“What makes you think Mr Lee’s best will be a man?” Asked our chauffeur-maid Rose, pulling our big back Mercedes to a stop, having just successfully evaded the pursuing North Korean Secret Service’s Miss Kim Jo Long and the bodyguard known as Mr Hong Gildong.
She gawped at me. I took a look at her. She did have a point. It would be difficult for Mr Lee’s best to hide in plain view, in a village like Singapore, if 6’ 4” and built like an ox. Likewise, in this crime-free utopia, it wasn’t so much muscle and firepower that was needed, as grey cells combined with high intelligence and low cunning.
My present predicament was about information, about getting around the city state’s protective firewall, rather than punching a hole in concrete or breaking paving flags with my forehead. At least until any future meeting with the North Korean Secret Service when such skills might be handy.
What a fool I’d been. Some scales fell from my eyes. A lightning flash across my own grey cells mirrored those of the swaling storm around us which was lashing the southern extremity of the Malay peninsular.
“Of course, Mrs Lee’s best won’t be a man,” I looked at Rose who nodded wisely. I turned to Nicole and Lotus in the back seat, sat in their evening gowns.
“It could be a boy. Remember Mr Lee’s great-nephew? Is he at Charterhouse? Wanted to be an intern at the Singapore Consultancy, wish I hadn’t chased him. Nicole, is it school hols in England? One loses track. Do Charterhouse get an extra week? I think they might. How the hell do we find Harry Lee’s sister’s house from here,” I continued, wondering aloud while returning my gaze to Rose.
She looked impatient, even cross. A simple girl, she was usually cheerful or at the very least inscrutable. I assumed, unfamiliar with Charterhouse, that she didn’t know what I was on about.
“Try again, Mr Worth,” she instructed.
This time I took a good, long look at her. More scales fell from my eyes. The excellent driving, the hidden moped in our side garden, the chickens she was allowed to keep despite a hundred and one bylaws. A penny dropped.
“You’re in on this aren’t you, Rose?”
“You’ve brought us here to rendezvous with Mr Lee’s great-nephew. Thought so.”
Turning to Nicole.
“Suspected it all along.”
“I give up,” said Rose wearily. She took her foot off the brake, tapped the car into a higher gear and set off.
“Give him another ten minutes, girl, look at the weather, give the chap a chance. My life might depend upon this rendezvous.”
She took no notice but, all the same, only drove a couple of hundred yards or so, at very low speed. After which, we turned left into a driveway and stopped at a barrier. A flashing red light and an illuminated coat of arms showed through the lashing rain.
After being chased through the streets by the North Korean Secret Service, I wasn’t exactly sure where we were but I had a rough idea. At times, between the worst of the squalls, and under the lightning bursts, I had recognised the outlines of some of the buildings. We were on the better end of Napier Road. The driveway that we’d just turned into led to the British High Commission compound. Not to be confused with the British High Commissioner’s residence at Eden hall, Nassim Road, where that night’s social continued without us. We’d left in a hurry, followed by Mr Hong Gildong and Miss Kim Jo Long of the North Korean Secret Service as storm clouds burst, not only over everybody’s favourite squashed diamond shaped Lion State, but also over the last few weeks of my career and its attendant pension. Both of which were in peril, now that a European Community / Singapore trade deal dovetailed into scandalous events in old Tangier, many years ago.
Rose lowered her electric window and pressed an intercom buzzer beside the barrier. We all knew there’d be no response. Everybody who was anybody was at the Eden Hall bash and everybody who wasn’t anybody would have snook away to play while the ‘anybody who was anybody’ cat was away. All the night staff would be enjoying a lock-in somewhere along Geylang Road, having their own social for the duration of the storm.
The barrier before us wasn’t too robust, a big Mercedes could have forced a way through but simultaneously setting off alarms and announcing our presence. It was important to be as discreet as possible for as long as possible, added to which I recalled a much more secure barrier further up the drive.
Having tried the buzzer without luck, Rose suggested my swipe card.
“It’s in the wall safe in my office at Dumfries Street,” I reminded her.
“Unless you know differently?”, I continued.
She put a hand inside her chauffeur’s jacket and produced my swipe card.
“Not to ransack the safe while I’m out,” I remonstrated, pretending to be cross. Rose swiped my card through the intercom panel but still with no success.
“It needs a PIN code.”
Leaning across her, I was able to reach a little keypad and type in my code. Sure enough, the barrier began to rise. We crept forward into the High Commission’s compound.
“Where to now, Mr Worth?” asked our ingenious chauffeur.
“I presume we’re heading for the Coms Room and from there to somehow get around Mr Lee’s impregnable firewall?”
“This is the British Council building, Rose, follow the drive to the left to the High Commission proper. There’s a very secure barrier on the way, I’m not sure my Singapore Consultancy card will work on it.”
All kinds of waifs and strays were welcome at the British Council, learning English, taking yoga lessons, that kind of thing. Not so the High Commission itself. We crept around the narrow and unlit drive, mounting the kerb more than once. Judging by patchy lights in the distance, between the storm clouds, there was a power cut. Sure enough, at the next barrier, my card and PIN failed to remove the dreaded blinking red light.
Lotus had a Hong Kong Consulate-General ID which would have fared better. But, she confirmed unhelpfully, it had been left in the safe, in the wardrobe, in the guestroom at Dumfries Street.
Not a problem for Rose. Sure enough, it was now in her hand, the real McCoy; coat of arms, Union Flag, Miss Lotus-Blossom Flower Worth-Saying LLD BA (Cambs), embossed in gold across the bottom. This denoted Lotus to the brainy part of our family, declaring her to be of the branch started (according to legend), under a table at a pearl farm on the Yellow River, during a typhoon interrupted by an earthquake, while under fire from a Manchu warlord’s private army. Appropriately, tiles had been rattling, outhouse doors slamming.
In a rather unladylike manner, Lotus clambered over me to get to the driver’s window. Anything to avoid having to get out of the car and into the foul weather while typing in her PIN. I got to see her underwear, good job she had some on. She’d kicked off her shoes in the back seat, allowing me a face full of smelly feet too.
Gasps of swaling wind swirled through the window making us smell like a Turkish taxi on an emergency dash from Mersin harbour after picking up a precious package that had been placed in a pig manure shipment.
The barrier lifted and we drove on. Speaking of unladylike behaviour, what’s Rose doing ransacking the contents of our guest’s safe?
I felt obliged to blurt out, “Hang on, Rose, how did you get into those safes? You didn’t blow them, did you? There’s a rather nice vase, one of Mr Stein’s, on a table next to the wall safe in the office, I hope..”
“Needs must,” interrupted Rose, enigmatically.
Pulling up outside the plate glass doors at the High Commission, another swipe lock awaited.
“I presume Mr Lee’s best nephew somehow got here before us and opened up?”
Nicole leaned forward and whispered to me,
“Darling, for God’s sake, Rose is Mr Lee’s best, you’re annoying everyone with this silly pretence.”
It was a bit obvious, and I had twigged earlier, especially as the atmosphere between the three ladies had suddenly shifted. Rather than Mr Lee’s choice being a tremendous victory for the sisterhood, it seemed to have soured the air. Aware of how much the female of the species detests being watched, judged and talked about, being spied on by the maid since the day we’d arrived in Singers wasn’t a positive. A massive catfight was approaching, with me caught between three women, at least two of whom were trained to kill with their bare hands.
In order to distract them, I posed a pertinent and extremely difficult question.
“If our less important swipe cards don’t work on the more important main doors, and they won’t, how are we going to get inside?”
Rose replied, pushing her car door open as she spoke, inviting the rest of us to do the same, “As an absolute last resort, Mr Worth, Mr Lee authorised me to do the following…..”
To be continued…..
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file