Authors: Kevin Kwan
“So they can have all the water here in time?”
“Well, it's coming from Switzerland, so it will take about a weekâ”
“Cat and her family arrive on Thursday. Can't you have it airfreighted?”
“Well Lincoln, get them to put a rush on it. Or have some courier service do it if these people can't get it here fast enough.”
“It's going to cost a fortune to have five hundred gallons of bottled water flown overnight!” Ah Tock exclaimed.
Victoria gave him a look that said:
Do I look like I give a damn how much it costs?
In moments like these, Ah Tock couldn't believe he was actually related to these people. For the life of him, he could not imagine why the Aakaras needed to have special mineral water from some obscure spring in the Bernese Oberland flown in just for them. Wasn't Singapore tap waterârated one of the best in the worldâgood enough for these people? Or Perrier, for fuck's sake? Were these delicate Thai royals going to drop dead if they had to drink Perrier?
“How are things coming along with the room?” Victoria asked.
“The team will be here to install everything tomorrow morning. I've also rented two mobile-home units, which we can park behind the French walled garden. This is where the doctors and nurses can be based, since you don't want them in the house,” Ah Tock reported.
“It's not that we don't want them in the house, but between Alix and Malcolm coming in from Hong Kong and the Aakaras bringing all their maids, there's just no room.”
Ah Tock was incredulous. This was the biggest private house in Singaporeâhe had never been able to count how many bedrooms there actually wereâand they couldn't even find space for the dedicated medical team that would be moving in to care for their dying mother?
“How many maids is Auntie Cat bringing?”
“She usually brings three of her own, five when Taksin joins her, but with all her sons and their wives coming, goodness knows how many of them will show up.” Victoria sighed.
“The team from Mount E came earlier today to do their assessment, and they think that the best place to set up the cardiac care unit is in the conservatory,” he said, trying to reason with his cousin.
Victoria shook her head irritatedly. “No, that won't do. Mummy will want to be upstairs in her own bedroom.”
At this point, Ah Ling felt like she had to interject. “But Victoria, the conservatory is perfect. They won't have to transport her upstairs, not to mention all the machines and generators. It's secluded from any noise in the service wing, and they can set up all the machines in the adjoining dining room and have the wiring brought in right through the conservatory doors.”
“It's no use arguing. Years ago when I suggested to Mummy that she move her bedroom downstairs so that she didn't have to keep climbing the stairs, she said to me, âI will never sleep downstairs. The servants sleep downstairs. And the only members of my family who have ever slept downstairs have done so in their coffins.' Trust me, she will expect everything to be set up in her bedroom.”
Ah Tock had to resist rolling his eyes. Even from her deathbed, Great-auntie Su Yi was still trying to control the whole world. And a little gratitude from Her Imperial Highness would have been niceâhe had worked nonstop to make all this happen in record time, and Victoria hadn't uttered “thank you” even once.
Just then, a maid knocked softly on the open door and peered in.
“What is it?” Victoria asked.
“I have a message for Ah Ling,” the maid said in a very soft voice.
“Well, come in here and tell it to her. Don't just stand there skulking by the door!” Victoria scolded.
“Sorry, ma'am,” the maid said, glancing at Ah Ling nervously. “Um, the guardhouse called. Mrs. Alexandra Cheng and family are arriving.”
“What do you mean arriving?” Ah Ling asked.
“They are pulling up to the house now.”
“Now? But they aren't supposed to be here until Thursday like everyone else!” Ah Ling groaned.
“Oh for heaven's sakeâdid they give us the wrong dates?” Victoria fumed.
Ah Ling looked out the window and saw that it wasn't just Alix and her husband, Malcolm, getting out of the car. There were six cars, and the whole damn family was pouring out of themâAlistair Cheng; Cecilia Cheng Moncur and her husband, Tony, with their son, Jake; and who was that stepping out of the car in a white linen suit? Oh dear God. It couldn't be. She looked at Victoria in a panic and blurted out, “
Victoria groaned. “Alix didn't say he was coming! Where are we going to put him?”
“It's not just himâ¦Fiona and the children are here too.”
“Good God! He's going to kick up a fuss and demand the Pearl Suite again. And that's reserved for Catherine and Taksin when they arrive on Thursday.”
Ah Ling shook her head. “Actually, Catherine's lady's maid in Bangkok called me to say that Adam and his wife should have the Pearl Suite.”
“But Adam is their youngest son. Why on earth should he get the Pearl Suite?”
“Apparently Adam's wife is the daughter of some prince who ranks higher than Taksin. So they must have the Pearl Suite.”
“Oh yes, I forgot about all that protocol nonsense. Well, Ah Ling, it will be your job to deliver the news to Eddie.” Victoria smiled wryly.
Hindi for “watchman,” the term is used for any sort of security guard. The
at Tyersall Park were, of course, highly trained Gurkhas that could disembowel another man with just two strokes from their daggers.
Ah Tock is a great-great-grandson of Shang Zhao Hui, the grandfather of Shang Su Yi, but because he was descended from the second wife of the patriarch's five official wives, none of the children from her branch inherited any substantial fortune from the Shang empire and were considered lesser, “distant cousins” when they were in fact not so distant at all.
The literal meaning in Hokkien is “red hair,” but it's a derogatory colloquial term used to describe anything of Western origin, since to many of Singapore's older-generation Chinese, all Western people are considered
ang mor kow sai
â“redhaired dog shit.”
Singlish slang that's equivalent to “cool” or “fantastic” or “amazing” in Malay.
Cantonese for “grandfather.”
Officially known as the Institute of Mental Health, Singapore's first psychiatric hospital was founded in 1841 on the corner of Bras Basah Road and Bencoolen Street. It was first known as the Insane Hospital but was renamed the Lunatic Asylum in 1861 when it moved to a site near the old Kandang Kerbau Maternity Hospital. In 1928, a new building was built along Yio Chu Kang Road and after several more name changesâthe New Lunatic Asylum and the Mental Hospital among themâit was renamed Woodbridge Hospital in an effort to shake off some of the stigma associated with its previous names. Yet for generations of Singaporeans, Woodbridge only means one thing: You've gone bat-shit crazy.
PORTO FINO ELITE ESTATES, SHANGHAI
Lined up in perfect military precision on the steps of the monolithic granite-and-concrete structure were six attendants. Back in the days when Colette Bing was the mistress of the houseâthanks to her indulgent father, Jackâthe staff had been clad in chic black T-shirts and black jeans from James Perse. But ever since Kitty Pong Tai Bing had taken over the grand residence at the heart of Porto Fino Elite Estates, she had outfitted the men in black-tie butler's uniforms and the women in classic black-and-white French maid outfits.
As the convoy of black Audi SUVs pulled up to the house, Kitty, her daughter, Gisele, her infant son, Harvard, and the children's nannies alighted from the car and the line of staffers bowed in unison before scurrying around to gather all the luggage.
“Oooh! It's good to be home!” Kitty squealed, kicking off her red Aquazzura suede fringe-and-tassel sandals as she entered the great hall, which was now reduced to a construction site with scaffolding against the walls, plastic tarp on all the furniture, and exposed wiring hanging from the ceiling. In an effort to remove every last reminder of Colette's taste, Kitty had spent the past year “collaborating” with Thierry Catrouxâthe celebrated interior designer who worked only with billionairesâto redesign every last square inch of the estate.
“Where is my husband?” Kitty asked Laurent, the estate manager she had poached from some tech mogul's estate in Kona to replace Wolseley, Colette's British butler, who had once worked for Princess Michael of Kent at Kensington Palace.
“Mr. Bing is having his daily massage, madame.”
Kitty headed over to the spa pavilion and descended the steps to the subterranean swimming pool encircled with carved marble pillars. As she walked down the lacquered-cinnabar passageway leading to the treatment rooms, she smiled at the thought of all this coming down tooâColette's hammam-inspired Turkish spa was going to be transformed into a futuristic Egyptian fantasy spa inspired by the movie
. It was her own idea!
Kitty entered the treatment room illuminated by scented candles and found Jack lying facedown on the massage bed. The scent of frankincense permeated the air, as CÃ©line Dion played softly in the background. One of the female therapists
was doing reflexology on Jack's feet, while another walked precariously along his spine as if she were on a tightrope, grasping an elaborate lattice of poles affixed to the ceiling in order to ensure the precise amount of body weight on his aching muscles.
“Waaah! That's it! That's the spot!” Jack groaned through his face cradle, as the woman standing on his back dug the ball of her left foot into a muscle below his shoulder blades.
“Looks like someone's having a good time!” Kitty declared.
“Yeaâ¦aahh! Yessss! You're home!”
“I thought I'd find you waiting to welcome me!”
“When I heard the plane was delayed coming in, I thought I'dâ¦ooooohâ¦get my massage first!”
“Those stupid French officials delayed our takeoff for two hours because of some idiotic bomb scare. They wouldn't even let me onto our plane, so I was stuck in that ghastly terminal with
.” Kitty pouted, as she stretched out on the plush chaise lounge next to Jack.
“I'm so sorry you had to be with the public, babylove. Did you have a good time in Paris?”
“I sure did! Do you know what happy news I heard while I was there?”
“Owwahhh! Gentle, gentle there! What?”
“You'll be pleased to know that your daughter is finally getting married,” Kitty said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
Jack let out a slow grunt. “Ummmâ¦really?”
“Yes. And to an
. But of course you already knew?”
“How would I? Colette hasn't spoken to me in almost two yearsânot since our wedding.”
“You just don't seem overly surprised.”
“Why should I be surprised? She was bound to get married at some point.”
“But to an Englishman?”
“Well, Carlton Bao stopped talking to her, and Richie Yang wouldn't have her, so I think her options in China became quite limited. What is this fellow's story?”
“He's a nobody. Some nonprofit lawyer who's trying to save the planet. I suppose your ex-wife will have to support the both of them forever. Do you know what else I heard? Colette's wedding gown costs two million dollars.”
“That's absurd. Is it made of gold?”
“Actually, there are gold chips sewn into it, and it's encrusted with precious stones. It's totally outrageous,” Kitty said, as she sniffed a glass container of body lotion placed on the side table and began rubbing some on her arms.
“Well, I suppose she can do whatever she wants with her money.”
“But I thought you cut her off completely?”
Jack went silent for a minute, then suddenly groaned. “
Why does that hurt so much?”
The therapist kneaded a point on his foot with her thumb and forefinger and sternly pronounced, “Sir, this is your gallbladderâit's totally inflamed. I think you must have consumed too much cognac and oily foods last night. Did you have those fried oysters and abalone noodles again when I told you not to?”
“Aww! Aww! Let go! Let go!” Jack screamed.
“Jack, answer me. What did you mean by
?” Kitty pressed on, oblivious to his pain.
Jack sighed in relief as the therapist finally released his foot. “Colette receives income from a trust fund. It was part of my divorce settlement with Lai Di.”
“Why is this the first time I'm hearing of it?”
“Well, I didn't want to bore you with the details of my divorce.”
“I thought Lai Di only got two billion?”
“She did, but as a condition of her walking away and not making any more noise, I had to set up a trust fund for Colette.”
“Oh really? And how much is that trust fund worth?”
Jack murmured something in a muffled tone.
“Speak up, honey, I can't hear youâ¦you said what in U.S. currency?”
“About five billion.”
YOU GAVE YOUR DAUGHTER FIVE BILLION DOLLARS?
” Kitty bolted upright on the chaise lounge.
her five billion. She gets the income from a trust worth about five billion. It's all tied to shares in my companies, anyway, so her income fluctuates every year depending on the dividend yields. And it's only for her lifetime.”
“And what happens
“It will go to any children she has.”
Suddenly visions of Colette and her future half-white children began flooding into Kitty's mind. She could see Colette in a white summer dress, running barefoot through a field in the English countryside with laughing golden-haired kids. She began to seethe quietly as she calculated the figures in her head. Even if the trust was getting a measly one percent interest on five billion, this meant that Coletteâwho she always presumed was being supported by her poor mother who only had two billion dollarsâwould get at least
fifty million dollars in pure income every year!
And her unnaturally photogenic children, who wouldn't even know their Chinese grandfather, would also benefit from this!
“So where does this leave us?” Kitty said in a grave tone.
“What do you mean?”
“If you've set aside so much money for your darling daughter, who by the way won't even speak to you anymore, and her half-breed children, that haven't even been born yet, what are you doing for your other children and your poor wife?”
“I don't understand your question. What do
do for you? I work my balls off for you, and you have a fantastic life and get everything your heart desires. Didn't you just spend ten million dollars in Paris?”
“It was only nine point fiveâI'm a Chanel PrivÃ© preferred client, and they gave me a special discount. But say something happens to you? What happens to me?” Kitty demanded.
“Nothing's going to happen to me. But don't worry, you'll be well taken care of.”
“What do you mean by âwell taken care of'?”
“You'll also get a two-billion-dollar trust.”
So, I'm not worth as much as your daughter
, Kitty thought to herself, feeling her anger boil up. “And how much is Harvard getting?”
“Harvard is my son. He will get everything else of course, and let me remind you that's a great deal more than five billion dollars.”
“I don't see why I need to leave Gisele anything. She is going to inherit all the Tai billions one day.”
Kitty stood up from the chaise lounge and walked toward the door. “It is
to know all this. I can see where your true priorities lie now.”
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“You're not really thinking of meâ¦or our children,” Kitty said, her voice shaking with emotion.
“Of course I am!”
“No, you're not! You're not thinking of us at all.”
“Babylove, don't be unreasonableâ¦ooohhwwhhhâ¦not so hard there!” Jack yelled at the therapist who had climbed up on the massage table and was now kneading his ass with the full weight of her bare feet.
“Sir, you spend too much time sittingâthat is why your buttocks hurt so much. I am barely stepping on them,” the woman said in a soothing tone.
“I cannot believe you would give your daughter five billion dollars just like that! After all she's done to you!” Kitty cried.
“Ouchâ¦awwâ¦Kitty, you're not making any sense! Colette is my only daughterâwhy should it matter if she gets five billion, when I give you everything you want? Aii-yowwww!” Jack moaned.
“Stomp harder on his ass! And stomp on his saggy balls while you're at it!” Kitty shouted, fleeing the room in tears.