This is the latest in a series of stories concerning the various adventures of one Brenda James, a former civil servant at Westminster who was last to be found working in a hotel on Singapore Island.
Each story is (hopefully) written.in such a way as to stand alone. But for those unfamiliar with the earlier episodes and with time to burn they can be found on these links …
Episode two … https://atiller16.wordpress.com/2014/03/
Episode three … https://atiller16.wordpress.com/2014/04/
Episode four … https://atiller16.wordpress.com/2015/11/
The Homecoming … a tale of two Islands.
Two months had passed since that morning in the Singapore hotel when Brenda James had sprung the trap that had so compromised Giles Kingsley-Smith and Jonathon Wilberforce, the two visiting British diplomats. In the interim period much had happened in Singapore, but little of substance had materialised from London.
In Singapore, the Chinese lady owner of the hotel had tired of her husband’s serial philandering with an assortment of mistresses, and having parted by mutual consent she had dispatched him back to Nanchang forthwith where he would be employed to oversee the family rabbit farm. A replacement live in toy-boy, having been chosen more for his six-pack and adjacent appendages rather than for any interest in hotel management, came and went, and his place between the sheets was swiftly occupied by an former boy-friend of the lady owner, Limm bin Rasyid, a wealthy Malayan businessman with property interests in the UK.
Mr. Limm, as he insisted Brenda call him, was fascinated by her knowledge of the UK Westminster village, and she found herself speedily installed officially as Manager of the hotel on his recommendation.
Brenda, though having no intention of staying in Singapore any longer than it took for Kingsley-Smith to arrange for her repatriation back to London, didn’t have the heart to make either her boss or Mr. Limm aware of her plans just yet, especially as it allowed her friend Sarah Strachan to take up ex gratia residence in the hotel.
Sarah, for her part, finding her position working for the Malaysian Government at odds with her new found freedom following the murder of her husband in London, was delighted to join Brenda in Singapore whilst they waited for Brenda’s clearance to travel from London. As the wife of a former British Consul, Sarah had little reason to expect any insurmountable entry problems, and London would present a whole new perspective for her. It could not happen soon enough.
Westminster appeared to be dragging its heels.
This was understandable of course, because Brenda and her escapades had caused almost more embarrassment for the Foreign Offices of Britain and France than any one female since Mata Hari. But the delay had not been in London, it was Kingsley-Smith in Singapore City who was holding things up, the bedraggled remnants of his pride simply refusing to admit that Brenda had triumphed over him; until that is, the communique from the London office of no less a figure than Sir Peregrine Probin KCMG, his boss of bosses.
In London, the office of the Head of Communications at The Department for Humanities and Informed Knowledge (DHIK) had been under increasing strain for some weeks. The fact that the placement of Jonathon Wilberforce on that ill-fated trip to Singapore was not his department’s decision had not prevented the wrath descending upon Hugh Bottomley when news of the Wilberforce/Kingsley-Smith hotel indiscretion filtered back to Westminster.
Bottomley, Brenda’s old boss was not a happy man … and when ‘Old Botters’, was unhappy, everybody suffered. A few days earlier, as he strode back into his office fresh from his meeting with Sir Peregrine Probin, his secretary was the target of his first volley.
“Get me all the latest information from that cretin Kingsley-Smith in Singapore and be bloody quick about it.” he bawled.
“Certainly Mr. Bottomley”, she said … the meeting had obviously not gone well.
At that meeting, The Permanent First Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Sir Peregrine Probin KCMG, who had been the man responsible for the appointment of Wilberforce, had been scathing in his treatment of his junior, who in Probin’s eyes was a mere press attaché and not a real diplomat at all. But as this was the civil service where responsibility always passes down the food chain quicker than butter slides off a hot knife … someone had to get it and Bottomley certainly had.
Ordinarily, a bit of casual bed sharing involving junior diplomats was of little consequence, especially when it takes place overseas in an out of the way hotel. But when the manager of that hotel is as Westminster savvy as Brenda James, the indiscretion assumes greater importance. And when one of the bedfellows is Lady Probin’s sister’s nephew, who recently announced his engagement to a daughter of Viscount Staines, The Hon. Felicity Fortescue-Knightly, if knowledge of that liaison leaked out at home the repercussions did not bear thinking about.
Sir Peregrine had hit Bottomley with both barrels even before he had closed the door behind him.
“ Where are you with this James woman fiasco Bottomley, you do realise that your career is on the line over this … again!”
“Of course Sir Peregrine, fully aware”, Bottomley replied, “it has been ever since that woman ran off and embarrassed us with that French Colonial chappie.”
“Embarrassed you Bottomley, not us” fumed Probin, “she was your responsibility not mine.”
“Of course Sir Peregrine” repeated Bottomley lamely.
“So sit down man and tell me where we are.” Bottomley collapsed into a chair …
“Well, after your helpful intercession”, he said tremulously, “a copy of that instruction that Kingsley-Smith has been sat on for some weeks out in Singapore is now in my hands, and it appears clear that there is no reason not to allow Ms. James back into the country. It had already been sanctioned at the highest level and so long as she remains bound by the Official Secrets Act and agrees not to contact the media under any circumstances, she is free to return.”
“So what’s the hold-up then, The PM wants this put to bed well before the election that he is planning for early next year … and just so that you understand, if I hear that you have repeated that little snippet to anyone you definitely will be done for.”
“My lips are sealed Sir Peregrine … bu-but a small pro-problem has arisen,” Bottomley stuttered.
“Problem! What problem?”
“There has been a further complication Sir Peregrine, details of this Wilberforce/Kingsley-Smith thing in Singapore has leaked out and has been offered to The Globe on Sunday … Sandy Toghill, the deputy editor, informs me that they have opened negotiations with a person or persons and a five figure fee is being discussed.”
Probin’s pinched nasal voice went up an octave, “Are you seriously telling me that something as simple as that is holding you up … surely the information could only have come from this James woman and even she can’t be allowed to use the same bargaining chip twice.”
Bottomley gulped … “The problem Sir Peregrine, is that it is not James who is offering the story. An investigation by MI6 has revealed that the story comes from a UK source unconnected to James … but what few small facts that have so far been given to the Globe are pretty accurate.”
“So! You’ve threatened the Globe with Leveson and the Royal Charter, end of!”
“I have, Sir Peregrine.”
Bottomley gulped again, “They just laughed.”
Probin walked to the window and looked out over St. James Park. Bottomley, fool that he was, was right, there was little that they could do and so were still not in control of the situation … short of finding some way of discrediting the source, issuing a D-notice, or an assassination, they still had a problem. This leak now looked to be putting Probin’s own career at risk, along with his long hoped for seat in the House of Lords. His ship of contentment that had been so recently sailing serenely around the headland and into the harbour was suddenly rudderless in a sea of scandal and embarrassment.
He thought of Lady Probin and her sister, and what they would say if the facts of the grubby denouement in Singapore became public knowledge. He thought of strangling that damned James woman with his own hands … and Bottomley!… and Wilberforce!
And finally his thoughts turned away from Westminster and its poisoned chalices … and to dreams of early retirement and a peaceful retreat to some far off island, a dream that was fast becoming a series of nightmares.With a shrug of the shoulders and a deep sigh, he turned to face Bottomley … who later would swear that Probin now sported both horns and fangs.
“Get it sorted in forty eight hours or I shall demand your resignation.”
Bottomley paled and shrunk visibly as Probin continued … “Do what you have to, short of murder, and start by getting the James woman back from Singapore and in my office … she has to be the one pulling the strings and though it grieves me to say it, she is now our only chance of keeping the lid on this matter.” Probin’s face darkened as he continued ominously … “Leave Kingsley-Bloody-Smith to me.”
He turned back to the window, “Now get out”, he whined nasally , ”Your department will have to find the finance pro tem to keep the hounds at bay, and the next time I want to see your face is when you bring Madam James through that door … if not her head on a plate, at least with her body in chains!”
Was it any wonder that ‘Old Botter’s had returned to his office in high dudgeon?
The incoming lines at The British High Commission in Singapore City hummed hot and a smoking missive dropped into Kingsley-Smith’s in-tray. He groaned as he read the contents.
When the need arose, Sir Peregrine Probin’s command of the less diplomatic parts of the English language was legend, particularly when grade one rollickings were in order. Kingsley-Smith was left in absolutely no doubt as to where his likely future lay if he didn’t immediately comply with the instructions that he had been sitting on. The very real threat of certain downgrading and a junior post in Ulan Bator served to concentrate his mind wonderfully and things now moved swiftly.
He was personally to convey to Miss Brenda James all the official documentation (including a passport and first class flight tickets for two) that was following in the diplomatic bag due on the morrow, along with an apology on behalf of HMG for the unwarranted delay. The word ‘personally’ was bullet pointed. Through gritted teeth Kingsley-Smith ordered his secretary to make the necessary arrangements.
Two days later he was ushered into Ms. James’ office … Brenda was behind her desk and Sarah was seated on a high backed cane chair in one corner with a laptop open beside her on a small table.
“Ah! Mister Kingsley-Smith”, gushed Brenda, “how good of you to come … please do sit down”. “Would you like some tea, and perhaps an early morning crumpet?”
Brenda’s features were firmly under control but her eyes were twinkling. Over in the corner Sarah was biting her lip … the envoy was not going to get a smooth ride.
“Thankyou no”, he replied tersely, “I have been instructed to come here … under some duress I might add, and the quicker we complete our business the better I will be pleased.”
“Come now Giles, we may call you Giles may we … tea is the least that we can offer … Sarah, perhaps you might like to be ‘Mother’.”
Ignoring Brenda’s words, Kingsley-Smith stood stiffly at attention and placed a large brown envelope on Brenda’s desk.
“Here is what you demanded”, he said brusquely, “I want a signature from you when you have inspected the contents, and I’ll be on my way.”
“As you wish Giles”, said Brenda with a smile, “perhaps you might care to wait outside while we check that all is in order … feel free to use the bar Giles, Paddy my barman will look after you”.
Kingsley-Smith hesitated briefly, then without replying and a shrug of the shoulders he left the room.
As the door closed, Sarah, who all the while had been tapping away at a laptop, moved to the desk and joined Brenda. She placed the laptop onto the desk and turned the screen so that they could both see it clearly. There on the screen via Skype, were the unmistakable features of Hilda Champion, Brenda’s Auntie Hilda in London. As she spoke, Sarah giggled at the curlers in her hair.
“Hi there Brenda, do you know what time it is over here … three o’clock in the morning!”
“I know Auntie”, said Brenda, “sorry about that but I need to know if the money has been banked”.
“Ah, the money … well I spoke to Johnny last evening, you know Johnny Noble, the chap off the boat you met in Singapore when we were there … well, he dealt with the Globe as you suggested, but then it seems your old boss at DHIK gazumped the Globe and transferred fifty thousand pounds of government money to Zurich.”
Brenda and Sarah exchanged smiles … “Excellent news Auntie”, said a flushed Brenda, “now toddle off to bed and I’ll speak to you again later today … and thank John Noble for me, I will myself when we get back.”
“And when will that be Brenda?”
“Not quite sure Auntie, but in days not weeks … I’ll let you know.”
“Great, we’re looking forward to a celebration when you get back, and Johnny says that he has plenty of spare space at his place until you find your feet.”
“Thanks Auntie,” said Brenda with a chuckle, “we’ll let you know.”
As Brenda closed the laptop Sarah looked at her in admiration. “Swiss bank accounts, blackmail, extortion, you never knew what you let yourself in for when you fell for Michael Adibe did you Brenda.”
“No, that’s a fact Sarah, but I’ve learnt one thing about myself.” replied Brenda.
“I’m a fast learner”, chuckled Brenda. “Now let’s put poor old Giles out of his misery.
With all the papers duly signed, Giles Kingsley-Smith stopped at the door as he was leaving.
“I have been instructed to ask one more thing of you before I leave”, he said curtly.
“And that is?” replied Brenda, with a mischievous sideways glance at Sarah.
“Can we at least hope that you will abide by the arrangements that have been put in place … the re-instatement of your pension rights, payment of all accrued salary, the right to live freely in the UK in the same way as any other citizen, freedom from prosecution with regards to the Adibe affair, and the £50,000 pounds credited to the Swiss Bank account … all that in exchange for your silence and firm agreement never to approach the media in any way shape or form … you must be clear on that Ms. James, that is what you have signed so to do”.
Kingsley-Smith looked from Brenda to Sarah, trying desperately to appear threatening but failing miserably.
“But of course Giles” said Brenda sweetly, “but we have no knowledge of either the £50,000 that has been mentioned, or of Swiss Bank accounts … it would appear that you have been turned over by one of your own in the FCO … for if it isn’t us, then the only other people who are aware of the facts of this matter work inside the department”.
“Hrrmph” snorted Kingsley-Smith.
“It’s not you is it Giles?” whispered Brenda.
“Hrrmph” again, this time almost a cry in anguish, and he turned on his heel and was gone.
“Sarah, I think a drop of bubbly is in order, don’t you?” giggled Brenda.
The next week vanished in a whirl of shopping, packing, and a settling of affairs with the lady owner of the hotel.
This last exercise turned out to be the icing on the cake for Brenda, for whilst she had been otherwise engaged with her own machinations, Mr. Limm had arranged to add the hotel to his property portfolio and hand over the running of same to his son. While Brenda was worrying about leaving her employers in the lurch, they in turn were worrying how they were going to break the news to her that her services were no longer required … so her leaving suited everyone.
The icing duly arrived the following morning in the shape of a most unexpected offer.The month previously, on one of his regular visits to the UK, Mr. Limm had purchased another property to add to his UK portfolio in the shape of a somewhat tired Health Spa located just a few miles from Epsom. The property was presently undergoing an extensive refit and was due to re-open in 10 to 12 weeks time.
Impressed with the way that Brenda had conducted herself in the running of the Singapore hotel, and with her obviously excellent contacts at Westminster (of course he had no knowledge of how fraught those contacts were), he would be happy to offer her employment in some managerial capacity when the spa re-opened. She would have a few weeks to consider the offer, but in case she was interested he gave her the name and address of his representatives in London and if she wanted the job it was hers.
Brenda’s cup of good fortune was well and truly running over.
Three days later, two casually but expensively dressed ladies boarded flight BA0017 at Singapore Changi International Airport bound for London Heathrow. This being the overnight direct flight they were ushered straightaway to the first class cabins where their overnight bags had been laid out on their respective mattresses … this was flying par excellence. In a cooler alongside the bed were two half bottles of Pol Roger.
“Which one shall we drink first” said a relaxed and contented Brenda, “Yours or mine?”
As they touched glasses, Brenda offered up a toast … “To a quieter life in London … and to us, Sarah”.
Sarah laughed outright …“You, a quiet life, and in London?” she said, “not in this lifetime!”