As soon as Mr Hong Gildong allowed the doors to be opened, two hours after auctioneer Mr Tan had departed, there was a stampede along the dark and expensively carpeted secret underground passage that connected the Lucky Saddle Craft Company to its Salon Privé Kranji gaming den.
A melee developed at the aluminium stairs that returned us to street level. As the secret hatch burst open we tumbled up and onto the Saddle Company shop floor. The Chinese staff, tidying the open frontage, looked away knowingly. In the street outside, at the prettier end of the commercial end of Geylang Road, the tempest had passed and order was being restored.
During the previous day, a swaling storm had lashed the city-state. Typhoon levels of deluge, tinged by crop burnings from across the straits in Indonesian Riau, had poured from the heavens.
Oily Brussels deviant Julian Minsk was first to the sidewalk, albeit by dint of his slimy bulk blocking the way for the rest of us. He hailed a Comfort taxi and was heard yelling, “ The European Community’s Department of Administrative Affairs, Tanglin,” to the teenaged Malay driver.
“I suppose you’ll be heading to the TV towers at Bukit Batok?” Said Paddy Fitzgerald, “Yes, the internet is nothing but an electronic media but I’ll take my chances with the printed word. Letters and sentences have served me well all these decades, all the way from cub reporter in our County Galway family field to Singers, via Dubček’s Czechoslovakia, the Shah’s Iran and Idi Amin’s Uganda.”
He did seem to have been a bit of a jinx.
Meanwhile, Mrs Wong was describing a very direct route, walking straight through the traffic as though she knew precisely where she was going.
“Back to the Wong Address Company, I should image, Mr Worth, having given up on the auction. A mere shopkeeper. Here by default, as she reads all of her client’s confidential forwarded mail.”
Did the ever inscrutable Belinda Wong turn her head to wink while Dora Clogg dismissed her? She might have. Myself and Mrs Clogg remained, standing beside her Lexus. The Spanish beauty must drive to the central business district at Marina Bay. She offered me a lift.
“Self-evidently the internet belongs at the commercial centre of one of the world’s great global cities. But at which financial institution?”
As she recommended her own bank, The Explorer Bank, she looked wistful. She mentioned my Singapore Consultancy. I mentioned Mr Clogg who was being held hostage in our townhouse as a swap for myself. She seemed unconcerned and held the passenger’s side door open for me.
I declined, making polite excuses.
“No thrill for the chase?” She asked, “Or your own cunning plan?”
“Win, lose or draw,” I said, “this has already cost me $2 million but I have a bit left. Looking at the streets of Singapore reminds me, have you heard of supply chain finance?”
“Of course I have, Mr Worth, I am a banker. The little people call it settling invoices early. At one end of this is an existing tangible of value. At the other end, future sales, or even the possibility, no matter how remote, of future sales. A risky business, nada, nada, dangerous. Uninsurable even, at which point The Explorer Bank must withdraw its interest. She paused, despite losing interest she wanted to know more of my proposition.
“I was thinking, whether I win, lose or draw at life’s unpredictable gaming tables, I’ll put my pennies into property. God, nature and even myself and Tai Tai are making more people but not more land.”
“You must enjoy acquiring local and national tax demands, Mr Worth, like the odd fellows clinging to the railings at the end of the runway at Changi collect aero-plane numbers.”
“Oh no, Mrs Clogg, for taxation purposes I’ll put it all in Tai Tai’s name. And if the Good Lord grants us a large family, the children can let it from my wife and sublet it individually to trusted tenants or even one night at a time to total strangers. That might even sell well on the internet. If God, fortune and Mr Stein wills, I might try and set that up.”
“I hope you can trust all of these people with your assets, Mr Worth, you may end up working in a warehouse, struggling to pay the bills, while your family and those strangers live well in your nice houses. And the taxman? He is sharpening the castrating irons for you all the same.”
“That could never happen to me,” I replied to Mrs Clogg while tapping my nose. “I am an English travelling gentleman of a certain social class, exempt from such things.”
What a cynical gal Mrs Clogg was.
I set off on foot, leaving her to the machinations of high finance at Marina Bay. I juggled the bus and metro timetables in my mind, concluding my next best steps were in the direction of my favourite comfy chair.
About an hour later, I was back at Dumfries Street, Kovan, in our three-story townhouse, opposite the school for savants where my pregnant wife Nicole, also known as Tai Tai, sometimes volunteered.
Slumped in my favourite seat, I regarded our landlord Mr Stein’s artwork. Rose the maid, Mr Lee’s top agent, brought me a mango juice and ice, topped with a slice of foul-smelling Durian fruit.
“What happened to Clogg, Rose? He escape or something? Sawed thought he insect mesh, scattered the chickens and make a run for the bus stop?”
“No, he’s in your office, sir, playing games on your computer and reading your train books. He seems quite settled.”
“Stockholm syndrome I suppose,” I replied with a worldly sigh. “Give him $20, phone for a taxi and throw him onto to street. Use jujitsu if necessary.”
My wife walked into the room, holding her baby bump, stunningly draped in cooling silks.
“Having an interesting day, darling?” She asked.
“Halfway through a competition about the best place to run the internet from. The rest of them have hared off on impulse but I’m going to keep my thinking hat on for a bit longer.”
“Internet? Very rarely use it. It does seem to be for obsessives and technical geeky types.”
“Can you see a secret code in that Turkish rug?” I asked, pointing to the floor at the dumb and errant coloured oblong that had caused so much upset.
“Can’t say I can, my prince, although they do say each piece is unique to a particular place and time. The keen eye can see a local style and even, from the stitching, which particular weaver did the weaving and with which particular assistants on a precise day. Can’t pretend to be an expert myself.”
I made a realisation or rather my wife, in either ignorance or genius, had just made it for me.
“Not so much where would be the best place for the internet, more where would Mr Stein expect it put ….…..”
“And what’s the prize in this competition?” She asked.
My head had become a swirl.
“Not telling me, love? How exciting. I do like a big super-secret, I will miss them when we’re out of the game. First-class tickets back to Blighty would be nice, not long till you’re released now. They’re not going to put us in business class again, are they? One tires of warm champagne accompanied by middle-ranking gangsters and the wrong kind of archbishop.”
I had until sunset, minus the time taken to get there, to decide where Stein might base an internet. Was there a hint of grammar school in his demeanour? A suggestion of Geordie in the accent? I recalled Lotus’s photos from his social media – whalers on the Tyne – and tellingly it was the redundant whalers that had been used to upgrade Her Majesty’s super-secret Singapore, London, Hong Kong undersea comms line.
A fog cleared for me as if a bright April morning burning sea mist from the North Sea.
“Rose? I’m going to have a nap. Wake me just as the sun crosses the yardarm. Have you still got Mr Lee’s access all areas card? Must borrow it, girl. Apologies, but lots to do.”
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file