Authors: Kevin Kwan
EMERALD HILL, SINGAPORE
It was eleven thirty on Sunday night, and Cassian was finally down for the count. Astrid padded back to her bedroom, sinking wearily into bed. It had been a long weekend after a very long week, what with her grandmother's funeral, and she thought that Cassian spending a day with his father would give her a chance to recoup a little. Instead, her son had returned home and had spent the better part of the evening attempting to launch an insurrection. Astrid fired off a text to Michael:
Simple requestâwhen Cassian spends the day w/ you, could you please refrain from letting him play 7 straight hours of Warcraft? He comes back a total zombie and is just impossible. Thought we were in agreement about the gaming.
A few minutes later, Michael replied:
Stop exaggerating. He didn't play for 7 hrs.
7 hours, 6 hours, it was clearly too much. Tomorrow is a school day and he's still up.
Not sure what yr prob is. He always sleeps fine @ my house.
Because you let him go to bed whenever! His schedule is all messed up when he comes back. You have no ideaâI have to deal with him all week.
U wanted it this way. He should be at Gordonstoun.
Boarding school in Scotland is not the answer. Not going to argue with you over this again. I just don't understand why you bother having him when you don't even want to spend time with him.
To get him away from your corrupting influence.
Astrid sighed in frustration. She knew Michael was trying to bait her again, and she wasn't going to fall for it. He was just getting back at her for how he perceived he had been treated at her grandmother's funeral. She was about to switch off her phone when his next message poppedÂ up:
Anyway, this will be over soon. I'm getting full custody of Cassian.
No, yur a lying cheating whore.
Astrid's text message app froze for a moment, and then a high-resolution file came through. It was a photograph of Astrid and Charlie lounging together on pillows on the deck of a vintage Chinese junk that had been cruising the South China Sea. Astrid's head was resting intimately against Charlie's chest. Astrid recognized the photo from five years ago, when Charlie had attempted to cheer her up after Michael had dropped a bombshell on her in Hong Kong, begging to end their marriage. Michael's follow-up text read:
No judge is going to give u custody now.
This photo proves nothing. Charlie was only consoling me after you left.
“Consoling.” Did this include blow jobs?
Why do you need to be so crass? You know I never cheated on you. You were the one who fake cheated, wanting out of our marriage at that time, and I was so destroyed. Charlie was just being a good friend.
Friends with benefits. I got tons more pics. U have no idea.
I don't know what else you could possibly have. I've done nothing wrong.
Yes, jury will really believe you. Wait till they see what I've got.
Astrid stared at his words, her face going hot with fury. She immediately speed-dialed him, but it went straight to voice mail.
Hi, you've reached Michael Teo.
This is my private line, so you must be damn important. Leave a message and I will get back to you if it's important enough. Heh Heh Heh.
At the sound of the beep, Astrid spoke: “Michael, this isn't funny anymore. I don't know what sort of advice that lawyer of yours has been giving you, but these tactics are only going to end up harming you. Please just stop, and let's try to come to a reasonable agreement. For the good of Cassian.”
Astrid hung up the phone, placed it on the side table, and turned off her bedside lamp. She lay in bed in the darkness, furious at Michael, but even more furious with herself because she knew she'd played right into his trap. She should never have texted him in the first place. Michael just wanted to agitate her. That's all he wanted to do in every interaction they had these days. Her phone beeped again, and she knew it would be another incendiary text from Michael. She was determined not to look at any more of his texts. She needed to get some sleep, because tomorrow was going to be another big dayâthe reading of her grandmother's will was taking place at 10:00 a.m. sharp.
Her phone buzzed again with another text message notice. And then another. Astrid turned to face away from her phone, clenching her eyes closed. Suddenly it occurred to herâ¦
What if it wasn't Michael? What if it was Charlie, who had just returned to Hong Kong?
Sighing, she reached for her phone and turned it on.
There were three text messages, and surprise, surprise, they were from Michael. The first one simply read:
For the good of Cassian.
The second text was a file that was still in the process of downloading, but the third text read:
$5 billion or you lose him forever.
A few seconds later, the download was complete, and Astrid tapped on the icon before she could stop herself. It was a thirty-second video clip, a grainy, night-vision shot, and as Astrid squinted at the glowing screen in the dark, she could make out the figure of a naked girl with her back to the camera, straddling a man lying on a bed. The couple was unmistakably in the midst of sex, and as the woman's body thrust and swayed, her head shifted for a moment, and Astrid could clearly recognize that the man on the bed was Charlie. It was only at that moment that she realized, in absolute horror, that
was the girl in the video.
Astrid gasped out loud and dropped her phone as if it had burned her hands. “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!” she whispered to herself before picking up the phone and attempting to dial Charlie's number. Her trembling fingers somehow couldn't swipe to the correct menu on her phone, and instead made the video play again. Finally, she got to her contacts screen and hit CW1, his private mobile.
After several rings, Charlie picked up. “Baby, I was just thinking about you.”
“Oh God Charlieâ”
“Are you okay? What is it?”
“Oh God, I don't even know what to sayâ”
“Just take your time. I'm right here,” Charlie said, trying to sound calm. He could hear the terror in her voice.
“Michael just sent me a video. It's of the two of us.”
“What kind of video?”
“He texted it to me. It's a video of usâ¦having sex.”
Charlie almost jumped out of his chair. “What? Where?”
“I don't know. I didn't look too hard. The minute I saw your face, I just freaked out.”
“Send it to me right now!”
“Um, is it safe to text it to you?”
“Fuck if I know. Send it via WhatsApp. I think that's supposed to be more secure.”
“Okay, hold on.” Astrid found the video clip and forwarded it to Charlie. He went silent for a few interminable minutes, and she knew he had to be scrutinizing it. Finally, his voice came back on, sounding preternaturally calm.
“Michael just sent this to you?”
“Yes. We were in the middle of a texting argument. Over Cassian, of course. Charlie, is it really us?”
“It is.” Charlie sounded grim.
“Where was it taken? Howâ”
“It's taken right here in my bedroom in Hong Kong.”
“So it must have been taken within the last year. Because I didn't start sleeping over at your place until three months after my formal separation with Michael.”
Charlie suddenly groaned. “Fuck, I could still be under surveillance right now! Let me get outta here and call you back.”
Astrid paced her bedroom, waiting for Charlie to call her back. She felt herself suddenly becoming paranoid. Michael used to be a high-level security expert for the Ministry of Defense. Had he somehow managed to plant a hidden camera in this bedroom too? Grabbing her phone, she fled her bedroom and went downstairs into her courtyard sitting room. Maybe being in a tranquil space would calm her down. As she sank into the sleek white sofa, it occurred to her that the whole house could be bugged. She didn't feel safe here anymore. She slipped on her sandals and walked out of the house. It was midnight, and a few of the nearby outdoor cafÃ©s on Emerald Hill Road were still buzzing with people chatting away and having drinks. She began strolling up the street when Charlie called again.
“Charlie! Are you okay?”
“I'm fine. I'm downstairs now, talking from my car. Sorry it took so long. I just needed to get my security team on the case. They are doing a full sweep of the flat now.”
“Did you wake Chloe and Delphine?”
“They are both at a sleepover party tonight.”
“Thank God they're out of the house.”
“What the fuck is Michael trying to pull? Does he realize how illegal this is?” Charlie fumed.
“He's been in a black mood all weekend, ever since the funeral when my father's bodyguards tried to stop him from sitting in the family row. He wants his full settlementâ$5 billionâor he's threatening to leak this video. He's sure I'll lose custody of Cassian, and he knows that's the last thing I want.”
“I can't believe the fucker is trying to use his own son as a bargaining chip!”
“What should we do, Charlie? I think my house is bugged now.”
“I'll fly my security team down to Singapore tomorrow and they will take care of it. We'll get to the bottom of this. You should go home. You'll be fine. Even if your house is bugged, at least we know who's watching. It's not some gang of thieves trying to rob you or anything.”
“It's only one asshole trying to rob me of $5 billion,” Astrid sighed.
“You know what? I think we should assign a security detail to you. I'll get the top team in the world.”
“You sound like my father now. He's always trying to do this to me. I don't want to live in a cage, Charlie. You know how invisible I try to be. If I can't feel safe in my own house, in my hometown, I don't know what point there is in living here.”
“You're right, you're right. I'm just paranoid right now, I guess.”
“Well, I'm wandering the streets of Singapore in nothing but a little linen shift and bedroom sandals, and no one's even noticing me.”
“I bet you're wrong. I bet every guy on the street is thinking, who is that half-naked babe?”
Astrid laughed. “Oh Charlie, I love you. Even in the midst of all this craziness, you can make me laugh.”
“It's important to laugh. Otherwise, we're letting the fucker win.”
Astrid had circled back to her terrace house, and now she sat down on the little step that extended just a foot beyond her front gate. “Win, lose, how did this even become a battle? All I ever wanted was for us to be able to find happiness.”
Charlie sighed. “Well, it's clear to me that Michael doesn't want to be happy. Ever. He just wants to be in a constant state of war with you. That's why he's been stalking us at every turn and dragging his heels with the divorce negotiations.”
“You're right, Charlie. He sent that video tonight because he wanted to scare us and drive us out of our own homes.”
“And he damn near succeeded. But you know what? We don't scare so easily. We're both going to go back into our homes now. We're both going to lock our doors, and we're never going to let him in again!”
THE LAW OFFICES OF TAN AND TAN, SINGAPORE
Centre at 65 Chulia Street was nicknamed “the calculator” because of its flat shape and windows that resemble button pads. The architect I. M. Pei had intended for the hulking gray tower to be a symbol of strength and permanence, since it was the headquarters of the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation, the island's oldest bank.
Unbeknownst to most people, the thirty-eighth floor of the tower was home to Tan and Tan, a small law firm that kept an exceedingly low profile but was undoubtedly one of the most influential legal powerhouses in the country. The firm almost exclusively represented Singapore's establishment families and did not take on new clientsâone had to be specially recommended.
Today, the glowing mahogany-and-glass reception counter had been given an extra polish, fresh-cut roses bloomed in the guest toilets, and every member of the staff had been told to dress in their smartest outfits. At around fifteen minutes to ten, the elevator doors began to work overtime as the descendants of Shang Su Yi started to arrive en masse. The Leongs showed up firstâHarry, Felicity, Henry Jr., Peter, and Astrid
were joined by Victoria Young and the Aakaras. At 9:55 a.m., Philip, Eleanor, and Nick joined the others in the discreet reception room with its imitation Le Corbusier leather couches.
Sitting down next to Astrid, Nick asked, “You okay?” He could always sense whenever things weren't right with his cousin.
Astrid smiled, trying to reassure him. “I'm fine. I just didn't get enough sleep last night, that's all.”
“I haven't been sleeping much either. Rachel thinks my body's just catching up to the grief, but it all still feels like some bizarre dream,” Nick said. As he made that comment, the grandfather clock in the lobby began to chime ten, and Alix Young Cheng entered with her husband, Malcolm, and Eddie, Cecilia, and Alistair. Eddie cleared his throat as if he were going to make a speech, but he was interrupted by Cathleen Kah,
who came out into the reception area to greet the family.
Cathleen shepherded everyone down the corridor and through the double doors into the main conference room. A massive dark oak table dominated the room, placed in front of the bank of windows framing a panoramic view of the bay. Sitting at one end of the table was Freddie Tan, Su Yi's longtime lawyer, having coffee with Alfred Shang, Leonard Shang, and Oliver T'sien.
I knew Uncle Alfred would be part of this, but what the hell are Leonard and Oliver doing here?
Eddie thought to himself.
“Good morning, everyone,” Freddie said jovially. “Please make yourselves comfortable.”
Everyone took their seats around the table, clustered more or less in their family units, except for Eddie, who positioned himself at the head of the table.
“That was quite the send-off yesterday, wasn't it? Eddie, I never knew you could sing like that,” Freddie remarked.
“Thank you, Freddie. Shall we begin?” Eddie eagerly suggested.
“Relax, kiddo. We're just waiting for one more person,” Freddie said.
“Who else is coming?” Eddie asked, suddenly alarmed.
At that moment, the sound of expensive designer heels making soft clicks against marble could be heard in the corridor outside, and the receptionist opened the conference room doors. “This way, ma'am.”
Jacqueline Ling breezed into the room in a deep purple wrap dress, her Res Rei sunglasses still on and a Mitford blue Yves Saint Laurent couture overcoat flung across her shoulders. “So sorry to keep you all waiting! Would you believe my driver took me to the wrong place? He thought we were going to the Singapore Land Tower for some reason.”
“No need to apologize. It's just a few minutes past ten, so you're fashionably late, haha,” Freddie joked.
Jacqueline took a seat next to Nick, who leaned over and gave her a friendly peck on the cheek. Freddie looked around at the anxiously assembled group and decided it was time to put them out of their misery. “Well, we all know why we're here, so let's get on with it.”
Eleanor smiled pensively, while Philip leaned back in his chair. Alfred peered down at the sumptuously lacquered wood grain, wondering whether the table had been made by David Linley. Nick winked at Astrid seated across from him, and Astrid smiled back.
Freddie pressed a button on the telephone next to him. “Tuan, you can bring it in now.” An assistant, nattily dressed in a red sweater vest and striped tie, entered the room, ceremoniously holding an oversize parchment envelope folder. The assistant placed the folder on the table next to Freddie, and then handed him a horn-handled letter opener. Everyone could see Su Yi's personal wax seal on the envelope flap. Freddie took the letter opener and dramatically flicked the blade underneath the bloodred wax. Eddie inhaled audibly.
Freddie carefully slid out a legal-size document from the envelope, held it up to the room so everyone could clearly see what it was, and then he began to read:
I, Shang Su Yi of Tyersall Park, Tyersall Avenue, Singapore, revoke all former wills and testamentary dispositions heretofore made by me and declare this to be my last Will.
Appointment of Executors.
I appoint my nephew Sir Leonard
and my great-nephew Oliver
to be the Co-Executors of my Will.
(Eddie darted his eyes over at his cousins, a little dismayed.
Why in the world would Ah Ma choose them as the executors? Oliver I can handle but, ugh, now I have to suck up to that pretentious Leonard!
Specific Cash Legacies.
I direct my Residuary Estate to execute payment on the following legacies:
$3,000,000 to my housekeeper
Ah Ling, who has served my family with excellence and devotion since she was a teenager.
Oh good, she deserves it.
$2,000,000 to my personal chef
Ah Ching, who has nourished my family with her fine culinary talents since 1965.
(Victoria, shaking her head:
Ah Ching's going to throw a fit when she realizes she got less than Ah Ling. Better not eat the soup tonight!
$1,000,000 to my head gardener Jacob
, who has maintained the grounds of Tyersall Park with such loving care. I further bequeath to him all the rights and future royalties related to the orchid hybrids we developed together over the course of five decades.
$1,000,000 to each of my dear lady's maids Madri
along with the antique Peranakan gold-and-diamond bracelets labeled for them in the Tyersall Park vault.
$500,000 to my head of security Captain Vikram
, who has diligently protected me since 1983. I further bequeath to him the Type 14 Nambu pistol given to me by Count Hisaichi Terauchi preceding his departure from Singapore in 1944.
Wah, so generous! I wonder if Old Lady knew that he made a fortune with his day trading?
$250,000 to my chauffeur Ahmad
. I further bequeath to him the 1935 Hispano-Suiza Type 68 J12 Cabriolet
that was given to me by my father on my sixteenth birthday.
Damn, I wanted the Hispano! I guess I can buy it off him.
I bequeath every remaining employee of Tyersall Park not mentioned here the amount of $50,000 each.
Specific Legacies of Personal Property.
I direct that my jewelry collection be given and distributed according to the detailed list in Appendix A of this my Last Will and Testament, and as labeled in my vault at Tyersall Park.
(Cecilia Cheng Moncur:
I wonder why she bothered. Everyone knows Astrid already got all the good shit.
I direct that all artwork, antiques, and other household goods not specifically gifted by my Will be distributed equally among my surviving children by my executors in as nearly equal portions as may be practicable, with the exception of the following:
To my daughter Felicity
, I bequeath my collection of Celadon porcelain, which I know she will cherish and keep immaculately spotless for all eternity.
Hahaha! Felicity and her
. Mummy sure had a sense of humor when she wrote her will!
To my daughter Victoria
, I bequeath a small painting of a woman by her bedroom window by Ãdouard Vuillard. I know she has always detested this painting, so I trust she will divest of it immediately and use the proceeds to buy that dream house in England that she keeps talking about.
Criticize me from the grave all you want, but I've already been town-house shopping on Sothebysrealty.com.
To my son Philip
, I bequeath all objects in Tyersall Park belonging to his father, Sir James Young.
Did I remember to program the
to record the new season of
? Can't wait to get back to Sydney. This is such a colossal waste of time!
To my daughter Alexandra
, I bequeath my collection of carved ivory-and-jade name seals, since she is the only one of my children who actually knows Mandarin.
To my daughter-in-law Eleanor
, I bequeath a box of Santa Maria Novella Almond Soap.
(All the women in the room gasped audibly, while Eleanor simply broke out in laughter. Nick glanced at his mother, not understanding. Jacqueline whispered to Nick, “She's letting everyone know she thinks your mother was a dirty woman.”)
To my cherished granddaughter Astrid
, who in every way takes after my mother's style, I bequeath my collection of cheongsams, ceremonial robes, vintage textiles, hats, and accessories.
To my dear granddaughter Cecilia
, champion equestrienne, I bequeath a Chinese scroll painting of a galloping herd of horses from the Northern Song period by Li Gonglin.
To my loyal and always amusing grand-nephew Oliver
, I give and bequeath the pair of Ãmile-Jacques Ruhlmann table lamps from my dressing room and my signed first edition of W. Somerset Maugham's
Far Eastern Tales
To my devoted grandson Edison
, I bequeath a pair of Asprey sapphire-and-platinum cuff links, gifted to my husband Sir James Young on our golden anniversary by the Sultan of Perawak. James was far too modest to wear the cuff links, but I know Edison will not be so bashful.
Phwoar! But enough with this piddly shitâcan we just get on to the main event?
I have made no specific bequests or provisions for my grandchildren Henry
Jr. and Peter
, for whom I have great affection, because they were left generous legacies in my late-husband Sir James Young's Will, and because I know they have been amply provided for by the Leong Family Trusts.
(Henry Leong Jr.:
What generous legacy? Gong Gong only left me $1 million, and I was just a little kid!