Sharp elbows approached us across a crowded reception room at the British High Commissioner’s annual bash. Mrs Belinda Wong, of the Wong Address Forwarding Company, myself and my wife, Nicole, wait in anticipation. I’m rather hoping that they belong Mr Lee’s best chap, seconded to me by Mr Lee himself, to help drag me out of a bit of quagmire that I seem to be waist-deep into.
A lightning flash from outside, followed by an immediate clap of thunder, momentarily drowned out the sound of rain hammering on shuttered windows. The ceiling fans shook momentarily as they turned. The buffet table rattled. Everybody pretended that nothing had happened. The assembled Diplomatic Corp were on their very best behaviour.
The weather was a sign from the heavens, anticipating my mood. The figure that emerged before us was a good type, potential alpha, but not Mr Lee’s best, or even one of Mr Lee’s. My Chinese cousin, Lotus Flower, a servant of Her Majesty’s Hong Kong Consulate-General, stood before us. She was staying with my wife and myself at our rented home in Dumfries Street, Kovan, partly to touch base in Singers, and partly to attend the bash. This being the social event of the year, one would ordinarily expect carriages to be at about two o’clock in the morning, no matter what the weather, but, “Our car’s here,” Lotus announced.
“Bit early?” I replied despondent. The little and big hands on a Japanese admiral’s captured wall clock, leftover from the occupation, were well shy of midnight, let alone 2am.
“Don’t want to offend,” I continued, aware that we might be impolitely a bit quick out of the place. “And I still haven’t found Mr Lee’s promised best chap or sampled his mother’s sweet and sour Pakanan.”
Mrs Wong interrupted, “Oh, Mr Worth, Mr Lee’s best will find you, don’t be such a grump.”
“We really have to go, Rose is blocking the drive,” added Lotus.
Rose our maid was that night’s chauffeur. We had the use of Mr Stein’s (our missing landlord’s) big, black, drive blocking, Mercedes Benz.
“Chop, chop,” urged Lotus. “She’s parked right up against the doors, breaking lots of rules, to keep us out of the rain and soot.”
On cue, there was a stormy gust and a thump against the windows. As well as tropical rain it contained more than a trace of ash and soot. A swaling wind was upon us, as a brisk south-westerly picked up both debris from burning Sumatran fields and moisture from the Straits. We donned our face masks and made our way through the throng to the hallway, nodding our goodbyes as we made eye contact with the party-goers. We squeezed past Dr Bakshi and Squadron Leader Knightley again.
Too boily hot for a cloakroom, the ladies would be bare-shouldered in the bad weather. As for myself, I was only dressed in a light suit, my night out in the tropics number twos. Rose had parked firmly against the steps of the veranda, allowing us a very light drenching as we approached. Meanwhile, security twitched around the big black car, cheekily well beyond the gatehouse and right up at the top of the High Commissioner’s drive. I sat myself in the front, the universal unwritten instruction to drivers which suggests, “talk to me”. Nicole and Lotus sat in the back.
“Darling, have you been to hospital yet, with the pregnancy?”
“I’m under doctor Bakshi,” Nicole replied, giggling.
“Do they have a card index for the appointments?”
“Loads of bits of paper for their filing? Or is it all on screens these days?”
“I forgot to ask Dr Bakshi about his secretary’s clerical work, darling, we were distracted by talk of babies.”
“Just wondering. With all these IT problems. I’d be grateful if you could keep an eye out during your next appointment.”
Meanwhile, Rose, who until she’d volunteered that night, hadn’t even let it be known that she could drive, had executed an excellent twenty-three point turn in the narrow drive. All achieved in the dark, and in the bad weather, without so much as surprising a rain tree or demolishing a Japanese admiral’s abandoned sun-dial.
Having said that, she drove a bit too quickly and, reaching the main Nassim Road, accelerated hard, despite the poor visibility, her foot well down until we were past the Embassy of the Philippines. In keeping with convention, she began a conversation,
“How was your evening, Mr Worth?”
“Short,” I replied. “You’re early.”
At the end of Nassim Road, she turned left but then left again, into Orange Grove Road. Heading northeast at quite a pace, we had rounded the executive residences thus avoiding the start of the skyscraper cluster.
“You going the wrong way,” I noted, irritated.
“Not necessarily,” she replied, “I can go Stevens Road, past the ‘Y’, Dunes Road, and onto to the toll road.”
I supposed she could. Not a route I would choose. I humphed.
“But I’m not going to,” she continued. Passing where one would ordinarily expect to see the Shangri La, if not for the lashing rain, she spun the wheel and turned left again.
“Rose, you’re going the wrong way. We’re going to end up back where we started.”
Back in the vulgar billionaire’s bungalow district, she was now driving far too fast, swerving into corners and accelerating out to them.
“Rose, stop the car and let me drive.”
By this point, both my hands were firmly clinging to the dashboard.
“That would be unwise, Mr Worth. We are being followed.”
I pulled down the sun visor on my side, revealing a vanity mirror showing darkness interrupted by two pinprick headlights. As we raced through the subdivision, they were trying a bit too hard to keep up with us. I turned to face Lotus and Nicole in the back seat, “Duck down please ladies, gives me a better view and keeps you safe from gunfire.”
Not really in the habit of this kind of thing, but aware that it can crop up, the ladies hunkered down uncomplaining. Slowing for a tight corner, the car behind almost hit us. As the corner unwound, Rose put her foot down to the floor, creating some distance between our pursuers and ourselves. As predicted, we were back where we started, racing along Nassim Road, flashing past the High Commissioner’s Residence again, going far too fast, visibility much less than breaking distance. Rose had even switched the headlights off.
“Is there a plan?” I asked Rose, rather plaintively.
She talked me through it, one little foot dancing between the accelerator and the brake, one tiny hand on the bottom of the steering wheel and the other overriding the automatic transmission, tipping back and forward through the gears. There followed a high speed, en route, exercise in ‘say what you see while you’re doing it’.
“End of Nassim Road, again. This time, sharp right. Fast down Tangling Road. Poor visibility. Brake and skid, left turn into Grange Road. To a dip in the road.”
A lightning flash showed us to be on the wrong side of that road, but at least we were still on it.
“Full of smog. Visibility zero. Unfenced building site to the left after the Fat Pig restaurant, if I remember rightly, Mr Worth,” before adding. “Fingers crossed.”
She threw the car to the left, into complete darkness. We hit rough ground, but not a brick wall, as Rose executed an emergency brake. Something roared past us to the right, presumably our pursuers, there being no other vehicles out and about on a night like this.
“Fooled them, Mr Worth.”
“And we’re even alive,” replied Lotus, still hunched down in the back, but now in the footwell where she’d landed in a heap.
“Three-point turn and into the residential subdivision opposite. Low speed drive about to hide us.”
We were down to 10 or 15 miles per hour now. I couldn’t see a thing but Rose was able to rhyme off the roads as we passed them.
“I thought your moped was to get you to business school every morning, Rose, I didn’t realise you’d been doing the Singapore Happy Cab knowledge.”
“I wonder who it was?” I asked rhetorically. All I’d been able to see was two headlights, I assumed my companions knew neither more nor better.
“Miss Kim Jo Long, of the North Korean Secret Service, and her bodyguard. What on earth happened at that party, Mr Worth? I hope you weren’t indiscreet,” replied Rose, half mockingly.
“I hope we don’t bump into them again on the way back to Kovan. Careful how you go,” I replied.
Hold on a minute, how did Rose know about Miss Kim Jo Long? Rose had seen her bodyguard, Mr Hong Gildong of the Chong Chon Shipping Corporation, when he’d gatecrashed an evening at our house. She knew nothing of Miss Kim Jo Long. I’d only just met the blood-red attired assassin for the first time that evening, at the bash.
Ah, the maid’s network. All the domestics gossiped amongst themselves. Speaking of the maid’s network, I might as well put it to use.
“Rose, you know the talk amongst maids?”
“Have you heard anything about Mr Lee’s top man? Mr Lee promised me an introduction but I don’t know who to look for. Everybody says he’ll find me but, no sign of him. Any ideas?”
Rose sounded impatient, no doubt cross that I might expect her to betray the confidences of her fellow professionals.
“Mr Worth, what makes you think that Mr Lee’s best person will be a man? Or even someone that you don’t already know?”
To be continued…..
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file