Mr Hong Gildong opened the double doors of the Lucky Saddle Craft Company’s underground Salon Prive gaming room to reveal a diminutive figure wrapped in a sodden pac-a-mac. A hood was pulled over the face to disguise their identity and protect them from the swaling storm in the streets above which blasted across the channel from Indonesia, lashing Singapore.
The new arrival clutched a newspaper. Those already present shuffled their seats along to make space for one more, next to Mrs Wong’s client’s box of instructions and accoutrements. Whoever it was sat themself somewhat incongruously at the Kranji table. The pac-a-mac even had stickie out ears as is if a Japanese cartoon character garment meant for a child.
A zip came down. A hood drew back. In doing so, a familiar face was revealed dressed, like the rest of us, in full evening wear appropriate to the previous night’s British High Commissioner’s bash at Eden Hall.
“Mr Fitzgerald, lovely to have you here,” said our auctioneer Mr Tan.
It was my neighbour from Dumfries Street, Kovan, the journalist Paddy Fitzgerald, the Straits Star’s ace reporter. He placed his paper down on the baize carefully as if in fear of the reading and writing shattering into thousands of individual words.
“Welcome to the auction of the millennium. Would you be kind enough to introduce yourself to the others and tell us who you represent? For your information, thus far we have learned Sir Julian Minsk represents the European Community. Mr Worth brings God, England, her Queen and the Empire to the table and Mrs Clogg, the world’s banking system.”
“If I may,” taking mention of herself as a cue, Mrs Clogg raised an objection, “the time is past 07:19:23 am. We have started. Mr Fitzgerald is too late.”
She was overruled, “The blind buy-in round has not been completed, Mrs Clogg. Mr Fitzgerald can enter the auction by exercising the option if he wishes.”
I whispered to her, “He’s on a commission. He gets a cut of all the two millions. No doubt about it. The more the better, but goodness knows where Fitzgerald will find the spondoolies, unless it’s two million in discount coupons from his old newspapers,” I quipped.
Mrs Clogg laughed too much at my lame joke. Her tanned blossom wobbled in over-exaggerated mirth within her royal blue dress. The girl was on heat.
“Mr Fitzgerald, it is up to you,” Mr Tan reiterated.
“Excuse me,” a voice came from behind the Wong Address Company’s box. A little head emerged from one side. Mrs Belinda Wong had been passed over.
“You missed me out.”
Mr Tan paused, pondering les règles de la table.
“Did you understand any of the clues, Mrs Wong? Have you been on Mr Worth’s rug?” He made a snarf-snarf noise.
Mrs Clogg took the opportunity for a touché, “You are too cynical, Mr Worth, our auctioneer is merely a stickler for,” she upped the stakes before the bidding round had even begun, “les règles de guerre.”
“I am here at the allotted time,” the business owner continued, “I have no need to decipher any secret codes. At the Wong Address Forwarding Company, we owe it to our clients to read every confidential material they trust us with. The least we can do for our treasured customers, it is part of the service and rightly so.”
“You’ll be aware of a two million dollar buy-in, Mrs Wong,” auctioneer Tan sneered.
“Not such a cynic Mrs Clogg,” I murmured. “Thought he wasn’t going to get paid. Les règles de la nature human, a wag might conclude.”
“Humaine,” she corrected. By now she’d kicked off her shoes and was stroking my calf with her heel.
From her box, the plaintiff would-be bidder produced a Wong Address Company carrier bag folded around something rectangular. She threw it to the middle of the table.
“I am Mrs Belinda Wong. I represent enterprise, hard work, capitalism, long hours, no holiday, no rules and regulations, pay in cash, please. Invest in US Treasury bonds.”
Tan unwrapped the carrier bag to reveal a pale orange $2 million T-bond. A glint in his eye, he added it to the growing pile of subs in front of him.
“Now it is up to you, Mr Fitzgerald.”
“My name is Patrick de Valera Fitzgerald,” he began, his thick Galway brogue softened by the remnants of the previous night’s Irish gentleman’s measures of malt. “And I am here on behalf of the global media, a free flow of information provided by impartial proprietors dedicated to truth.”
Muttering sounded around the table. Mr Hong Gildong raised an eyebrow.
“Of course,” agreed Mr Tan with difficulty, “but there is the small matter of the money.”
Mr Fitzgerald tapped his newspaper. The mumbling intensified.
“Discount coupons? No, for the floor of the canary’s cage. To be laid there for the spalts and the spilt seed,” Mrs Clogg leant too close to me, I could feel her breath upon my ear. “On her afternoon off, our Clogg maid takes an assignation with her secret boyfriend. Her room is empty and this lady of the house is unattended and lonely. I can’t quite reach the cage, Mr Worth, it is dangerous to stand on a chair. I need a man to lift me. The secret of a happy canary is a good lay, Mr Worth. When this nonsense is over I must insist you oblige.”
Mr Fitzgerald picked up his broadsheet and displayed an iconic front page.
“The tragic assassination of President Kennedy? An interesting piece of history but only worth a couple of dollars to an obsessive or a collector,” observed Sir Julian Minsk.
“Note the date,” instructed Mr Fitzgerald.
Sir Julian squinted, “19th of November 1963.”
“Three days before the actual shooting,” explained Fitzgerald. “A Telex lad in a bunker in Washington opened the wrong envelope and transmitted it to Singers. The rest isn’t history. A freak accident in the print room severed tongues. Two hundred thousand papers had to be pulped in a hurry. This is the only one left. If it fell into malicious hands, unaware of the deeper truth?”
He passed it to Mr Tan, who gave him half a million dollars change out of the kitty.
“Miss Kim, it is finally up to you.”
“My name is Miss Kim Jo Long. I represent Communism, the equality of all people in harmony with the Mighty Leader, his family and the politburo.” The North Korean assassin’s commitment to equality extended to wearing a stunning ten thousand dollar blood-red dress. Her neck and wrists dripped in gems. She smiled, showing a gold tooth embossed with a diamond. Putting her hand inside her modest cleavage she pulled out a petite black pouch tied in the finest silver cord.
“Four hundred carats of diamonds,” she announced as she handed them to Mr Tan nonchalantly.
No doubt similar the those she’d given to me as payment for an introduction to the mysterious and missing boffin, Mr Stein. Synthetic diamonds cooked from base earth by the North Korean nuclear test programme. Her appointment with Stein unfulfilled, she now wanted my diamonds back upon pain of death. For reassurance, I felt in my pocket for a little something Rose, my own maid, had snook to me that morning that might save my life.
“That completes the buy-in round.”
“Shouldn’t the Americans and Mr Lee be here?” Wondered Sir Julian, “perhaps we should give them a minute?”
“The Americans are too thick to understand the codes,” replied Miss Kim. “They have not, how do you say? Depth of understanding. They see everything at face value. A Mersin rug carpet is a Mersin rug carpet to them. They think my country’s nuclear programme imports dog food and tractor parts as that’s what’s stencilled on the crates.”
“As for Mr Lee,” I felt obliged to surmise. “Having thrown an impenetrable electronic firewall around Singapore, I suspect he wants no part of whatever this is all about, or any of the other wayward wickednesses of the world that lies beyond his city-state.”
Amongst nodding from all present, Mr Tan re-took control of the room.
“We will begin,” he shouted. “Ladies and gentlemen. Enjoy the auction of the millennium.”
He reached for the laptop Mrs Wong’s client had provided. With some difficulty, he pulled the lid open and placed it at an angle so we could all see. It sprang to life. Mr Hong Gildong lowered the room lights. We were bathed in a grey flicker from the screen.
Sir Julian put on his spectacles. I leant forward. Mrs Clogg did likewise, in time with me. Mrs Wong defined inscrutable. Mr Fitzgerald laid back in his chair. Miss Kim glanced away from the screen as if in possession of some shamanic knowledge of what was about to happen.
Although the face that appeared in the darkness was familiar, the voice was new to me. A flash of inspiration crossed my lobes. I raised my hand to capture the attention of Mr Tan and prayed he would allow an interruption. It might save my life.
To be continued ….
© Always Worth Saying 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file