Flirting with Danger
Wu Mei noticed the note on her desk as she entered her office to commence work for the day. She didn’t recall putting it there as her desk was always tidied before she finished work late in the evenings. She glanced out of the window at Sydney Harbour eight stories below and smiled with satisfaction. It was good to be alive on this summer day and she loved her job and lifestyle in Australia.
The red light on her phone was flashing so she decided to give that priority and punched in her supervisor’s number as indicated on the digital screen. After a customary greeting and small talk about her rapidly finalizing professional CPA studies supervisor Grant Adams got down to business. Head office was inquiring if Sydney could spare one of their trainees on a temporary basis to fill in while they advertised a permanent replacement in Singapore. The Singapore office would arrange temporary work visa, accommodation and transportation. Wu Mai’s supervisor assured her they could work with Australian immigration to see her residence situation would not be compromised. Wu Mei requested a couple of hours to think about it and this was granted.
Returning to her office and pressing the do not disturb button she picked up her cell phone and punched in the unlisted number given her by the Chinese Embassy. There was a rapid conversation in Mandarin. In that the assignment was temporary she was given a number to call in Singapore on arrival to arrange an immediate interview and orientation and she was to maintain regular visits to the Embassy there during her temporary assignment. Having received permission, she contacted her supervisor Grant and agreed to take the assignment. She’d be given details of her work by the Singapore office on arrival. She then used her cell phone to contact her father Wu and inform him of her intended temporary departure for Singapore.
Wu put the phone down at the conclusion of their conversation and smiled broadly. Good! His daughter was receiving excellent experiences abroad and would be a wonderful asset to the family on return to China.
Cheng waited outside arrivals area at Changi Airport for the Singapore Airlines flight from Sydney. The screen indicated Wu Mei’s flight had disembarked five minutes earlier so business class passengers would be appearing at the carousel soon. Usually he’d send a driver alone for this purpose but as Wu Mei was to be his assistant until they could find a full time replacement he thought of getting her settled at corporate guest accommodation and introducing her to Singapore cuisine. Cheng was not the principal consultant but had been there sufficient years to have a senior position. He glanced at the photo emailed him to help identify his temporary help. She was pretty he thought to himself. He picked up the sign in Chinese characters and inspected it carefully nodding in approval.
A businesslike young woman appeared through the corridor inside and headed to the carousel to wait arrival of her luggage. She strained to look through the thick glass walls to try and identify the one meeting her, then focused on the carousel which had just started with a loud noise. She glanced to the side and noticed a luggage trolley which she collected then returned to retrieve her business class luggage from the carousel. She whisked past an official standing at the gate who profiled her and motioned her toward the exit.
Cheng raised his sign and rechecked the photo. Each inspected the other as Wu Mei strode confidently to the sign. Cheng inclined and welcomed her in English, then as an after-thought in Mandarin. Wu Mei inclined in return and smiled. Cheng was transfixed by that smile. His whole focus in life up to this point had been work. He lived for it and had risen rapidly in the ranks considering his academic and professional degrees were of recent vintage. Marriage and family had not entered his head up to now. First he’d make a name for himself in the professional world and seek his fortune. A wife and children would have to come later. It was his duty to pass his name to the next generation, but there was plenty of time for that.
Wu Mei processed the man in front of her and gave him a tick of approval. He looked smart and had the classic look of Chinese masculinity.
Cheng took a cell phone out of his pocket and punched in a number. “Bring the car to the pickup parking in front now!” His voice was kind but firm. Five minutes later a car swung into a parking bay and the driver quickly ran to pick up Wu Mei’s luggage and store it while Cheng opened a door to usher her into the back seat. Cheng quickly went to the other side and entered instructing the driver to proceed to corporate guest accommodation. A watchful traffic security guard waved them on impatiently.
After Wu Mei had freshened up after her long flight she re-joined Cheng and they headed for an up market Chinese restaurant. They no sooner reached the restaurant than Wu Mei’s cell phone gave a musical ring and she picked it up in surprise. Who apart from Cheng and his office would know of her arrival in Singapore? She nodded and apologized to Cheng who rose respectfully and pretended to search for a waiter to discuss their pre-arranged menu allowing her privacy.
The voice at the other end was pleasant and firm. The Chinese Embassy diplomat welcomed her to Singapore and asked if there was anyone close by who may be listening to their conversation. They’d been doing background checks on people Wu Mei would be working with and discovered Cheng had family connections in rebel People’s Republic Special Economic Region Taiwan as he described it. They acknowledged they knew Wu Mei and Cheng were eating together and warned her to be very cautious with what she disclosed about her background and connection with the party. She should visit the Embassy for instruction next morning before commencing work. The conversation was hastily concluded.
Cheng watching out of the corner of his eye noted Wu Mei had finished her conversation and returned to discuss different courses to be presented to their table.
Wu Mei was irritated the Embassy had obviously been spying on her from the moment she arrived in Singapore. She was loyal to her country, why were they doing that? She turned her attention back to Cheng and studied him carefully. While careful with her words she noted Cheng was quite upfront in his comments and certainly the ideal host. Topics ranged from the work they’d be accomplishing together to the things she should see during the few months she’d be in Singapore. His enthusiasm for everything in this island nation was infectious.
Wu Mei decided to test his political views. She started by probing Cheng’s ancestral place in China and he enthusiastically presented its attractions which surprised her. How would someone with Taiwanese roots be so knowledgeable about his ancestral roots in her beloved country? Cheng asked about her roots and Wu Mei realized she’d been foolish to create that kind of opening as further questions could follow. She was saved by the arrival of first courses and a temporary lull in conversation while they appreciated dishes placed before them.
Further questions were crafted more carefully by Wu Mei as dinner progressed and at the end of the evening she’d come to the conclusion her Embassy had been misinformed. She relaxed and continued to study this man. She liked him. He was obviously very well connected in the profession, dressed smartly and exuded confidence. He’d travelled widely.
He inquired if she played golf, and if so he could arrange for them to try courses in Malaysia some time? If not did she enjoy sailing? He was a member of the Yacht Club and would be happy to show her around the islands on his yacht. Wu Mei blinked! These were pleasures she’d not sampled before. This temporary assignment sounded to be not only challenging professionally but also a fun learning experience. She was beginning to like this man a little too much, and the chilling warning from the Embassy cast a dampener over her enjoyment of the evening.
Next morning at the Embassy she recalled the evenings discussions with Cheng and made the foolish observation perhaps the Embassy was mistaken about the dangers of their working relationship. This was met with a sharp rebuke, and warnings their relationship should be strictly professional. Socializing should be limited to necessary office functions from then on.
To be continued.
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