!?

The fire was right above him, moving faster than a man can run!

Another gust of wind– picking up stones the size of his fist– pelting him as he and the crew struggled against the breath of the devil, the radiant heat was making the back of his uniform overheat.

Finally! Cresting the hill into a parking lot, he stumbled over the edge to the asphalt of the parking area. The heat on his back did not let up, the backs of his gloves were smoking, the insulated leather was hot enough to sear the back of his hand, flames blew vertically up into the sky at the Lieutenant’s heals. Screams echoed in the parking area.

Running feet. Hands, many hands..

The sudden, unbelievably cold feeling on his back..someone had dumped a bucket of water on him as the pain set in and he blissfully, quietly let the soft darkness of shock and coma take him into sweet unconsciousness.

Days later, Reibold awoke. His Commanding officer was sitting in the chair near him with eyes half-shut.

Steve?” Reibold’s voice croaked more than it should have, surprising himself. His throat felt like he had gargled with salt and broken glass.

“Reibold? Sheesh, man you have us a hell of a scare! You were the last one out and came over the crest into the staging area with the fire at your heels. ” Steve Womack sat forward. “You were on fire, brother. Your web gear, fire tent and the helmet you were wearing were smoking and your helmet is half-melted.”

Reibold sat back into the bed. “Did we lose anyone?”

“No, your call on the trees was just in time. We lost the oasis, but no one died.”

“When do I blow this joint?” asked the Lieutenant. “I’m not that hurt and my son will be worried.”

“In a while, you had inhaled a lot of smoke. Your voice still sounds like a rusty gate, they had you on a ventilator for two days.” The Commander explained the timeline. “Your son has been here with your wife. There is something on your hand. And Rei, brother, you have been in a drug induced coma for the last few days. Don’t expect to come back soon. Go home, be with the boy, love the family and let them love you for a few weeks.”

“Aye, I can feel it. Steve,” He sighed.“I feel this is my last year. I’m going to request a transfer to investigations.”

“Granted. I’ll put the paperwork in straight away.”

Reibold the Lieutenant soon-to-be-investigator laid back on his bed and closed his eyes.

Slipping back to that moment where he knew, the call to abandon the oasis was the right one.

Looking at his hand, a heart drawn on it and in a child’s lettering. 

“DADS A HERO!” was visible. 

The hero of a  seven-year-old smiled. The boy was right, 

Today, Reibold Rasmussen felt he made the heroic choice.

No one died.