Rose our maid woke me as the sun approached the yardarm and presented me with Mr Lee’s access all areas card.
I walked across Dumfries Street towards the school for savants which was a one seventy yard long building three stories high built of prefabricated concrete topped with a corrugated metal roof. Finished in pink rendering it was guarded by Chinese railway green railings, a line of shrubs and a mesh fence. These were lined up in ascending height and could be climbed like steps allowing a roll across the top of the fence and a drop into the property without troubling the locked street gate. A “Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted” notice allowed extra leverage for the feet.
The door to the building was only a few feet from the street gate. The overhang from the roof protected me from the first spits of Singapore’s daily late afternoon torrential rain. I was about to swipe the entrance pad with Mr Lee’s card when I noticed a gap between the door and its frame. I gave it a push. The door swung open, already unlocked.
I crept inside and tiptoed up a stairwell to the second floor where light from what, via my wife’s volunteering, I knew to be the computer room cast a light on the landing.
Inside the room, a figure sat hunched over a keyboard before a computer screen.
“Our landlord Mr Stein bought a townhouse opposite a school for a reason,” I said.
“I would say so, Mr Worth,” replied Jeremy Tan with whom the winner of the competition of the millennium had to rendezvous with to win the keys to the internet, “But I’m only the auctioneer. I buy and sell for a fee. I don’t paint or craft or write a million lines of code to control the internet.”
“Or instruct the savants to do so for you,” I concluded aloud.
“I think of such things this way, Mr Worth. If someone can do everything that needs to be done without harming themselves, harming others or damaging the things around them, who am I to judge? Mr Stein and the savants appear to have achieved what they wanted to achieve.”
Speaking of harm, I felt in my pocket for the little memory stick Rose had forced upon me on my way out to the original auction. I pulled up a chair, turned it the wrong way around and sat on it in a businesslike pose.
“There’s a politician in England called Paddy Ashdown. Familiar with the Malay States, he served here during the emergency but has since blotted his copybook by being pro-European Community. He used to sit on his chair the wrong way round and un-do his collar button when addressing the lower orders – if cameras were present.”
“Humiliate him on the internet, Mr Worth, as you now own it.”
Tan was typing into what appeared to be MrStein.com.
“There are some online forms to fill, aren’t there always?” He said.
“After pressing a few more buttons,” he continued, “I shall, as per my instructions, transfer the software controlling the internet to your cell phone. I hope you brought it with you? And you will own the internet. Untold wealth and power, how will you use it? Perhaps a football team, private jet and super-yacht? I have connections, for a modest percentage I could broker a ….”
“Not so fast.”
A voice, accompanied by quiet footsteps, approached from the direction of the stairwell. Into the light emerged a tiny inscrutable figure. Changed from her evening wear into a white dress and grey branded casual sports shoes, she had a folded umbrella tucked under her arm that had saved her from the now thunderous wet outside.
Plainly accessorised, her High Commissioner’s bash going out jewellery replaced with simpler pieces, owned by herself rather than borrowed from her client’s secure boxes, it was Mrs Belinda Wong, proprietor of the Wong Address Company.
Besides the umbrella, she carried a bulging plastic bag emblazoned with the Lucky Comfort Convenience Store logo. She walked past me as though I didn’t exist and forced the carrier onto Mr Tan.
“Oh Mrs Wong, lovely to see you, but I can’t be bribed. Mr Stein has remunerated me and with his connections to the secret world, one suspects any subterfuge on my part might be unwise. Please, I cannot be tempted with diamonds, watches and the keys to sports cars, especially since they’re most likely nicked,” he coughed,”from treasured clients who allow their valuables to fall into the Wong Company.”
“Open it, Mr Tan,” an irate Belinda Wong ordered. Rather than being disguised valuables, the Lucky Comfort Convenience Store bag was bulging with snacks and pop.
“Share them out, Tan, I’m famished. Up all night at the High Commission. Trapped at the auction of the millennium, sleeping then sprinting to the school for savants. Hungry work.”
She suddenly realised I existed.
“Mr Worth, nice to see you too. Deal Mr Worth in Mr Tan, give him some drink and crisps, he will be hungry too, half owner of the internet or not half owner of the internet.”
I bit my tongue. I would enjoy my share of her snacks before breaking the bad news to her. Which, still at the beginning of my machiavellian machinations, amounted to, “I was here first.”
We had pop and sweeties, two pastries each and shared a bag of Happy Dragon Shapes. Mr Tan professed he had been ready to dine too, despite having a start over the rest of us when leaving the underground gaming table at Geylang Road. Besides paperwork, he’d had to race to the bank to deposit all our buy-ins having electronically plundered his own account to pay Mr Stein his giant share.
“And Miss Jo Long’s diamonds needed to be presented to my safety deposit box on the other side of the island. Then I had to get here and force the front door. Very trying. And all while making sure I wasn’t being followed by any of you lot. What a tiring day.” He dabbed his brow with a pink handkerchief.
“First world problems, Mr Tan,” observed Mrs Wong. “What will you do with your half of the internet, Mr Worth? I think buying and selling and storing and borrowing of information will be appropriate to my half. It fits in with Wong Company values.”
She leant forward and whispered, “I promised my late husband, Mr Wong, on his death bed I wouldn’t sell the company until the right buyer came along with the right price. Every business is always for sale in Singapore! Perhaps the moment has come and I have met the person? Perhaps, you might swap your half of the internet for the Wong Address Company? I understand you must leave the Singapore Consultancy soon. And the pregnant wife carrying an heir. A good business to be in. Premises included. In a pleasant part of the city-state close to a sculpture park and a metro station. Profits, oh yes, and use of what the clients entrust, if you are discreet. And you’d be surprised.”
For once her inscrutability deserted her, she became excited.
“You should see what some of them leave, and what they forget to collect. All yours in return for a mere half of the internet,” she clasped my right hand and made to spit on it.
“That’s decided,” she said with undisguised glee. “Mr Tan, draw up some papers for Mr Worth’s signature.”
“I’m afraid it isn’t so easy, Mrs Wong,” he said in admonishment.
“No, it is not”, I interjected. “Point of order.”
“Not another, Mr Worth,” Jeremy said wearily. “Oh, go on.”
“I was here first.”
“Pathetic,” said Tan, “You are both present at the allotted time and in the allotted location.”
Mrs Wong shook her head at me and tut-tutted.
“Another point,” I counter-attacked, “Mrs Wong hasn’t worked any of this out for herself, she reads through her client Mr Stein’s private documentation which is cheating.”
“It is common sense and initiative,” she salvoed back, “and for the safety, convenience and confidentiality of my most important customer, Mr Stein.”
“No, it isn’t.”
Mr Tan stopped our contradiction with a ruling, “Mr Worth, the internet, over which Mr Stein has had a fair bit of influence, appears to be one giant privacy-invading self-interested cheat. Perhaps that’s what he intended when trusting Mrs Wong’s Wong Address Company with his custom?”
“Quite,” exclaimed Mrs Wong, “sign the internet over to me and I will pass the Wong Address Company over to Mr Worth. Everyone will be happy. Perhaps a commission for you for the witnessing of this, Mr Tan?”
“No, Mrs Wong,” replied Jeremy Tan, “Mr Stein left clear instructions. I’m surprised you haven’t read them,” he added sarcastically, “there must be only one winner. In the case of a tie, a further round of competition must take place.”
Mrs Wong suggested a throwing of rubbish into the bin contest. Not as daft as it sounded, nearby there was one of those ubiquitous institution green tin bins sat in a corner under a poster depicting a dinosaur.
I fancied my chances. I was the longer limbed. No doubt Mrs Wong, because of her profession, was well-practised at pitching things into pigeon holes. But my extra height meant I could lean closer to the target for the chuck. I accepted her challenge.
We split the pile of empty snack wrappers into two and began tying them in knots and crunching them up to make projectiles.
“No, no, no, no,” shouted an annoyed Mr Tan, “not what Mr Stein wants at all. Here’s what you have to do.”
To be continued ….
© Always Worth Saying 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file