Rice dumplings, wine and dragon boats define the Duanwu Festival. Generally held in the fifth lunar month, countries all around the South China Sea have embraced this Chinese holiday. The human-powered longboat races is one of the most popular traditions, which meant both the harbor and the waterfront teamed with people and pleasure craft, jockeying for the best position to view the races.
To Rick, all this additional confusion was an added frustration in finding the enemy. From huge luxurious yachts to small gigs containing a single family, the water was a panoply of noise and color.
Throttling back, he slipped between a pontoon boat containing European tourists drinking champagne, and a small wooden boat containing a wizened grandfather selling packages of rice dumplings wrapped in banana leaves.
His cell phone began ringing, and Rickie glanced down to see that it was Raine. He grimaced but answered it, then pulled it away from his ear immediately and waited until Raine stopped yelling to breathe.
"Raine, everything is fine, don't worry."
"Rick, your employee just showed up at headquarters. What are you doing, going out on your own? Do you want to jeopardize this operation? Do you want to put Meg in more danger?"
Rickie felt close to losing his composure. "I haven't done anything besides take a boat out into the harbor. If I find anything, I will call you." At the silence, he burst out, "I love her! And I didn't protect her! I have to do this, can't you understand?!"
A short laugh greeted this. "Well, I lost the pool. I had expected it would be the end of June before you pulled your head out your ass and decided you loved her. Damn, Cynthia beat out JoAnne, too.
"Okay," her voice gained a professional edge, "you're already out there, so there's nothing to do about that. You know we've got the two patrol boats out there and a helicopter on standby; you were there for the briefing. Without a radio, you'll need to call me directly if you find something, and I'll coordinate it with the team. We all want her safe and the enemy captured, so don't do this on your own."
Rickie felt a wave of gratitude towards his friend and colleague.
"Just let me win the wedding pool." She disconnected before he could reply.
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He allowed himself a tiny bit of amusement, then concentrated on the task ahead. He continued to scan the colorful display in front of him, trying to mentally will a connection with Meghan.
He had a feeling time was running out.