Authors: Kevin Kwan
Your regular table at the fabulous restaurant on the exclusive island where you own a beach house is unavailable.
Bettina Ortiz y MeÃ±a was not accustomed to waiting. A former Miss Venezuela (and Miss Universe runner-up, of course), the exceedingly bronzed strawberry blonde was these days the wife of the Miami auto-parts tycoon Herman Ortiz y MeÃ±a, and at every restaurant she chose to grace with her presence, she was always greeted with reverence and whisked to the exact table she desired. Today she wanted the corner table on the terrace at Sip Sip, her favorite lunch spot on Harbour Island. She wanted to sit on one of the comfy orange canvas director's chairs and stare out at the gently lapping turquoise waters while eating her kale Caesar salad, but there was a large, noisy group taking up the entire terrace and they didn't seem in much hurry to leave.
Bettina fumed as she glared at the tourists happily savoring their lunch in the sun. Look how tacky they wereâ¦the women overly tanned, wrinkled, and saggy, none of them properly lifted or Botoxed. She felt like walking up to their table and handing out her dermatologist's business cards. And the men were even worse! All dressed in old rumpled shirts and shorts, wearing those cheap straw hats sold at the trinket shop on Dunmore Street. Why did such people have to come here?
This three-and-a-half-mile-long paradise with its pristine pink-sand beaches was one of the best-kept secrets in the Caribbean, a haven for the very very rich filled with quaint little wood houses painted in shades of sherbet, charming boutiques, chic oceanfront mansions turned into inns, and five-star restaurants to rival St. Barths. Tourists should have to take a style exam before being allowed to set foot on the island! Feeling like she had been patient long enough, Bettina stormed into the kitchen, the fringe on her crocheted Pucci caftan top shaking furiously as she made a beeline for the woman with a shock of pixie-cut blond hair manning the main stove.
“Julie, honey, what's the dealio? I've waited more than
for my table!” Bettina sighed to the owner of the restaurant.
“Sorry, Bettina, it's been one of those days. The party of twelve on the terrace showed up just before you did,” Julie replied as she handed off a bowl of spicy conch chili to a waiting server.
“But the terrace is your prime spot! Why on earth did you let those
take up all that space?”
in the red fishing cap is the Duke of Glencora. His party just boated over from Windermereâthat's his
you see moored off the coast. Isn't it the most handsome sailboat you've ever seen?”
“I'm not impressed by big boats,” Bettina huffed, although secretly she was rather impressed by people with big titles. From the kitchen window, she surveyed the party assembled on the terrace with new eyes. These aristo British types were such a strange breed. Sure, they had their Savile Row suits and their heirloom tiaras, but when they traveled, they looked so painfully frumpy.
It was only then that Bettina noticed three tan, well-built men in fitted white T-shirts and black Kevlar pants sitting at the adjacent table. The guys weren't eating but sat watchfully, sipping glasses of seltzer water. “I assume that's the duke's security detail? They couldn't be more obvious! Don't they know that we're all billionaires here on Briland, and this isn't how we roll?”
“Actually, those bodyguards belong to the duke's special guest. They did a whole sweep of the restaurant before the party arrived. They even searched my walk-in freezer. See that Chinese fellow seated at the end of the table?”
Bettina squinted through her Dior Extase sunglasses at the portly, balding, seventy-something Asian man dressed in a nondescript white short-sleeved golf shirt and gray trousers. “Oh, I didn't even notice him! Am I supposed to know who he is?”
,” Julie said in a hushed tone.
Bettina giggled. “He looks like their chauffeur. Doesn't he look like that guy that used to drive Jane Wyman around in
Julie, who was trying to focus on searing a cut of tuna to perfection, shook her head with a tight-lipped smile. “From what I hear, that chauffeur is the most powerful man in Asia.”
“What's his name again?”
“Alfred Shang. He's Singaporean but lives mostly in England on an estate that's half the size of Scotland, so I'm told.”
“Well I've never seen his name on any of the rich lists,” Bettina sniffed.
“Bettina, I'm sure you know that there are people on this planet who are far too rich and powerful to ever appear on those lists!”
The twenty-four-hour on-call personal physician that you have on a million-dollar annual retainer is busy attending to another patient.
Sitting on the terrace overlooking Harbour Island's legendary beach, Alfred Shang marveled at the spectacular sight before him.
It's trueâthe sand really is pink!
“Alfred, your lobster quesadillas are going to get cold!” the Duke of Glencora piped up, interrupting his reverie.
“So this is the reason you dragged me all the way here?” Alfred said, staring dubiously at the triangular wedges placed artfully before him. He didn't really care much for Mexican food, except when the chef of his good friend Slim in Mexico City was doing the cooking.
“Try it before you judge it.”
Alfred took a careful bite, saying nothing, as the combination of semi-crisp tortilla, lobster, and guacamole worked its magic.
“Marvelous, isn't it? I've been trying to convince the chef at Wilton's to replicate this for years,” the duke said.
“They haven't changed a thing at Wilton's in half a centuryâI don't think there's much of a likelihood they would ever put this on their menu.” Alfred laughed, picking up a stray lobster chunk that had fallen onto the table with his fingers and popping it into his mouth. His phone began to vibrate in his trouser pocket. He took it out and stared at the screen in annoyance. Everyone knew that he was not to be disturbed on his annual fishing trip with the duke.
The screen read:
TYERSALL UPSTAIRS SECURE
This was his elder sister, Su Yi, the only person whose calls he would take no matter the hour. He picked up immediately, and an unexpected voice said in Cantonese, “Mr. Shang, this is Ah Ling.”
It took him a few seconds to register that it was the housekeeper at Tyersall Park. “Ohâ¦Ling Jeh!”
“I was instructed by my lady to call you. She was feeling very unwell tonight and has just been taken to the hospital. We think it's a heart attack.”
“What do you mean
? Did she have a heart attack or didn't she?” Alfred's plummy Queen's English suddenly shifting into Cantonese in alarm.
“Sheâ¦she didn't have any chest pains, but she was sweating profusely, and then she vomited. She said she could feel her heart racing,” Ah Ling stuttered nervously.
“And did Prof Oon come over?” Alfred asked.
“I tried to reach the doctor on his cell phone, but it went straight to voice mail. Then I called his house and someone there said he was in Australia.”
doing all the calling? Isn't Victoria at home?”
“Mr. Shang, isn't Victoria in England?”
. He had completely forgotten that his nieceâSu Yi's daughter, who lived at Tyersall Parkâwas at this moment at his house in Surrey, no doubt embroiled in some inane gossipfest with his wife and daughter.
“How about Felicity? Didn't she come over?” Alfred inquired about Su Yi's eldest daughter, whose house was nearby on Nassim Road.
“Mrs. Leong could not be reached tonight. Her maid said she was in church, and she always turns off her mobile phone when she's in the house of God.”
Bloody useless, all of them!
“Well, did you call an ambulance?”
“No, she didn't want an ambulance. Vikram drove her to the hospital in the Daimler, accompanied by her lady's maids and two Gurkhas. But before she left, she said you would know how to contact Professor Oon.”
“Okay, okay. I'll take care of it,” Alfred said in a huff, hanging up the phone.
Everyone at the table was staring at him expectantly.
“Oh my, that did sound rather serious,” the duke said, pursing his lips worriedly.
“I'll just be a momentâ¦please carry on,” Alfred said, getting up from his chair. The bodyguards trailed after him as he strode through the restaurant and out the door to the garden.
Alfred hit another number on his speed dial:
PROF OON HOME
A woman picked up the phone.
“Is this Olivia? Alfred Shang here.”
“Oh, Alfred! Are you looking for Francis?”
“Yes. I'm told he's in Australia?”
Why the bloody hell did they have this doctor on a million-dollar retainer if he was never available?
“He just left an hour ago for Sydney. He's doing a triple bypass tomorrow on that actor who won an Oscar forâ”
“So he's on a plane right now?” Alfred cut her off.
“Yes, but he'll be arriving in a few hours if you need toâ”
“Just give me his flight number,” Alfred snapped. He turned to one of his bodyguards and asked, “Who has the Singapore phone? Somebody get Istana
on the line right now.”
Turning to another bodyguard, he said, “And please order me another of those lobster quesadillas.”
Your airplane is forced to land before you can finish drinking your Dom PÃ©rignon.
The silk sheets had just been turned down in the first-class suites, the enormous double-decked Airbus A380-800 had reached a comfortable cruising altitude of thirty-eight thousand feet, and most of the passengers were comfortably ensconced in their seats, scanning through the latest movie offerings. Moments later, the pilots of Singapore Airlines Flight 231 bound for Sydney received the most unusual instructions from Jakarta air traffic control as they flew over Indonesian airspace:
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER:
singapore two thirty one super jakarta.
singapore two thirty one super go ahead.
I have been instructed to have you turn around immediately and return to Singapore Changi Airport.
Jakarta, you want us to return to Singapore Changi?
Yes. Turn the plane around and return immediately to Singapore. I have the amended route advise ready to copy.
Jakarta, what is the reason for the course change?
I don't have that information, but this is a direct order from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.
The pilots looked at each other in disbelief. “Should we really be doing this?” the captain wondered aloud. “We'll have to dump a quarter-million liters of fuel before we can land!”
Just then, the aircraft's selective-calling radio system lit up with an incoming message. The co-pilot read the message quickly and gave the captain an incredulous look. “
It's from the minister of fricking defense! He says to get back to Singapore pronto!”
When the airplane made an unexpected landing at Changi Airport just three hours after it had departed, the passengers were disoriented and startled by the strange turn of events. An announcement was made over the intercom: “Ladies and gentlemen, due to an unexpected event, we have made an emergency diversion back to Singapore. Please remain in your seats with your seat belts fastened, as our flight to Sydney will resume immediately after refueling.”
Two men in discreet dark suits came aboard and approached the man seated in suite 3AâProfessor Francis Oon, Singapore's leading cardiologist. “Professor Oon? I'm Lieutenant Ryan Chen from SID.
Please come with us.”
“We're leaving the plane?” Professor Oon asked, utterly baffled. One minute he was in the middle of watching
, and the next minute the plane had landed back in Singapore. He hadn't even recovered from the film's jaw-dropping plot twist.
Lieutenant Chen nodded curtly. “Yes. Please gather up all your belongingsâyou won't be returning to this flight.”
“Butâ¦butâ¦what did I do?” Professor Oon asked, suddenly feeling uneasy.
“Don't worry, you didn't do anything. But we need to get you off this plane now.”
“Am I the only one leaving?”
“Yes, you are. We are escorting you directly to Mount Elizabeth Hospital. You have been requested to attend to a VVIP patient.”
At that moment, Professor Oon knew something must have happened to Shang Su Yi. Only the Shangs had the kind of influence to turn around a Singapore Airlines flight with four hundred forty passengers onboard.
A slight exaggeration, but this islandâknown affectionately as “Briland” to the localsâis home to twelve billionaires (at last count, and depending on who's counting).
Cantonese for “elder sister,” often used as a term of familiarity for household help in the way that “boy” is sometimes used, as in Sonny Boy or Johnny Boy.
Malay for “palace.” In this instance, Alfred is referring to Istana in Singapore, the official residence of the president.
The Security and Intelligence Division, Singapore's equivalent of America's CIA or Britain's MI5, is so secretive that most people don't even know it exists. But yes, that man eating fish ball on a stick outside NTUC FairPrice could be the Singaporean James Bond, and you wouldn't even know it.