Crazier Things Survived
The Malaysian High Commission in New Zealand stood on the corner of Brooklyn Road and Washington Avenue, was not exactly where Khaldoon al-Futtaim had expected to be at this time of year. He had been overseeing a merger in Singapore, and reading about its fascinating pre- and post-colonial history. His father’s interests included both finance and oil, and it was in Singapore he was expected to get to grips with both of them, at the highest level.
It had been going well until he’d met the fiend.
He’d thought he’d stabbed him. After it became clear that the fiend meant him ill, that he was neither connected to investment groups nor interested in doing Khaldoon any good, he’d raged, then fought, and had stabbed the man, for he was only a man, a vexing, mendacious one. He’d called the hotel staff to have him chucked out before he bled out, but they hadn’t been swift enough. He would write to the manager.
The next day, the fiend had appeared. He’d called the family doctor, who lived between Harley Street and Heathrow airport, but the doctor was certain there was no cause for him to be hallucinating or suffering any kind of delusion. Somehow, that blond-haired grey-eyed man had been alive again. He’d confronted him, as calmly as he could, asking how he was alive, and the man, the fiend, had smiled a horrifying smile, and asked for a copy of the accounts.
Khaldoon had no grounds, as yet, to call the police, and the company men would probably tell his father what he asked them to do. So he asked the man what his real name was, certain that the pseudonym Jon Stall was false.
“I’m sorry, Khaldoon, there’s a moratorium on me saying my true name. Too many people think I’m dead for it to get out that I’m still knocking about.”
“Then… why do you want the al-Futtaim accounts?”
“Ah, now that is a question that I can answer. Your family is involved in all sorts of business across the world, and has made a great deal of money. We have no particular issue with that, but your company has perhaps pragmatically co-operated with the American government in the Middle East, and are likely to do so in South-East Asia after the worst of the hostility is over.”
“Political? Do you think we even give a damn about anything outside the Emirati wranglings?”
“Oh, I share your viewpoint. It’s only by being clumsy, like in the Bush years, that a corporation profiteering from war will suffer by public knowledge of financial wrongdoing, blood money, whatever. But let us get past our animosity, all that unpleasantness last night. We represent a group… that would like to collaborate with your consortium, three, five, maybe ten years from now.”
Khaldoon’s interest was piqued. To come back from Singapore with a new deal for the future would be interesting. It would be pleasant to demonstrate that he could not only try, but succeed in the business. His father saw both his sons as too attached to hedonism. He wanted to show that he was different. Different to his brother Zayed.
“I knew you could be co-operative.”
And they talked some business, the fiend gave him some clues as to the way the wind was blowing, ways that he could keep competitive in the world that was to come. He agreed to forward the accounts to the man at some private address.
He had invited the man for drinks at Raffles, and the man agreed. He enigmatically suggested that Singapore was a ‘place and time of convergence’.
When they had had a single drink, the fiend opting for the tourist favourite, the Sling, a woman strode in, pulled a revolver, and shot the fiend. Chest. Khaldoon had been confused, thinking he’d killed the man once already, had been stunned to see him again, had put it down maybe to drugs, to his red rage surpassing his perception and judgement, but there was no doubt, that the man he still lacked a better name for than Jon Stall, was dead. An opportunity lost then. At least it was bad publicity for the hotel – which was still Qatari owned, he thought.
He moved away. He felt it would be best to take the information back to his father, and avoid any implication in the murder. Clearly this fellow was engaged in some high stakes endeavours, and it was the al-Futtaim way to make the most of what one heard without getting too deeply involved.
He still jumped out of his skin when he saw the fiend the next day. He had watched the ambulance take him away. Things were getting too weird. He felt like he was on the fringe of something truly surreal, something beyond the real, that he was on something very fragile and it was only so far away from toppling.
“People keep saying that to me. They never really get the picture. I can’t be killed, I always return, how many times will you have to see it? I mean, it’s strange enough, that you, a stranger, get to see it. Anyway, thanks for the accounts. Maybe I’ll get back to you. You’re just one of the many many strands here in Singapore; my mission here is more complex than even I anticipated. Hence the woman. It’s rare that women want to shoot me. Look, if you want to understand all of this, when you’re done in Singapore, go to the Malaysian High Commission in New Zealand. Southernmost High Commission in the world.”
“Oh, trust me, you’d only be more confused if I did explain.”
So, once his more normal, even quotidian, business in Singapore was concluded, he stopped in New Zealand. He was able to suggest himself as something of a world citizen to get access to the High Commission, who were otherwise nonplussed at the idea of admitting an Emirati who had just come from Singapore. Foreign direct investment are three words that open many doors.
But when the High Commissioner finally took time to see him, he could not enlighten him at all. They knew nothing of anyone by the name of Jon Stall, nor why a Middle Eastern businessman would be asking after him. Strangely, the blood-fury did not seize him. Normally such frustrations enticed him into violence – indeed, that was how this strange affair had originally occurred. But now, he felt merely a deep perplexity, as if he had entered a room that he was not supposed to, caught a glance, and then been tossed out: That a whole bizarre tale was being told, elsewhere, and he was simply window dressing. A useful aside to the fiend who could not die. And with that disquiet he returned to Abu Dhabi, occasionally turning it over in his mind, focusing on that which he could understand.