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    Chapter Seven: A Trick of the Light


    Sinajfae

     

    Chapter Seven
    A Trick of the Light

     

    “Madeline!”

    “Be right there,” she responded, looking up briefly from her computer.

    Closing the screen, Madeline rose from the couch, setting her laptop on the cocktail table as she headed toward the staircase in Levi’s room. It had been over six months since she’d started living with him, and as she passed through his open doorway, she remembered the first time she’d been in his bedroom: it was to pick out a dress to wear to the Golden Lotus. At the time, she had speculated what was at the top of that mysterious staircase. Was it a panic room? A secure safe where he kept his valuables? A portal to another dimension? Nope. It turned out to be his office. A boring, typical-looking office. She still wasn’t sure why he decided to keep his workspace up there, but now that it wasn’t some cool mystery, she hadn’t bothered to ask. 

    For over six months she’d been training to survive in his world. She was in the best shape of her life after working out and sparing almost daily. The shuriken was second nature to her now, and she was getting the hang of bladed weapons rather quickly. She learned enough Japanese to be conversational and was currently working on mastering Kanji. Levi had taught her everything she needed to know about riding a motorcycle, and a few months ago she earned enough from running package deliveries and brokering information to purchase a bike of her own. He’d trained her on his tech and even procured her a set of her own tactical gear. Hacking was her latest challenge, but it was a struggle to learn; she just couldn’t get the hang of it for some reason.

    As she walked across his hardwood floor and ascended to the top of the stairs, Levi motioned for her to take a seat in front of his desk. 

    His office was a direct reflection of the bedroom below, with wood flooring and warm earth tones. On the floor beneath his desk, which was nothing more than a long bamboo table, stretched a tightly woven black rug to protect the legs from scratching the wood. Behind him were a few rows of bookcases and floor chest; and on his desk sat a laser printer, his laptop, a cell phone, and a few electronic gadgets he was working on. 

    “Listen up,” Levi instructed, leaning back in his plush chair as he propped his long legs up on the desk. “Syriem, please start from the top.”

    His broker, Syriem, was on speaker, voice electronically altered to protect their identity.

    "As I was saying, this assignment is an acquisition. The client is a human family formerly residing in North Korea. They gave their daughter to a wealthy South Korean family, the Hyuns, in exchange for safe transportation out of North Korea and the promise that their daughter would be well taken care of. The daughter has since passed away, and the Hyuns are refusing to part with the daughter’s necklace, which the client wants back. Apparently, the son, Geon Woo Hyun, has been wearing the necklace since their daughter died."

    “And….?” Levi prompted Syriem to continue.

    “I have been able to get you on board a two-week cruise the Hyuns will be taking from Monaco to Greece. You will be attending under the guise of a successful Asian businessman and his wife. There will be about four hundred and fifty or so guests, so you’ll need to work fast to locate the marks. your aliases will be forwarded to you, as well as your itinerary and a photograph of the necklace.”

    The phone call then abruptly ended.

    “You up for it?” Levi asked Madeline, still leaning back casually in his executive chair. “If you’re out, I need to know right now so I can find a replacement.”

    “You can count on me,” Madeline confirmed, trying to hide her excitement. She’d been doing nothing but training, studying, and insignificant jobs. It would be a relief to actually begin to be an asset, to start paying Levi back for taking her in, and now was the time to show him that he had made a good choice. And her first real job in the field revolved around a necklace; the coincidence was not lost on her.

    Levi lowered his feet from his desk to read an email that had just hit his inbox. Madeline waited patiently for him to finish.

    “Looks like we leave in two weeks,” he said, rubbing his chin. “That’s not a lot of time, but the compensation makes up for it.”

    He pulled up the cruise line's website and navigated to the deck plans for the particular ship they would be sailing on. After a few seconds, his printer whirred to life and sheets of deck plans fed out as Levi worked quickly to assemble them. Syriem had managed to get them on Deck 7, which was reportedly the same deck the Hyuns were assigned. He motioned for Madeline to take a look at the Deck 7 plans. 

    “We’ll be in suite 717,” he said, tapping the location on the paper. “The target is suppose to be in the signature suite here, number 7002. I’ve also printed out the layout of their room. One thing to note, our room is right by the elevator, so we’ll be able to hear it whenever it’s in use. We need to memorize every area of this ship before we go. And from the time we catch the taxi to the airport, we assume our identities.”

    The latter instructions were something Madeline already had ingrained in her mind. When a mission like this starts, it goes 100%, and she doesn’t return to being Madeline until they are back at a safe house.

    “So who are we?” she asked.

    “Shotaro and Emily Sudo,” Levi replied. “At least I can call you M and you’ll likely respond to it.”

    Madeline smiled. That made things a bit easier at least, but she had to remember to call him Shotaro, or rather Sho. Best to start practicing that from this point going forward.

    “And pack as you would normally for a cruise,” Levi continued. “Get me a list of anything you need: swimsuits, warm-weather clothing, toiletries, whatever. I’ll be picking stuff up over the next couple of days. Don’t worry about tech, I’ll pack anything we’re likely to need.” 

    “So I have to ask,” Madeline began, biting her lip apprehensively. “These people are all human, so why did you accept this job?”

    “An acquaintance of Syriem’s made a personal request on behalf of the family,” he replied. “That does not mean I go in any less prepared. I was not given information on this friend of Syriem’s, but it’s a doable job, and it pays nicely.”

    “Ah, I see. So it’s because it was a request from Syriem, basically.”

    “No,” Levi corrected, looking up from his desk and directing his full attention on Madeline. There was no playfulness in his voice, and his eyes were serious. “Syriem is not my friend. Make no mistake about that. They are a broker. Nothing more. Nothing less. So far, you’ve been privy to decent job offers, but there have been lots of questionable and downright malicious jobs I’ve been offered as well. Syriem isn’t fighting for justice, or even the opposite. They are in it from a business perspective. NEVER forget that.”

    The next two weeks passed at a brisk pace. Madeline knew she was there only to be an accessory to Levi, to corroborate his cover while he obtained the necklace, but she was still nervously excited. As she carefully did her hair and makeup to prepare for the ride to the airport, she went over her packing list in her mind one last time to make sure there wasn’t anything she’d missed. 

    “The taxi will be here in about 10 minutes,” Levi announced, rapping on her bathroom door with his knuckles. “I already rolled your luggage to the door.”

    “Thank you,” she replied. “I’m just finishing up.”

    Snapping her makeup compact closed, she set it back into her bathroom drawer. She had packed a duplicate set in her suitcase as well as lipsticks and all her other makeup accessories. Taking a deep breath, she checked her hair once more. Her long red curls were pulled up and away from her face with a pair of glossy black barrettes so that she could look classy, but yet still remain comfortable on the flight. Satisfied, she turned off the light and left her room.

    Levi was dressed handsomely in chic, casual clothing which looked like it would be right at home for traveling to Monaco. He also had his brown contacts in place.

    “Ready?” he asked, offering her his free hand while the other one rested on the handle of his rolling suitcase.

    “Ready.”

    She slipped her purse over her shoulder and took his hand, grabbing her suitcase with the other. Mentally, she said goodbye to Madeline and hello to Emily

    This was it. 

    As the pair walked past Caslon’s apartment, Levi made a quick but coded, rhythm of knocks on his door. Madeline assumed this was to let Caslon know they were going to be out, but she wasn’t exactly sure what was communicated. 

    The taxi ride and subsequent passage through airport security were uneventful, as expected. Madeline only let go of Levi’s hand when it was absolutely necessary, even on the flight. Every once and awhile, Levi would lean over to her on the plane, give her a kiss on the cheek, and squeeze her hand. His actions were reassuring, contrary to what she would have thought a few days ago had he said something like ‘Hey, I’m going to kiss you on the flight to calm your nerves’.  And it was a dreadfully long flight to Frankfurt. In fact, it was the longest flight she had ever been on. There were only so many movies she could watch. At one point, Levi bought her a strong drink which caused her to doze off. When she woke, her seat had been adjusted to a bed, she had been ‘tucked in’, and there was only an hour left before they landed in Germany.

    After briefly touching down, they were off again on a much shorter flight to France. Levi reserved a room for them in Monte Carlo so they could have some time to adjust before the cruise set sail the next day. He knew Madeline would need a day of rest to shake off some of the jet-lag, and he wanted to scout around to see if he could pick up traces of the family before they even boarded the ship. It took them about an hour to get from the airport to their hotel by taxi. After checking in, Madeline tried to put up a strong front in the hotel room by sitting gracefully on the king sized bed and looking over the hotel’s leather-bound directory.

    “I know you’re exhausted,” Levi said with a sly smile, entertained by the act she was putting on. He had to admit, he was proud of her so far. “You can crash if you like, and I’ll order room service. You need to rest up for tomorrow, and tonight was booked just for that anyway.”

    Letting her composure slip, she kicked off her shoes and walked to where Levi had laid her suitcase down on a luggage rack, reorganizing a few things to get to her pajamas inside. She didn’t care if it was the middle of the day, she was craving a hot shower. As she zipped her suitcase back up, she watched as Levi meticulously place his shoes side-by-side in front of the dresser, then pick up the in-room phone. Menu in hand, he began placing a room service order in French. Without listening for the details, but amazed by all the languages he knew nonetheless,  Madeline stepped into the bathroom and closed the door. Stripping off her one-piece, black tank dress, she adjusted the faucet, making sure the water was steamy-hot, then stood under the flow like a zombie for a good five minutes. The hot water felt so good as it ran down her skin that she didn’t really want to get out, but she also didn’t want Levi coming in to ask her why she was taking so long. Begrudgingly, she washed her hair, then lathered up, rinsed off, and got out. Drying off with one of the softest cotton hotel towels she’d ever experienced, Madeline slipped into her pajamas and wrapped her long auburn hair up turban-style. Leaving the foggy bathroom, she noticed Levi was flipping through news channels on the TV while lounging on the bed.

    “So how was your first overseas travel experience?” He asked sincerely, eyes still locked on the television.

    “It feels like it took forever to get here,” she replied as she approached the bed.

    She stopped suddenly, realizing there was just one bed. And two of them.

    “Would it make you feel any better if I gave you my word that I won’t do anything inappropriate?” he responded to her noticeable apprehension, glancing up at her momentarily before directing his brown eyes back on the TV. “Every mission is important, and I need you to be focused and not worrying about something as trivial as sharing a bed. If you knew how strong my resolve was, you would know how impossible your thoughts of me forcing you into a compromising situation are.”

    Reluctantly, she pulled back the duvet and sheets, getting into bed next to Levi. It was unnerving to be so close to him like this, but she would be lying to herself if she didn’t admit it was exciting too. The bed was very comfortable, and the pillows were soft and plush, not to mention it was nice to lay down and stretch out after being on a plane for over eleven hours. 

    “I ordered us some seafood and a bottle of sake,” he said, finally looking over at her. “They should be bringing it up soon. Afterward, I want you to try to get some sleep. The ship departs at 4 p.m. local time tomorrow, but I am going to go out tonight and do some recon. I’ll be back before dawn, but I want you to remain here while I’m out.”

    Madeline nodded just as there was a knock on the door. 

    Levi rose from the bed and opened the door to allow room service to roll a cart into the room. It did not escape him that Madeline pulled the covers up to her neck as the gentleman with their lunch arranged the plates atop their table, setting the sake and appropriate glasses down. Levi then tipped the attendant, and the two were alone in the room again.

    There was an assortment of non-traditional sushi rolls, some soft-shell crab, prawn salad and a few other seafood dishes. It wasn’t an overabundance, but a modest variety of small samplings. As Madeline made her way from the bed to the table, Levi poured them both a glass of sake.

    “You nervous?” He asked her bluntly, taking the seat across from her.

    “About the cruise? No. About not finishing my study of conversational Korean? Yes,” she answered. 

    Levi grinned.

    “You’ll be fine, I’ll be there. Not to mention they will find you more charming as you stumble through their language.”

    “I hope so,” Madeline sighed. “It will be kind of difficult to direct the flow of the game without being able to speak properly.”

    “Again, it will be fine. Resources revealed they know enough English to get by. And if worse comes to worse, I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

    “That’s not very reassuring.”

    Levi just continued to smile and eat. The food was delicious, and the sake added a comforting warmth to the meal. When they were all finished, Levi placed the empty dishes onto the cart and rolled it into the hall while Madeline burrowed her legs back under the covers. Grabbing the TV remote once again, he laid down next to her above the sheets, purposely finding some tedious  French film. Not long after, Madeline drifted off to sleep.

    She woke up briefly at about 2 a.m., alone in the hotel suite, the towel that was around her hair now unraveled and laying next to her pillow. Like on the plane, Levi had tucked her in, pulling the covers up to her ear and even adding the extra blanket from the closet to keep her warm and cozy. Did he really care about her? Sure, in the six or so months she’d known him, she caught on to the fact that he was very popular with the ladies, but he wasn’t in a serious relationship with anyone. In fact, the person that was the most common fixture in his life was actually her. Did that mean something? Maybe after this mission, she would test the waters a bit and see where she stood.

    The next time she awoke, it was 8 a.m.  The first sensation to grace her senses was a European pop song hissing through the static of the alarm clock’s single speaker. The next thing that hit her was the scent of sandalwood. Levi’s scent. In the months she'd been with him, she tried to figure out what made him smell so enchanting, but came up empty. The only thing she'd gotten out of the endeavor was that he exuded a sandalwood fragrance. She began to roll over instinctively to reach for the alarm clock, but there was a solid body of warmth blocking the way. Sleepily, she found herself staring at Levi’s bare back. Her heart began to race as she backed away, the alarm still going off on the other side of him. Noticing the racket was not ceasing, he started to stir as well, one long naked arm reaching over and shutting off the alarm. Rolling over, he simpered teasingly at Madeline. 

    “Why so surprised?” he asked, head propped up in his palm, elbow pressing into the mattress. “After all, you were the one that scooted over to me.”

    Scurrying out of bed, Madeline took a look. He was right. Levi was actually sleeping at the very edge of the left side of the bed, so Madeline had to have rolled over to him in her sleep, not the other way around. 

    “I am so sorry,” she apologized quickly, “It wasn’t on purpose.”

    “I know,” he said gracefully rising out of bed, wearing only a pair of boxer briefs. “No biggie. We should head over as soon as we’re ready so we can get started sizing up the layout of the ship. I’ll get breakfast sent up so we don’t waste time in the restaurant downstairs.”

    Unable to stop herself from staring at his body, Madeline only half heard what he was saying, but she caught the gist of it. This was more of him than she had ever seen. Long and lean, flexible and powerful. A dancer’s body type.

    Amused by her reaction, Levi gave a throaty chuckle.

    “Hey, be grateful. I put these on for your benefit. Normally I sleep in the nude.”

    “Um, I’ll go get ready then....” Madeline stuttered as she quickly retrieved a sundress, among other things, from her suitcase.

    He watched her go quietly into the bathroom and close the door behind her, locking it. Levi could feel the aura of her excitement as it trailed invisibly behind her, and with a satisfied smile, he absorbed it into himself, feeling it perk him up a bit much like a jolt of caffeine would do. He still wasn’t sure what made her have a more potent than normal effect on him, but it helped him squander extra energy away for when he needed it. As he heard the shower burst to life, Levi phoned down to the restaurant for some breakfast and then began to repack his carry-on for the cruise. No detectors meant he could move his cleverly disguised equipment from the suitcase to his shoulder bag. He definitely didn’t need most of his tools for this job, but it always helped to have a few of them on hand, such as the tracking chips. 

    After about twenty-five minutes, Madeline emerged from the bathroom in a beautiful blue, flower-patterned sundress, hair up in a bright white towel.

    “It’s all yours, I’ll finish up out here,” she said walking over to the vanity countertop and mirror. 

    “I’ll get in after breakfast,” Levi replied, finishing up with his repacking as a knock on the door signaled breakfast.

    It was a typical American breakfast this morning, with eggs, bacon, orange juice, and French press coffee. They both stopped what they were doing and sat down to eat and discuss the strategy once more, while Madeline struggled to relax while Levi, still shirtless, dined across from her. They knew they had to time things properly. Although the cruise would last two weeks, only two of those days would be out at sea. There were stops in various countries if they needed to make a quick getaway. However the ship was only docked between 8 a.m. and various p.m. times based on the itinerary, so they had to keep track of where they were. There would also be a lot of improvisation because it wasn’t going to be a simple matter of stealing a necklace. There were a lot of unknowns. They would have to follow each other’s lead during the day but would be able to regroup at night and go over information. 

    After breakfast, Levi rolled the cart out and then took his shower while Madeline did her hair and makeup. Within another hour, they had their carry-ons and suitcases packed, double-checked the room for anything that might have been left, and were ready to vacate the suite. 

    “It’s showtime,” Levi whispered as he held the door for Madeline.

    Checkout went smoothly, and it was a short drive via local taxi to the port where a line of travelers awaited boarding. As they exited the car, their suitcases were tagged and placed on carts among all the other passenger luggage. Levi took Madeline’s hand lovingly and led her to the queue. Both of them nonchalantly looked around at the fellow passengers, hoping to catch a glimpse of Geon Woo Hyun and the necklace, but to no avail. Thankfully, the line moved quickly, and they were soon escorted to suite 717 on Deck 7. Madeline couldn’t hide her excitement and wasn’t expected to. It fit in nicely with the roles they were playing. She never let go of Levi’s hand either, not until after they entered their suite. 

    “This is amazing!” Madeline smiled gleefully as she walked through the room and out onto the veranda. It was a perfect little wooden deck with a pair of comfortable lounge chairs and a small table. “I’ve never been on a cruise before, but this is certainly more than I expected.”

    Levi couldn’t help but smile. 

    “I’m glad a ship like this will be your first,” he replied. “It’s a lot more upscale than what you’d normally find. But enough gushing at the furnishings, we need to head to the restaurant for the muster drill, and hopefully get lucky. The sooner we find them, the better.”

    Levi loitered in the hall with his life vest in hand, leaving their door wide open, while Madeline purposely delayed leaving their suite. In about thirty minutes, a crew member began at the far end of the deck going door to door making sure there were no stragglers. Levi eyed the signature suite as the crew member knocked and then opened the door. It was empty. He shot a glance at Madeline, who nodded as she grabbed her life vest and exited their room. She took his outstretched hand and together they walked to the restaurant to join the rest of the passengers.
     
    Once in the restaurant, was easy for Levi to spot them. With only about 450 people onboard, finding a Korean family on a Mediterranean cruise was elementary. He had details of how large the family was, but only saw the middle-aged son, Geon Woo, and his parents. With a squeeze of Madeline’s hand, Levi led her over to their side of the restaurant, looking as if he was trying to find a seat near the windows. Casually picking a table about fifteen feet away from the family, Levi politely pulled the chair back for Madeline, inviting her to sit. She maintained her unbridled excitement about the cruise.

    “Sho, this is so exciting!” she beamed, “I can’t believe we're here!”

    Levi grinned warmly and brought the back of her hand to his lips. “I hope you like it.”

    It was at that time he noticed Geon Woo had turned to watch them, a pleasant smile on his face. Levi thought this was rather odd, but nodded his head politely and smiled back. Soon, one of the crew members began to give evacuation information, which took about fifteen minutes. Then all guests were directed to head to their stations and put on the life vests. As Levi and Madeline rose from their seats and headed out of the restaurant, they noticed Geon Woo’s eyes still on them. Madeline purposefully avoided eye contact, continuing the role of a delighted bride. His gaze felt uncomfortable, like cobwebs, but she refused to let it show. After a brief explanation about the lifeboats, all guests were dismissed. Most returned to their rooms to put the life jackets away, and Madeline and Levi were no exception. Once back in their cabin, they sat on the sofa to discuss their next move. Levi flipped on the TV to help cover up their voices.

    “Well that wasn’t creepy at all,“ Madeline began sarcastically, hugging her arms together.

    “Agreed,” Levi responded. “They are all human though, if that makes you feel any better. He was rather fixated on us, and he was wearing the necklace, which is good.”

    Madeline nodded. 

    “Somehow, I don’t think this is going to be as difficult as I thought. He seems to find us interesting.”

    “Which means it can be harder than we imagined,” Levi warned. “Even when things appear simple, never consider them as such until the job is all wrapped up.”

    Madeline took the words to heart and nodded again.

    “We should check out the rest of the ship,” Levi continued, “And get something to eat.”

    Turning off the TV, they left the suite and began to explore the ship, mentally mapping the deck plans with actual landmarks. They had a filling dinner in the restaurant, and then went to the Salon for some dancing, hoping to find Geon Woo again.

    They were in luck.

    As they danced, Geon Woo’s eyes were on them the whole time, an adoring smile on his face. Levi slowly rotated himself and Madeline around while they danced so that his back now faced Geon Woo. In this position, there was no possibility of lip-reading as Levi whispered into Madeline’s ear. Being even more cautious, he spoke in Japanese.

    “It’s you he’s watching,” Levi spoke in a low voice. “It could be the color of your hair matched with your beauty. I think he finds you exotic.”

    Madeline could feel her cheeks warming to his words. Did he just admit she was beautiful?

    “We need to play that up,” he added before she could dwell on the idea any longer.

    They danced for a few more songs, and then Levi led Madeline by the hand off the dance floor, right past the table where Geon Woo sat, giving her the opportunity to make eye contact with him and smile warmly. Then slowly, they made their way back to their suite for their first night on board. Back in the room, Madeline went for a bottle of water immediately, extremely thirsty. She felt like they had gotten a lot accomplished in the half day they had been aboard. After some brief conversation, they both decided it would be best to move at a casual speed so as not to frighten Geon Woo away. After taking separate showers, they both changed into sleepwear and crawled into bed. Madeline was especially careful not to lean on, or touch, Levi this time.

    Over the next couple of days, the pair played a careful game of staying close to Geon Woo without looking like they were staying close to Geon Woo. But on the fifth day of the cruise, something odd happened. While Levi and Madeline were having breakfast in the restaurant, they noticed the Hyuns asking to be seated at the closest available table.

    And Geon Woo was no longer wearing the dazzling blue gemstone.

    On top of that, he was intentionally staring at Madeline as if trying to get her attention. Madeline gave Geon Woo a friendly smile, which melted into a frown as she turned back around to face Levi. His brown eyes met hers, and reading her expression, changed the pleasant look on his face to one of pleading.

    “Emily...” he began loudly enough for the Hyuns to hear, trying to take her hand at the table, “I said I was sorry. I just wanted us to be happy. I figured if I took the job and moved us to France, I could spoil you like this all the time.”

    Levi’s puppy eyes were purely adorable, but Madeline completely suppressed the giggle she wanted to make and kept her body language bitter.

    Theatrically, she pulled her hand away.

    “Did you ever think I might not want to move to France?” She responded through clenched teeth. “How could you do this without asking me? I thought being married meant we made decisions together? Or is there some other reason? Is it because Chantel got transferred there?”

    Levi’s eyes widened almost comically.

    “I can’t believe this, Sho,” Madeline dropped her fork on the plate and lowered her head in heartbreak. “I’m going back to the room.”

    She stood, tossing her napkin dramatically down onto her plate. As she walked past Geon Woo’s table, she gave the entire family an apologetic smile for making a scene, then left the restaurant. Levi immediately set his flatware down and rushed off after her, and they kept up that act all the way into the suite. 

    Then closing the door behind them, Madeline exhaled. 

    “Bummer,” Madeline said, “That breakfast was really good too.”

    “I’ll order us some more,” Levi chuckled, somewhat entertained that food was the first thing she thought of. “I think we made quite the impression, but I wonder where the necklace is. He wasn’t wearing it, and neither were either of his parents. We need to find out if it’s in the room. As long as it’s in the room, and you can keep them out of it, I can get it.”

    “You can count on me,” Madeline replied with confidence.

    She had an idea and quickly went over it with Levi. If it didn’t work, there were still more nights of the cruise left. After laying out the plan, Levi ordered another breakfast for them to eat leisurely in the cabin. Madeline was going to leave the room a little before lunchtime and head to the pool, hoping to attract some company.

    “Keep your phone with you,” Levi insisted. “Any change in status, I’ll want you to update me immediately.”

    Madeline nodded as she exited the cabin, a small, netted beach bag slung over her shoulder. She chose a modest sky-blue one-piece with a white terrycloth cover-up. Taking into consideration the job at hand, Madeline figured keeping a cute appearance would serve the best purpose. She walked up to Deck 8 and claimed a lounge chair that was facing the pool, setting her bag and sunglasses on the small wooden table next to it. After slipping out of her sandals and cover-up, she adjusted the chair back to a comfortable angle and propped up her perfectly pedicured feet. The side table was within arms reach, so she was able to nonchalantly grab her phone out of her bag and text Levi to let him know she was there and settled in before she started to apply some sunscreen.

    For nearly an hour she relaxed blissfully, closing her eyes and listening to the call of the gulls overhead. Her days of captivity seemed worlds away, and the importance of there being other beings that shared planet earth seem minuscule. Honestly, she was hoping no one showed up, and she could just spend the day like this, peacefully playing ignorant to reality.

    “Is this seat taken?”

    Madeline opened her grayish-blue eyes to see Geon Woo standing next to her. She made a mental note that he didn’t stand where he would cast a shadow on her, but she wasn’t sure if he was doing that to be polite, or sneaky, or if it was just coincidence.

    “No,” she answered gesturing to the lounge chair next to her. “Go right ahead.”

    He was wearing swim trunks, but with a t-shirt, clearly not planning to go for a swim just yet, and he was still not wearing the necklace.

    “Your husband, is he not meeting you?”

    “No, he had a video conference call today or something,” Madeline lied, adding a hint of frustration to her voice for realism.

    “I am sorry to hear that.”

    “Yeah, well… it is what it is, I suppose.”

    “My parents are likewise preoccupied today,” Geon Woo revealed. “They have chosen this day to spend at the spa. And while this ship is lovely, there isn’t a lot to do if you’re alone.”

    “Except sit by the pool,” Madeline finished.

    Geon Woo laughed lightly. 

    “Yes, except this.”

    “Well it seems we’re both in the same boat, pardon the pun,” she smiled. “We might as well enjoy each other’s company.”

    “Have you had lunch yet?” he asked sincerely.

    “Yes I have, but if you want to get something, I’ll be here, so you don’t have to eat alone.”

    Smiling, Geon Woo let her know he would be right back. This gave Madeline the opportunity to message Levi once more.

    W/him poolside. Parents spa day

    Hopefully, that would give him some time to check the room. They didn’t have room safes on the ship, so finding where they were keeping the necklace would probably be a bit time-consuming. But then again, she’d never seen Levi steal something so she wasn’t sure how long it would take him compared to how long she thought it would take her. 

    After a few minutes, Geon Woo returned with a plate of grilled shrimp and asparagus, and a cocktail, and began to make small talk. Where was she from? How long had she and Sho been married? Was this her first cruise? Had she ever been to Europe before? The questions went on and on. Madeline noticed that when she tried to ask him some of the same sorts of questions, he tended to turn them back around on her. They talked for about an hour before he got a text message from his parents, letting him know they were done and to meet him back at the room.

    “See you later?” he asked awkwardly.

    “Sure.”

    He smiled, then gave a polite bow before heading back to his room. 

    Madeline quickly texted Levi that the parents and Geon Woo were heading back to their room and that she was heading back to the cabin. It took her mere moments to return, and after she closed the door behind her, Madeline discussed in detail the conversion she had with Geon Woo, careful not to leave anything out. 

    “I was able to check the suite and his parents’ luggage but didn’t find the necklace. I also checked the ship concierge, and they didn't check anything into the vault,” Levi revealed. “Which means it’s somewhere in the connecting room he’s using, and I didn’t have time to safely search that.”

    “He’s hoping to see me again,” Madeline said. “So I’m sure I can pin him down somewhere to give you more time. I’m not sure about the parents though.”

    “Don’t worry about them. I just need access to his room now.”

    “So what now?”

    “Take a shower and get changed for dinner,” Levi replied. “But take your time, I don’t want it to appear we’re rushing. And I would like to try a few games in the casino before then.”

    The puzzled look on Madeline’s face prompted Levi to explain himself.

    “Only because I want to play a bit, and it’s good for the cover. No other reason than that.”

    Satisfied with his answer, Madeline grabbed what she needed from her suitcase and locked herself in the bathroom to get ready. She let out a small sigh as she stepped into the shower, already missing the calming peace of lounging at the pool alone. She was pleased with herself and how she was handling Geon Woo, and also proud that Levi was impressed with her. She just needed to keep doing a good job, keep distracting Geon Woo, and this mission would be a success. They would be able to get the necklace back to that poor family who lost their daughter.

    Her enthusiasm caused her to rush through the rest of the shower, and subsequently through dressing, hair, and makeup. She emerged from the bathroom eager to please Levi with how she imagined she would handle the rest of the mission. He was already dressed for the evening, and together they left the cabin for a bit of fun before continuing on with the task at hand. 

    At the ship’s casino on Deck 5, Levi took a seat at one of the few poker tables while Madeline stood behind him and watched. He cautiously let his winnings accumulate and then drop, and then accumulate again, all while making small talk with the dealer. At one point, Levi bet the last of his chips, and the dealer prompted Madeline, or rather Emily, to give her husband a good-luck kiss. This caught Madeline completely by surprise, and she hoped the emotion wasn’t apparent on her face at that point. As if robotic, she leaned over to plant a kiss on Levi’s cheek, not expecting him to have turned his head. 

    Instead of the light, non-committal peck she had planned, his lips met hers in a soft kiss, to which the dealer and the other card players cheered on. Her cheeks warmed, her knees weakened, and it literally took everything she had not feel as if her “Emily” mask had shattered. She looked at Levi trying to figure out why he thought that would be a good idea when a simple peck would have sufficed. For an instant, she swore his expression softened, or was she imagining that? She was still focused on the lingering sensation when she realized he had hit a four-of-a-kind. 

    “Well I think that’s an indication I best bow out while I’m still lucky,” Levi winked to the other gentlemen at the gaming table. There was rousing laughter as he took his chips to cash them in with Madeline on his arm. She was surprised when they amounted to an even thousand dollars, but remained silent.

    “You okay?” he asked, concerned that she had all but locked up.

    “Yeah,” she mumbled. “I just wasn’t expecting that.”

    She couldn’t even bring herself to say the word. She needed to get herself together. She needed to change the subject.

    “So did you play a fair game of poker back there?” she asked.

    “Maybe.”

    “From past experiences, I’ll take that as a ‘no,’” Madeline said forcing a smile.

    “Don’t judge me,” Levi pouted. “Games of chance are so easy. If I lose, it’s on purpose.”

    He paused a moment as they headed to the restaurant. 

    “But we need to stop this,” he said.

    “Stop what?”

    “Looking so… happy,” he answered. “We’re supposed to be going through a rough time, remember? I didn’t see our buddy Geon Woo on this deck, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t on the next one.”

    “Gotcha,” Madeline nodded.

    They ate dinner without seeing either Geon Woo or his parents. They even strolled around the decks just to see if they could find them but came up empty. On the way back to their cabin, they spotted valets taking a luggage cart through the door of the suite the family was staying at. Levi mentally inventoried the suitcases leaving the suite. They were the ones belonging to the parents that he’d searched through this morning. 

    Madeline ushered Levi to their cabin door. He understood what she was up to and quickly went inside.

    With a concerned look, Madeline made her way to the Hyun’s suite hoping to see Geon Woo. She was in luck. 

    “Did Something happen?” She asked, looking worried.

    “My parents' business requires their attention, so they had to cut their vacation short,” Geon Woo responded. “I will stay behind and enjoy the rest of the cruise.”

    “What a relief. I was worried something terrible had happened. Well then, good night."

    "Goodnight, Emily."

    She managed a smile, but there was something that troubled her about the tone of his voice. It was the same uneasy feeling she always got from him, only this time it seemed more condensed. Madeline was more than happy to leave his presence and return to the room where Levi waited for her. Once again, they discussed the day’s events and began planning for tomorrow. Levi’s instincts told him tomorrow would be the day to get the necklace. They would be docked in Malta so it would be relatively simple to make a quick getaway afterward. He encouraged Madeline to try to go out to dinner with Geon Woo so that the room was vacant, then he could go in and retrieve the item without worry. 

    Unfortunately, the next day didn’t go as planned. Madeline wasn’t able to make contact with Geon Woo at any of the usual places she’d run into him before. She spent a few hours out by the pool, but to no avail. Even took lunch in the restaurant by herself for a couple of hours, but he never showed up. Keeping up the appearance of a bored wife trying to kill time, she roamed the shops and the decks until the sun started to go down, then she headed back to her room. 

    “I haven’t seen him at all,” she said, sitting on the bed, puzzled. “I wonder if he left the ship?” 

    “I checked with the steward, and Geon Woo is still on board,” Levi revealed. “I’m guessing he’s been in his cabin all day, but I’m not sure why. It’s suspicious, and we’re going to play this more cautiously going forward. Something just seems off.”

    Sighing, Madeline smoothed out the blue and white striped sundress she had been wearing all day, then stretched out on the bed. Glancing over out the balcony, the sun was setting, and the sky was darkening quickly. 

    “I’m going to the restaurant to see if he’s ordered anything all day. That will at least confirm what the steward has logged.”

    “Okay.”

    As Levi left the room, he went over the facts in his mind. Geon Woo’s parents left yesterday, and there was quite a commotion for them to get off the ship early. He was human, so there weren’t any unconventional ways for him to leave the ship. He had to still be onboard. But why he was in his cabin the whole day rather than out looking for Madeline? That was the odd part. Then again, maybe he had a bigger part in his parent’s business venture than he led on. Just like Levi’s fake story, the fact that there was trouble in the family business might just mean Geon Woo had been on conference calls all day long. Settling on this theory for now, Levi headed toward the wait staff at the restaurant. 

    “Excuse me, but I would like to order something for my wife and I to take to the cabin,” He said politely.

    “But of course, sir,” the host answered, handing him a menu. 

    “Also, I wanted to check on my friend in 7002. I know he’s been busy, so if he hasn’t ordered any food today, I’d like to get something for him too.”

    The host checked through the log on his tablet. 

    “Looks like your friend has ordered breakfast, lunch, and an early dinner to his cabin today, so you don’t have to worry. Now, what can I get ordered for you and your wife?”

     

     

    -------------------------------------------------

     


    Madeline remained on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. Did she mess up? Was there something she said or did that compromised the job? Nothing came to mind, but she still found herself going over every little detail repeatedly. Maybe he was just in his room all day. It was odd, but that’s what they’d staged for Levi at times. 

    There was a knock at the door.

    With a quizzical look on her face, Madeline rose from the bed and went to answer it. 

    On the other side, stood Geon Woo.

    He was dressed very casually, smiling from ear to ear.

    “I know this is very forward, Madeline,” he began, “But would you mind going out to dinner with me? Your husband, he treats you poorly, and I would like to treat you like a princess for one evening. May I?”

    As creepy as it all had turned into, this was their only chance. Levi would have the whole evening to search the cabin. She had to take the risk.

    “Is what I am wearing okay?” She asked innocently.

    “It is perfect.”

    “Okay, let me grab my sandals and my purse. I’ll be right back.”

    She closed the door and then hurried to Levi’s suitcase. Remembering her training, she took out the minuscule tracking chips, removed one from the sheet that kept them all in place, and then grabbed two small band-aids from the first-aid kit, one round and the other a traditional rectangular shape. Thinking quickly, she arranged the tracking chip against the gauze part of the small round band-aid and then placed the other band-aid over it, so the chip was secure between the gauze of both. Then hiking up her sundress, she attached the rectangular band-aid high up within her panty line. Slipping on her sandals, she grabbed her phone from its charger and quickly texted Levi.

    Out with Geon Woo

    Slipping her phone into her purse, she went to the door once again and opened it. 

    “Sorry that took so long, I just needed to make sure I looked presentable.”

    Geon Woo just smiled and offered her his arm. 
        

     

    -------------------------------------------------

     


    In his pocket, Levi felt his phone vibrate. Looking at the message, he summoned the host back to the podium. 

    “Seems my wife needs me for something. Can you have our order delivered to our room instead?” He lied.

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Thank you.”

    Heading to the staircase, Levi purposely went down a deck to avoid possibly running into them on the way to Geon Woo’s room. On Deck 7, Levi put his ear to the door of suite 7002. It was empty. Swiftly unlocking the door, he entered Geon Woo’s attached cabin and began the search.

     

     

    -------------------------------------------------

     


    Madeline was surprised that they were heading toward the gangplank. The ship was docked tonight in Malta, but she didn’t expect Geon Woo’s invitation to extend there. 

    “We’re going ashore?” she asked, a bit apprehensive.

    “Yes, there is a great local restaurant here run by a family friend I would like you to try,” Geon Woo replied. “Is that okay?”

    “Sure, as long as we’re back before the ship departs.”

    Geon Woo smiled politely as they walked down the gangplank. 

    There was a local taxi waiting for them at the dock, and Geon Woo held the door open for Madeline to step inside. The bad feelings she’d been having about him suddenly spiked, and though she knew something wasn’t right about all this, she went anyway. They needed to complete the mission and trusted Levi could find her. She was confident in her training, certain she could kick Geon Woo’s ass if it came down to it, she just didn’t want to be lost in Malta. 

    As the taxi door closed, Geon Woo took a bit of time walking around to the driver’s side, making small talk with the gentleman behind the wheel. Madeline tried to eavesdrop on the conversation, but the clear divider that separated the front seat from the back made it impossible to hear, and the ridges on the sliding window made it difficult to get an unobstructed view of the two men. After a few moments, Geon Woo opened the rear driver’s side door and slide inside next to Madeline. As the driver began to pull away, Madeline suddenly felt dizzy. She tried to concentrate on the street ahead but was soon even losing focus of that. She placed her hand on the door, attempting to open it, but her arms felt too heavy to lift. 

    Unable to fight it any longer, Madeline passed out.

     

     

    -------------------------------------------------

     


    After a few minutes of searching, Levi found a carved wooden box inside one of Geon Woo’s locked suitcases, but when he opened it, he was not prepared for what he saw. The necklace they were looking for was indeed in the box, however, so were three other necklaces. All of them were on different styles of settings and chains, and all of them appeared to be blue diamonds, which was improbable from Levi’s experience. Since he was dealing with jewelry, he’d brought along a chemical screener often used to determine the quality of gems. From his expert eyes, they had all the qualities of real diamonds, but it didn’t make sense how a poor family from North Korea would have such heirlooms. Furthermore, not only did Geon Woo have one of the rarest colors of diamonds, but to have three more? And to not have them more secured than this?  

    It wasn’t adding up. 

    Setting the diamond analyzer on the nearby side table, he placed the necklace pendant inside to get a reading. According to the device, it was a diamond by the conventional sense, meaning it was created using high pressure and temperature, but it it was lacking nitrogen atoms and had a considerable amount of boron and a minute amount of other impurities that shouldn’t have been there. There was something about the combination that made him uneasy, but at the moment he couldn’t remember why. Removing the diamond necklace from the device and pocketing it, he left the other three pieces inside the box. Closing the case and carefully repacking everything exactly the way it was, Levi moved to the door. He listened for any activity out in the hall, and then opened the door and casually walked back to the cabin he and Madeline shared, still ruminating over the significance of the diamond’s reading. 

    As he opened the door to their cabin, he rolled the facts in his mind over and over again: the lack of nitrogen, the boron and other impurities, a dead girl, the Hyuns not wanting to part with the necklace…

    Suddenly it hit him, the blue diamond was the dead girl.

    Then that meant the other blue diamonds were…

    Levi hurried and locked the door behind him. On the table in plain view was the small sheet of tracking chips he brought, only now one was missing. 

    Smart girl.

    He took out his cell phone and texted Madeline.

    All done with work. Head back for dinner?

    He waited a few minutes, but there was no response from Madeline, so he decided to open the tracker on his cell phone to get a bearing on her location.

    She was no longer on the ship. 

    He quickly shoved all Madeline’s belongings that were in the bathroom back into her suitcase, then zipped it up and locked it. Condensing their necessities into one carry-on bag, Levi placed the other one into his suitcase, locking it up as well.  All their luggage tags were addressed properly, so Levi was going to abandon them knowing they would get returned eventually. Changing quickly into black pants and a snug black t-shirt, Levi grabbed his gear and the remaining carry-on he'd just packed and headed off the ship. Knowing the truth about the diamond made finding Madeline much more urgent. 

    Sometimes the scariest monsters are actually human.
     

    Edited by Sinajfae

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