Into the Fire
Grant Adams rose from his chair as Wu Mei knocked and entered.
“Good to have you back May, we have a huge backlog of work to catch up on so it’s good you finished with Singapore and are back with us. I had to fight to get you back from Singapore. They were impressed with your work and asked head office for permission to keep you there. We need you here!”
Wu Mei looked surprised at the use of her English name. It had been a long time since she’d heard that used. She smiled as she bowed slightly in acknowledgement of the welcome. It felt good to be wanted and appreciated.
She’d looked out the window as she exited the elevator and compared the spectacular view of Sydney harbour with the view from her window on the tenth level of Suntec City, Singapore. Each view had happy memories attached to it. Her confidence level had increased enormously during the temporary Singapore assignment and she was ready to tackle anything Grant placed on her table.
Grant motioned her to the door and followed her out. “Come and meet Allan Baker, he’s our new recruit and I’m assigning him to you as we are elevating you to a supervisory post now. Of course you will still answer to me and I expect you to accompany me when we have our strategy sessions with the principal consultants each week.” After meeting Allan, they returned to Grant’s office where Wu Mei’s assignments were handed out.
Wu Mei sat in her office and began to sort the assignments in order of priority before determining how Allan could assist her in this work. Her cell phone gave its musical tone and vibrated on the table top. She picked it up in surprise. Who would know she was back in Australia?
Her handler at the Embassy greeted her pleasantly in Mandarin. “Welcome back Wu Mei, you’re invited to the Embassy this evening for dinner. We have some special guests we’d like you to meet and we’d like you to be punctual for that meeting at 7.30.” Wu Me greeted them warmly and promised to be there on time.
But no sooner had she put her cell phone back in its cradle than there was a repeat of its musical performance. She picked it up again impatiently. What was it this time.
Her father’s voice on the other end welcomed her back warmly. After filling her in on the latest family news he got to the reason for his call. With her approaching completion of CPA qualifications family interests needed someone to oversee the financial part of their expanding empire. When would her stay in Australia be finalized and the contract with this international consultancy completed?
Wu Mei responded that by the end of that year all should be completed and she could return to China. There was a pause at the other end as Wu considered this.
“Your cousin has returned from the USA professionally qualified and with several years working with an international conglomerate, we may have to take him on to help us deal with the expanding market in the European Union and oversee overall family financial interests. He has extensive experience in complex western laws. I’d hoped you would be immediately available to work under him until you had that additional experience.”
Wu Mei liked her cousin and regretted the need to fulfil her study and work obligations. The prospect of moving back to China excited her, she’d miss Australia. It was her second home now and she’d made a wide circle of friends, but China was her home and family were important to her.
Wu continued, “The Embassy in Singapore has sent me a complete dossier on someone called Cheng. I believe he was your superior there. Is he a Taiwanese rebel spy?
Wu Mei laughed. “I know his real story. It’s true the family fled China in the late 1940’s and spent time briefly in Taiwan before migrating to South East Asia where the family is well established and wealthy. I’ve sounded him out on his political beliefs. He is only focused on business and is apolitical. The Embassy did approach him to spy for them in the belief he had Taiwan leanings but he said his roots are China and he has no wish to do anything but business. They’re upset with him because of that refusal but having worked with him I can confirm they have it wrong. I understand he will be visiting relatives in China sometime this year.”
“Be careful, a bad report has been forwarded to Beijing from Singapore about this man. So no matter what the truth of the matter is you should be careful in associating with him.” Wu said goodbye and returned to the pile of documents on her desk thoughtfully.
No sooner had she begun to plan her activities than the cell phone jumped in its cradle again. Wu Mei picked it up angrily.
A voice in Mandarin said, “This is Cheng, I hope you had a comfortable trip back to Sydney?
Wu Mei’s heart skipped a beat and for a moment she was lost for words.
“Hello, are you there?”
“Yes, Cheng I’m in an important meeting now this is not a good time to talk. Thank you so much for being such a good friend while I was on assignment in Singapore. I learned a lot working with you and have much to thank you for. I must go now, perhaps we could talk when I’ve settled back into the job here. I’ll be at the Embassy this evening so that would not be a good time to call.” She wished him well and hung up. Tears formed in her eyes as she sat thoughtfully for a few minutes. She missed Cheng, but continuing to see him was out of the question.
That evening at the Embassy Wu Mei met with visiting diplomats from China. It was a happy occasion as she conversed in her own language. She was now quite proficient in English and only spoke with a slight accent but she felt at home. There were a few invited Australian business leaders present as guests and that was the reason Wu Mei had been invited. She was expected to converse with them too and make them feel comfortable.
After the guests had departed Wu Mei was called to meet with her handler and one of the visiting Chinese officials. A paper was handed around and Wu Mei looked at it with interest. A cold feeling came over her as she realized it was a detailed report of her movements in Singapore, including transcripts of her telephone conversations. She noted the accurate rendition of her conversation with Cheng that morning.
Both officers looked at her and smiled. “Would this be an accurate record?” Both men looked at her and laughed.
“Yes, it is!” Wu Mei’s face flushed with suppressed anger mingled with fear.
“Because you are Wu’s daughter we trust you but we are interested in gathering information on all those you associate with.” Pointing to the transcript of her conversation with her father they said. “We are interested in learning more about this man Cheng. Would you please give us a more thorough assessment of him as Beijing has asked us to look into the Singapore report? We approve of your handling of his call this morning.”
Wu Mei gave them an honest detailed report of her movements in Singapore including her association with him at work and socially. Finally, she said, “I have no doubt the Embassy at Singapore got it wrong. He is attached to China, it’s his ancestral home and he’ll be visiting there this year as I told my father. While he’s not a party member and considers Singapore as his country now he’s not antagonistic to our homeland and poses no threat whatsoever to us.” The officials consulted another paper they had in front of them and made notes.
Both men rose and bowed. Wu Mei followed and bowed in return. They motioned to the door.
“Wu Mei, we have no objections to you associating with this man, in fact we encourage it so you can confirm from conversations that he has not lied to you. You will keep us posted. But of course we do not encourage any romantic association. Your father most likely has other plans for you when you complete your time in Australia. The diplomat from China departed leaving her handler to take her to an Embassy car and see her home safely.
Wu Mei sat in her room and contemplated the evening activities. She was angry her cell phone was compromised. Probably the phones in the office are tapped too she mused. For that matter the Singapore office phones were probably compromised. For the first time in her experience she was angry the party permitted such things to happen. Was she to lack privacy for the rest of her life?
Next day she entered Grant Adams office and sat silently as she thought through her next move carefully. Grant Adams looked at her inquiringly but said nothing.
Grant can I trust you not to mention this conversation to anyone. You should forget what I’m saying after I’ve said my piece.” Grant sat bolt upright in surprise.
“Wu Mei, we are colleagues and should be able to trust each other’s confidentiality. The contract you signed indicates that of course!”
Wu Mei sat silently considering her next statement. She chose her words carefully.
“What would you do if you knew the phone systems in our offices around the world had been hacked?”
“Grant studied her carefully. “Is this a theoretical question or is it something I should take seriously?
“Let’s say it’s a theoretical question Grant. How secure is our computer system too? Do we have it encrypted to prevent unauthorized access from happening particularly in our sharing between the office systems in other parts of the world through cloud based interface?” Wu Mei threw that in to make it a general inquiry rather than purely a phone question. She knew their data storage was well protected.
Grant looked at her steadily as he thought through implications of her question. He knew she was well acquainted with the adequate protection of their data system. But decided to play the game.
“Not sure if our phone systems are adequately covered May, I’ll look into it.” He nodded in appreciation, she knew something and was obviously alarmed but couldn’t tell him more for some reason. He’d look into it immediately.
“One more thing Grant, in seeing the phone system is adequately encripted I’m sure it will take at least a week before any vulnerability is cared for wouldn’t it?” Grant nodded in understanding.
Two weeks later a puzzled staffer at the Embassy reported the consultancy phones were inaccessible. They checked with the Singapore Embassy on a hunch and confirmed phones were inaccessible there too. They checked the accessibility of Wu Mei’s cell phone and found that could be accessed still. Was it a coincidence this had happened soon after their meeting with Wu Mei? She was a loyal party member daughter and they could still monitor her phone calls. They decided to pay more attention to this woman and her associates.
To be continued.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2016 All rights reserved”