Unfolding the morning newspaper in front of him, Chief Francis perused the news with a careful eye. With the upcoming festival and increasing wave of visitors arriving in their island, the police force could not afford to lax on their duties. From his many years of experience, he knew that crime would increase while the residents grew more preoccupied with preparing the island for the week of celebrations.
He cringed as he mentally counted the many hours he would have to sacrifice for patrol duty, wincing as he could already hear the groans and bemoans of his team of police officers when asked to spend more time on duty. Though their extra shifts would be reimbursed once the festival was over, the additional wages would prove not to be enough for the officers who often felt taken for granted by the residents.
If only their government could follow the example of those in America who gave their police officers agreeable benefits for their loyal service, they would be better off… or so he’d heard.
Heaving a deep sigh, Francis peered up from the top of his newspaper to the front window of the lobby in the police station. The front verandah was bare of on-duty officers, most of them either patrolling the city or the few lounging in the back. He didn’t mind the solitude. It wasn’t very often the station had much visitors and Francis didn’t care at this moment if it was because his officers were growing lax or the city was better behaved in the recent week.
With a sardonic smile crossing his lips at the absurdity of his last thoughts, Francis folded the paper and started to stand when he heard a popping sound below his waist. Gritting his teeth, Francis slowly lowered himself back to sit on the chair as the wave of pain shortly followed.
Without a word, he reached on the nearby table for the phone and quickly dialed a number. Taking a deep breath, he slowly leaned back against the seat and waited for the dial tone.
Shortly afterward, the dial tone was interrupted by muffled voices on the other end. Francis frowned deeply. “Are you there?” he groused, the pain setting into his lower back, shoulders and now his legs.
“Hmm, yes…” a male’s baritone voice sounded on the other end.
Francis shifted his gaze as much as his body would allow him without eliciting more pain along his neck. None of the officers was in sight and this time, he cursed them for heeding his request to be left alone in the early hours of the morning. “You should come here now.”
The other voice hesitated as the voices around continued on. Then he heaved a sigh. “Pa, I’m at work. Is something the matter?”
Francis stifled a groan. “Would I call you if something was not awry?” he spoke tightly. “Neville, do I need to remind you that you still do house calls?”
The man on the other end sighed. “I do, but when there is time… Right now I am scrubbing up for a procedure.” He paused as a voice spoke urgently. “Pa, what is it? I can send a nurse to—”
“Never mind,” Francis snapped quickly before his son could finish his sentence. Pulling the phone from his ear, he slammed the phone back on its cradle, glaring at it as if it was his doctor son in front of him. “Useless…” he muttered to himself and winced once a sharp pain shot down his legs. Shifting his gaze back to the window, a sudden wave of relief rushed over him as he spotted three men walking down the brick-laid path to the front gate. Squinting to make out their faces, he smiled in relief and waited to be rescued.
Jonathan scanned the quiet terrace of the station and frowned. “Maybe we’re too early…” he muttered softly as they walked down the path. None of the officers that had once gawked at them on the day they were arrested were to be found.
“They’re probably on vacation,” Hapta mused aloud, popping at his gum as he walked a step ahead of them. “These people are serious about their festivals.”
Marcus smirked, also scanning the foregrounds. Then he noticed the trunk of a car peeking from behind the corner of the building. “Isn’t that Chief Francis’ car?”
Hapta glanced over to where Marcus gestured and nodded. “You’re right. Maybe he’s here somewhere…”
“There’s no need looking,” Jonathan replied in a low voice and both men glanced over at him. He was staring straight at a closed portico in front of them. The men turned to the clear window in front and squinted, noting a man sitting inside. “Isn’t that him?”
As the three men walked toward the door, Francis managed a sigh. “Finally…” he breathed as Hapta pushed open the door and he frowned up at them. “What took you so long?” he groused, the growing pain driving his impatience as they gaped at him.
Jonathan raised a brow at the strange behavior of the once friendly man. Marcus frowned at the man’s rigid stance. “Are you alright, Chief?”
“Not particularly, no,” the older man muttered, glancing down at his legs. “I believe I got up too quickly and my back is suffering for it.”
The three men grimaced openly, staring at him. Having noticed the phone beside him, Jonathan cleared his throat. “Did you call for help?”
“Tried to… Don’t worry, it’ll pass just in time for the meeting.” Chief Francis managed a smile just as the pain slowly died down. Still, he kept his stiff body propped straight. “What do I owe this unannounced visit?” He waved a hand to the empty chairs around him.
Hesitantly as if they would’ve preferred taking him to the clinic, the men slowly found their seats while keeping their eyes on him.
Hapta promptly answered. “We’re here to take you for lunch…” He cleared his throat when Francis raised a brow and chuckled lightly. “Well, we planned on it.”
Francis managed a smile. “That is very kind of you.” Then he narrowed his eyes in suspicion, although the residents of the community were known for their hospitality. “Lunch for what, may I ask? I know in your country, you say nothing in life is free, right?”
“You’re right,” Hapta agreed. “We need your help.”
Marcus shifted his attention to Hapta, having not expected Francis to be so forthright. He’d hoped the man would be more at ease after eating with them, so that their request would be less strange and audacious.
“How can I help?” the man muttered, wincing slightly as the pain returned.
“Maybe we should take you to the clinic first,” Marcus interjected, noting the man’s stiff form. “We can talk about our request la—”
Francis waved him off, turning back to Hapta. “How can I help?” he repeated, eyes trained on the man.
Both Jonathan and Marcus looked over at Hapta, both anxious about how he would convince the man to give them the information they needed to find Hannah again.
Hesitating only for a second or two, Hapta glanced at his comrades quickly before looking back at an expectant Francis. “We’re actually not here as the missions’ security backup team.” He paused, waiting for Francis to roar in outrage.
The older man merely smiled patiently. “I figured.”
All three men exchanged rueful glances before Hapta turned back to him, eyes wide in surprise. “Was it that obvious?”
Jonathan refrained from rolling his eyes and reminding Hapta that the lie was too farfetched and unsound for even a common resident to believe much less a seasoned police officer.
Francis shrugged casually despite the stiffness of his shoulders and back. “Not too difficult considering the missions group doesn’t really worry about security while they are here…” He tilted his head curiously. “Now that you have started confessing… what are you doing here?”
Hapta smiled easily, as if he’d already predicted this inquiry. “Truthfully…” he looked over at Marcus and Jonathan and the two men held back groans once they noticed the telltale look in his eyes. He turned quickly back to Chief Francis before they could stop him. “We’re actually doing some travel research…” he glanced over at Jonathan, gesturing to the man who now fought gaping at him openly. “For Jonathan’s travel adventure novel,” he fibbed without hesitation, noting how Francis’ eyes lit up in curiosity.
Jonathan curled his fingers into his palms, refraining from lunging forward at Hapta for weaving yet another lie, this time at his expense. Marcus fought back laughter that threatened and glanced away from Jonathan’s murderous glare. Today was going to be a long day.