Copyright is held by the author.
SEVENTY-TWO hours. That was the window that Allah granted earthly men to find a missing child. After that, they were searching for a body.
Smoking a crooked Davidoff and clothed in a silver bathrobe, the shrunken old Indonesian billionaire had broken the news rather dispassionately to his employees. Without any further explanation, he took one of his bodyguards aside and conversed quietly for a moment, before the man handed him something small. Then he immediately returned to his study.
“My granddaughter is missing. Bring me any clue at all as to what might have happened to her.”
Fadhlan, the head of his personal security, was stunned. Never had anyone even mentioned the child’s existence to him. He immediately assembled a team of thirty security personnel and ordered them to scour the island.
Widodo, the CEO of a large Indonesian mining corporation, owned Jaerloo Island lock, stock and barrel. It was four square miles of jungle pockmarked by a few human installations. There was a gated inland mansion, a beach house, a hillside cottage, a dock, a cave and an abandoned mine.
“The first 12 hours after a child goes missing are the most important,” Fadhlan reminded his men. “We’ll break up into three teams.”
Fadhlan took his second-in-command, Bintang, and scouted the beach house and cottage, checking locked closets and beneath beds. They did not know the girl’s name, but nonetheless called out into the hot November wind as it swept through the long grass fields and thick jungle. They yelled promises that the child wasn’t in trouble, that her grandfather missed her, that there were treats waiting for her at home.
Next, they searched the Planetarium. Their hearts nearly leapt out of their chests when they discovered a small concealed chamber beneath the centre stage, but it was empty. There was only a chair, surrounded by odd switchboards. After that, they started backtracking over their own steps and crisscrossing paths with the other two teams. The cave at the centre of the island held some hope, but their flashlights found only stalactites and a small stream when they scanned the interior of the rocky chamber.
That first night Fadhlan lay awake, unable to sleep for more than two hours, thinking back on the daily kidnappings in Surabaya. He began to consider that the girl might have been kidnapped by the Preman Kingdom, an organized crime syndicate based out of Jakarta. Widodo’s granddaughter could have been the most valuable hostage since the Symbioses Liberation Army grabbed Patty Hearst.
Forty-eight hours into the search, Fadhlan’s hopes began to sink around dusk, just as the sun began to descend beneath the gangly banyan trees. In a distant corner of the island, they encountered an old bungalow with brick terraces and a bamboo porch. A misshapen pipe jutted out of the unkempt grass surrounding the hut, rusted horseshoes littered about it. Some old game for bored Westerners. Animals had made nests in the hollows of rotted furniture while spiders claimed dominion over the wine cellar. A black-white poster of Marilyn Monroe was decomposing on a kitchen wall. According to some of the men, an Italian company had filmed the last stand scene of a cheap zombie flick here in the 1970s. They hadn’t bothered prying off any of the boards they’d nailed across the windows or doors, so the search team had to do it themselves to get into the bedroom.
“She wasn’t here,” Fadhlan said dispiritedly.
“How do you know?” Bintang asked.
He nodded at the closed cabinets and closets. “Left to their own devices in a kitchen, a child will always look for sweets.”
Bagus came in a few minutes later and revealed a pink cell phone charger that he’d found in the grass. It had a peculiar theme — My Little Ponies. They agreed that it must have been the girl’s.
Just before dusk, Fadhlan gave the men a half hour rest. They sat on bamboo chairs and ate sesame balls, whispering theories about the girls’ disappearance. Fauzi thought that the girl had was born of incest between Widodo and one of his daughters and was kept secret to prevent a scandal and some sort of power struggle after the old man died. To be honest, Fadhlan couldn’t entire vanquish that thought. Something strange was certainly afoot. Halim speculated that the planetarium was the headquarters of a secretive organization with light speed technology, that the egg-shaped chamber beneath the stage was an escape pod and that the girl had commandeered one and left Earth to escape her crazed grandfather. Bagus surmised that Widodo had built his immense fortune through some pact with an evil god who had claimed his granddaughter as payment.
After three days and no sign of her, Fadhlan finally sent divers into the lake behind the mansion, and then began sweeping the shores for a body.
“There could be a leftover bunker from World War Two somewhere around here,” Bintang ruminated. “Maybe she’s holed up in there.”
“We can’t dig up the island,” Fadhlan pointed out. “We’ll regroup at the mansion and bring Widodo the bad news.”
Bintang took out a dagger and fixed it as a bayonet to his rifle. He used it to prod the ground intermittently, more out of boredom than anything else. Just as they were stepping out into an open field, Bintang suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. There was a clinking sound when his bayonet jabbed at the earth.
“Hey, I found some —”
Fadhlan reacted instantly, shoving his second-in-command to the ground. The ground behind them exploded. Every tree within 20 feet splintered and snapped. Branches tumbled down on top of them.
No one was injured.
Someone stated the obvious. “Old Japanese land mine.”
After a few minutes, they headed back to the mansion — defeated, but alive. Secretly, Fadhlan hoped that the girl had been kidnapped. At this point, the most likely explanation was drowning.
“What have you found?” Widodo barked hurriedly as they gathered in the main lobby.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Fadhlan began. “We’ll need to contact Interpol and hold a press conference. There’s no sign of your grand —”
“I asked you what you found, not what you didn’t find,” Widodo demanded.
Fadhlan dropped a horseshoe with emerald engravings on the table before Widodo.
Widodo looked crestfallen, until Bagus finally had a thought and reached into his pocket, fumbling for something. He produced the My Little Ponies cell phone charger that he’d found in the grass field beside the bungalow.
Smiling from ear to ear, Widodo lurched forward and snatched it out of his hand.
“Oh, thank God,” he exhaled. “Thank you, Ismael. Here you go.”
Dumbstruck, Widodo’s bodyguard wordlessly accepted his spare cell phone charger back from the oligarch.
The study door banged shut. Every single one of Fadhlan’s men felt it smack them in the face. Widodo’s chief of security simply smiled and picked up the horseshoe off the table and looked around.
“Does anyone know how to play this game?”