“Mesdames et Messieurs, welcome to Le Salon Privé of the Lucky Saddle Craft Company, Geylang Road, Singapore. Are you ready to rumble? I said, are you ready to rumble?” Mr Tan was enjoying himself.
A luxury underground private room, he could have added as the assembled were sat around a secret Kanji gaming table scented of lavender but skinking of Triads and Snakeheads.
“I am your auctioneer, Mr Jeremy Tan, appointed by a secret customer of Mrs Belinda Wong of the Wong Address Forwarding Company.”
Mrs Wong sat at the table too, between Miss Kim Jo Long and an outsized box containing the address company’s client’s instructions and associated accoutrements.
“The first round is a $2 million dollar blind buy-in, upon the completion of which the qualifying bidders will compete in the auction of the millennium.”
“I will start at my left. I must ask each bidder to introduce themselves to the room and inform us as to who they represent.”
He turned to his left
“Sir Julian Minsk, it is up to you.”
Minsk placed a hand inside his dinner jacket and took out a large manilla envelope, closed with string through a hole rather than gum. He undid the knot by skilful use of his manicured nails, opened the envelope and took out a cheque book.
From an inside pocket, he presented a gold nibbed ink pen embossed in whale ivory with the European Community flag. Opening the cheque book with a flourish he wrote a two followed by a long row of noughts, payable to cash.
“Two million US, not Singapore,” Mr Tan felt obliged to mention.
“Of course,” replied Sir Julian before continuing, “In. I am Sir Julian Sevastapol Minsk. The European Community’s Global Trade Commissioner. I represent a modern, progressive, united Europe. Through mere pieces of paper, I make the world a better place through rights, equality and diversity. Assuming lesser nations want access to the biggest trading block in the world, of course.”
He smirked. His giant cheque slid across the baize towards Jeremy Tan.
“Mr Worth. It is up to you.”
“Wait. I am clueless as to what’s going on, Mr Auctioneer. What in the name of Christie’s and Sotherby’s are we bidding for?”
“Mr Worth, the first round is a blind buy-in. More will be revealed before the second round. You are free to go at any time if you do not approve.”
“In which case, my position is ‘out’. I must wish you all a good day.”
As I prepared to stand, Mrs Wong caught my attention. The usually inscrutable Senkang businesswoman was tapping her nose while winking at me through her centre-parted fringe of matt black hair.
I hesitated. Although she was only a messenger for her mysterious client, I was reminded of the ancient 13th century Yuan dynasty proverb, ‘The postman saw all the letters, the Emperor only his own.’
I remained seated.
“Upon reflection, Mr Tan. In. My name is Ashley de pfeffel Worth-Saying, a Crown servant seconded to the Singapore Consultancy Company, Zhēn Xiàng tower, Marina Bay.
I wondered of what I represented? As an only child from an unfashionable English province, I was born to solitude amongst lakes and mountains rather than the metropolitan high stakes of secret auctions in exotic locations.
I’d spent my childhood in the colonies, happily, but not accepted as a native child would have been. At my austere boarding school, I’d been content enough, but one had to stick up for oneself. The early part of my career had been under Mrs Thatcher. Splendid, but one, and the entire nation, had become a little selfish. What lay beyond my self-interest? Something stirred within me. Another one of my pangs, I fought to put it into words.
“You may say I’m a little old fashioned but I represent God, the Queen, England. A pax Britannica that saved millions of lives and a British Empire that made the world a much, much better place. But I must add, I don’t have two million. Perhaps a side bet?”
Miss Kim Jo Long had thrown a note to me before the introductions reading, “Let the People’s Democratic Republic win the auction and I’ll forget about the diamonds.” I also had in my pocket a little something Rose our maid had squeezed into my hand when she realised I was being spirited away from our Dumfries Street townhouse that morning. My intuition was a side stake might be to my advantage.
“Oh, Mr Worth.” Mr Tan, the arbiter of such things, slapped me down. “Where do you think you are? Hong Kong? Macao? Monte Carlo? Whoever heard of such a tacky ploy in Singapore? A momentary lapse. You are forgiven. But the two million remains outstanding.”
“I must exercise my right not to partake. As a modest salaried servant of Her Majesty, such funds are beyond my wildest imaginings. With regret, I must leave you. Out.”
A slow handclap began from my right. Sir Julian Minsk was applauding me sarcastically.
“You are far too modest, Mr Worth. Particularly regarding your acting abilities. Wandered into a gaming den on the way to the stage at The Victoria? Taxi for Empress Place?”
Mr Tan winced at the suggestion of a gaming den.
“I’ve been waiting to do this for a long time,” said Minsk addressing his manilla envelope again. He drew some papers from it and, with one sweep of the palm, displayed them in a completely even fan, like a croupier showing a full deck of new cards.
As the cad he was, Sir Julian had been spying on me while I had been spying on him.
“Panama, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, the British Virgin Islands. Mr Worth has funds secreted all over the world. Two million is peanuts for him.”
The Europen Community’s greasy Trade Commissioner leafed through his papers quoting from them.
“Selling intelligence to the newspapers. Bribing MPs, including myself, for many years for things discriminatory against them rather than illegal. Using Her Majesty’s ultra-secret undersea high-speed comms network for his beloved side bets on the stock market. Taking packets of diamonds from foreign powers. Where does this all end? At a bank in a tax haven is where it ends.”
Miss Kim Jo Long nodded. Mrs Clogg looked concerned. Mrs Wong was beyond inscrutable, her features set as waxy as a dead chairman’s in a Tiananmen mausoleum.
“Taking a cut from the earnings of boys dressed as girls dressed as boys dressed as girls at the docks in Tangiers,” Sir Minsk sneered.
I’d had enough.
“How are you! How dare you!” I stood and pointed at him, furious. “Sir Julian, I will see you at dawn tomorrow on the lawn at the Botanic Gardens. Mr Hong Gildong,” I glanced towards Miss Kim’s bodyguard who had been tasked with keeping the room secure, “will provide the pistols. Mr Tan will call the steps.”
“Oh, sit down, you arse,” said Sir Julian, “I can prove it.” He held up a photo from all those years ago in a North African port. Even without careful cropping, the image was unmistakenly myself in conversation with a boy dressed as a girl, under an awning by moonlight, beside dockside rails sunk into brine soaked cobbled streets leading from the Port of Tangiers.
Rather than screaming and recoiling in horror, Mrs Clogg, to my immediate left, giggled like a schoolgirl and squeezed my leg beneath the table. Strange woman.
“Your American colleagues with their high tech surveillance equipment were also my American colleagues with their high tech surveillance equipment,” guffawed Sir Julian.
“Perhaps if Mr Worth were to transfer funds from elsewhere via the banking app provided?” Interrupted Mrs Wong. She fiddled about in her big box and found a cell phone provided for such by her client.
“In,” I confirmed after doing as I was told.
“Mrs Clogg. It is up to you,” Tan announced joyfully, my little embarrassment forgotten already.
“I am Mrs Dora Clogg, a banker with the Explorer Bank of Marina Bay, Singapore.”
From the start of this adventure, she had been clinging to her handbag and now I found out why. She unclipped it, turned it upside down with a swish, and tipped two million dollars in grubby used notes to the baize.
Hard currency earnings straight out of the pockets of hard-working coolies, handed across the counters of various Explorer Bank branches around the territory and into her handbag without a traceable cent going through the books. Impressive.
“I represent the world’s banking system. A secretive cabal of wealthy, grasping capitalists, born into privilege and innately good with money, who play Monopoly with the bones of the broken poor,….”
“Careful now, Dora,” I whispered.
“…. in a system, despite being despised by all, which provides for the wants and needs of all mankind.”
At which point, an unexpected knocking rang from the door. Without hesitation, our head of security, the brutish Mr Hong Gildong, opened the double doors to reveal, to the astonishment of all, the unexpected caller who had made the unexpected knock.
To be continued ….
© Always Worthing Saying 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file