Episode Two: Enigma
. Last week on Cold Heart:
“Why did she know my name before you introduced us?” Grace asked.
“Must have told her about you some time before.”
They sat at the café under Linus’ condominium block, sipping coffee and eating breakfast. Linus sat across her, a little surly early in the morning.
“Linus… I think she might not like me,” Grace said.
“No, it can’t be. She can be a little cold to people she doesn’t know,” Linus said.
“Grace, this is my best friend here. I know her. She’s not like those shallow people we meet so often, she’s the most genuine person I’ve ever met. Just give her a little time, okay?”
There was a grumpy note in his voice, so she just smiled, thinking on the mystery that her fiance’s friend presented. There was something familiar about Charlene that teased at the edges of her awareness; as if they had met before. That was impossible, so she shrugged off the feeling.
For Linus’ sake, she would try her utmost to make Charlene De Souza like her.
“Meihui, remember to fax over the unit trust price list to Susilo.”
The customer service officer blushed and nodded. Charlene gave her a small nod, a tacit understanding that Meihui had forgotten because she had not been feeling to well the other day.
As soon as Charlene left, Sue, her fellow officer, dropped the files she had been pretending to be interested in.
“Meihui! I want your boss!”
The CSO shook her head adamantly. “I’m not going to let her go, no no.”
“Seriously Sue, she’s pretty reasonable. Not like the Miss Bitch you’ve got.”
Her friend’s laughter petered into a rueful groan. “Please don’t remind me… Hey, Miss Bitch hasn’t challenged Charlene yet. That’s a first. Charlene’s already been in the office for a week and Miss Bitch hasn’t tried to establish the pecking order yet.”
“Yah, especially when this one is prettier than her.”
“True, true,” Sue mused. “You’d actually expect her to be a Miss Bitch too.”
“No. She’s not. She’s cold but… Nice.”
“Did you know, Dennis Chan thinks that Japanese client of hers tried to flash her boobs at her? Does Charlene give off any gay vibes?”
“Sue! Slow down! Vibes? What vibes? And are you telling me that that Ito woman made a pass at my boss? My lady boss?” Meihui asked, flabbergasted.
“With her boobs! Ah… with her books!” Sue suddenly stammered.
“Her books?” Meihui was puzzling her way through this when she suddenly realised that there was a presence at her back. With a cold stab of certainty, she knew it was Charlene behind her.
“Meihui,” Charlene’s voice came, soft and level. “I need you to find the files on Andy’s client, Dr Bryan Goh.”
“Okay, I’ll get to it.”
And her boss silently and swiftly left their desks. Meihui gulped, a clearly audible sound.
“I’m going to go look for those files.”
Sue nodded vehemently and furiously dove into her own work.
Charlene dug through Dr Bryan Goh’s file, wincing at the amount of money he had just lost through a drop in a fund price. It was substanstial, taking into account the almost obscene amount of money he had put into the fund.
Her phone rung. She frowned and put aside the file.
“Linus,” she said, finding herself grinning. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?”
“You free tonight?”
“To get dragged to a stripper club and forced to sit through two hours of Gyrating Gina and the Girls? You bet!” Charlene said.
“Come on! That was years ago! Let go of the past,” Linus said, chuckling.
“Never,” she said, her words coming with a mock-hiss. “Seriously, now Li, what do you want?”
“You free tomorrow night?”
Charlene went through her appointment book. “Yes.”
“I’ve got tickets to Summer’s Death by that up and coming whatsisname.”
She was immediately suspicious. “You don’t like plays.”
The world seemed to stop a painful moment. “I… I think I might have something on after all.”
“Come on Charlene. Please…” he asked, a wheedling tone in her voice. “For me?”
That was the clincher. She closed her eyes and exhaled, “Yes.”
Linus’ voice was gleeful as he told her the details. When she put down the phone, Charlene spent a long while staring into nothing at all.
“Natsuko, I’m afraid that I have to advise you that I am not actually the best person to be handling your money. Perhaps I can direct you to somewhere else within the bank or its asset management arm and-,” Charlene said before being cut off.
“And why would you not be the best person to be handling my… money?” Natsuko asked, a slight challenge on her full lips.
“Simply because you have a lot of money,” Charlene said with a faint smile.
It was true. She had found out that Natsuko did not have truckloads of money. She had containerloads of money and perhaps enough left over to buy the ship they came on.
Charlene continued. “And I am afraid that I do not have the necessary products to offer you with which you could increase your-”
“Money,” Natsuko cut in again in a sultry purr. “What makes you think that I want to increase my money?”
The banker blinked. That was the most popular reason people approached the bank, of course. And Natsuko had mention off-handedly that she had wanted to explore some investment alternatives during her stay in Singapore.
“I beg your pardon, then,” Charlene said.
“Shall I tell you the real reason I came over to open an account with you?”
There was emphasis on the word you. Charlene began to feel a little apprehension, the same feeling she got when her client had previously started to cross and uncross her legs.
“I was walking around in this… Raffles Place and I saw this beautiful woman walk into your bank. I followed her in because I appreciate beauty and to my surprise, that woman turned out to be a banker offering… priority services.”
Charlene tensed slightly. The innuendo under the other woman’s words was a little too much. She did not like being alluded to offering services even by another woman.
“Oh Charlene, relax,” Natsuko said, smiling. “Let’s put it like this. You were pretty. I was bored. Here I am.”
A slight smile creased the side of Charlene’s face. Behind the sultriness was a person who had a sharp mind and a pleasant enough personality when she wished it.
“That does not make you uncomfortable?” Natusko asked.
A few seconds passed while Charlene pondered the question. The Japanese lady had an inscrutable expression on her face as she waited for Charlene’s answer.
“No,” she finally said.
Natsuko’s sudden laugh filled the room. “Charlene, I really like you!”
There was nothing Charlene could say. She just gave Natsuko a faint smile this time.
“Alright,what is this minimum sum that you say one must have to open this type of premium account? Take it. Make more of it. That is all I ask,” Natsuko continued, twirling her exquisitely permed hair around her fingers.
The banker took a deep breath and before she could form words with it, a chuckle escaped her lips. Natsuko gave a delighted laugh in return.
“Ah Charlene, I see you are now thoroughly charmed by me!”
With a deadpan look, Charlene replied, “Perhaps a little.”
“Do you like me?”
The question was sudden and before Charlene could even process it, Natsuko’s eyes turned sad and she said in a business-like tone, “No matter, Charlene. Please transfer the amount into a new account. Do whatever you feel necessary.”
Then her voice changed back into her coquettish mode. “I have to go now, darling. I’ll call.”
She left, leaving Charlene to feel as if a bomb had dropped on her.
“Goh,” Charlene said into the phone. “Regarding your e-mail.”
“Ah yes, Miss De Souza. But I’d just like to remind that this is just a preliminary finding,” the voice at the other end of the line said.
“Goh, you don’t have to dance with me. Please just give me the bottomline,” Charlene said, allowing a hint of impatience to show through her voice.
“As you wish. We managed to find an old, how shall I put it, confinement nanny who said that about twenty-seven years ago, she helped to take care of a young Malay girl who was pregnant. Nothing concrete is known of her husband except that he was rumoured to be an Eurasian man, who went missing soon after their marriage.”
“I assume you have something more.”
A slight pause on Goh’s side. “The circumstances surrounding this case appeared to have some relevance to the matter under investigation. The nanny remembered the birth because of the baby’s unique birthmark.”
Charlene digested this piece of news quietly.
“The year of birth and… the birthmark match. We need to find the Malay lady.”
After a few more minor details, he was done. She thanked him and replaced the phone on the cradle. What was mother in Malay? Yes, that was right. Ibu.
A thin man walked out of Premier Banking Centre of the First Temasek Bank into the rush of Raffles Place. Others gave him short notice because he appeared to be one of them; smartly garbed in a generic shirt and tie, a drone in the flow of office workers.
His phone rang and he answered it.
“Is he there?”
The thin man answered in the negative.
“I want him soon,” said his employer.
“He is on a long leave.”
There was silence and when his employer next spoke, it was with an angry voice.
“Keep an eye on the situation. I might want you to actually carry out your specialty. He is making me that angry.”
The man nodded and disappeared into the crowd.
END EPISODE TWO