WRIT LARGE: Ch 15, Part 3
I ask if everything is okay as she looks a little flustered, and I’m not convinced it’s all down to the copious quantities of champagne she consumed last night.
“Bernard left without me,” she says.
“Why would he do that?” asks Cathie. “Where has he gone?”
“Back to Paris. The boys’ nanny slipped a note under my door, God knows what time. She said she tried knocking. Gabin was feverish and quite delirious, crying for his Maman, and Bernard wanted to get him home. Apparently, they left by helicopter at 6am this morning. How did I miss all this going on?”
Beth returns to the table. “The server is bringing coffee. Did I hear that Bernard left without you?”
Tears well in Olivia’s eyes as the waiter brings a fresh pot of coffee and a menu for her. “What time did we get back last night?” she asks.
I tell her that I have no idea what time we left the casino before returning to the Empire for more drinks, but that I was still awake at 4am, so it is no surprise that she slept through the commotion.
“Okay, let’s look at this logically,” says Cathie. “Have you had any contact with Bernard?”
“Nothing,” says Olivia. “I’ve left countless voicemail messages, but he’ll still be travelling.”
“I can’t believe for one moment that he’ll leave you stranded,” says Cathie. “I’ll bet that when you hear from him, he’ll tell you to take a few days’ annual leave and he’ll send the private jet to take you back.”
Olivia’s eyes widen and she stares at me. “You don’t think Loui Lim spoke to him, do you?”
“Loui Lim?” asks Beth.
I explain that we spent the evening with Lim Kok Thay’s sons, Keong Hui and Loui Lim, and that we were treating it as a farewell celebration for Olivia, until we were introduced to their mystery guest. When the person invited me along on the secret camping trip, the invitation was also extended to Olivia. Loui Lim, having imbibed a serious amount of champagne, was quite vocal about his intention to speak to Bernard and persuade him to allow Olivia to join us, even offering her the use of Lim’s private jet for her return journey.
“Sounds to me like everything is under control,” says Beth. “I wouldn’t be turning down an offer to travel in Lim Kok Thay’s private jet or go camping with Sandra Oh.”
“Sandra Oh?” Olivia narrows her eyes in confusion.
Beth shakes her head and grins. “It was worth a try.”
Olivia’s expression transforms as realisation kicks in. “The mystery guest! No, you weren’t even close.” She looks a little happier as she flicks through the menu and decides on a full English with extra toast. “I need to soak up that last bottle of Moet,” she says.
“Sounds like you had quite a night,” says Cathie.
Olivia closes her eyes briefly. When she opens them again, she says, “I can vaguely recall accepting a job offer from Loui Lim, at one point. Or maybe it was Keong Hui. I must have been steaming.”
I inform her that they both tried to headhunt her throughout the evening, but that I don’t recall hearing her accept either offer.
“Either way, I don’t think you need worry about Bernard,” says Cathie. “If he’d needed you desperately, he would have woken you himself.”
“The hotel could’ve fallen down around me, and I wouldn’t have woken up,” says Olivia. “Oh God.” She covers her face with her hands. “Do you think he did try to wake me himself? What if he fires me?”
“You go work for one of Lim’s sons,” says Cathie.
I hold my hand up and say that I would be happy to employ her in my Sydney office if she wants to spend some time in Australia.
“The world is your oyster,” says Beth. “Go camping. Forget work. Think about what you want to do next – that’s my advice.”
Olivia slumps in her seat. “I wish I’d been in this much demand when it was my school prom,” she says. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I was meant to go camping tonight.”
I ask if she has ever been camping before.
“Only in our back garden,” she says, “when I was a child. Someone gave my mum a small tent which was barely big enough to stand up in, or maybe we didn’t set it up correctly. It was blue and I remember telling my mum it was like being inside a swimming pool. My sisters and I thought it would be an experience to go camping in the woods, but she wouldn’t allow it, saying the woods were scary at night. I’ve read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King, so I believe her now, but at the time, we were desperate.”
Olivia’s breakfast arrives. She swallows a mouthful of sausage and dips the corner of a slice of toast into her perfect poached egg. The colour immediately returns to her cheeks and she sits up a little straighter.
“So, she set up this tent in the back garden. We had sleeping bags and pillows, and our favourite teddies. She even made us sausage rolls, and hot chocolate in flasks, and gave us these little torches from the Pound Shop. And it was great until my big sister decided to tell us a ghost story.” She stopped to chew another mouthful of sausage and bacon, while she buttered another slice of toast. “It was that silly story that you’ve probably all heard about a couple driving through the woods when their car breaks down. The man goes off to find help, and the woman waits in the car. After a while, she hears a thump on the roof and it’s her boyfriend’s severed head.”
“I’ve never heard that one,” says Beth. “I must have lived a sheltered life.”
“Well, so had we. There was a bang outside the tent as my sister reached the climax, and we all screamed, grabbed our teddies, and ran back into the house. We were all tucked up in our beds by 9pm.”
“Maybe this camping trip is not such a great idea then,” says Cathie.
“Oh, I’ll be okay now. I’ll have this man to chase away the mad axe-murderer.”
“You’ll maybe need to pick up the Camper’s Guide to Avoiding Severed Heads, when you’re purchasing your backpack,” says Beth, grinning.
“Are you backpack shopping?” asks Olivia.
I’m surprised again at how quickly Olivia eats and recovers from a champagne hangover and very little sleep. She starts on the last slice of toast and glances around to catch a waiter’s attention. When he comes to the table, she requests more toast and marmalade.
I tell her that a backpack will make life easier than lugging around a weekend bag. I ask if she has suitable clothing for a camping trip.
She stops, the half-eaten slice of toast in front of her face, and glances down at her dress. “Probably not.” She chews her bottom lip. “I won’t need hiking boots and cargo pants, will I?”
“What size shoes do you wear?” Beth asks. When Olivia says size 6, Beth says, “I have walking boots that you could borrow. I always pack them when I’m travelling – you never know where you’re going to end up. Like on a camping trip with Billy Ray Cyrus.” She raises her eyebrows waiting for a reaction and I shake my head. “Two down, a few thousand to go,” she says.
“I saw Gwen Stefani as I was walking through the lobby this morning,” Olivia announces. The waiter brings her toast, and she gives it all her attention. When she raises her eyes, we are all staring at her. “What?” she asks. “She was wearing sunglasses, but it must have been her because she was signing autographs. This place must see so many celebs. I mean,” – she shrugs – “look at this table.”
I ask Beth and Cathie if they are often recognised when they are out shopping for groceries or dining out with friends.
“Rarely,” says Cathie, “but then I think I scare people off. My kids say that even their schoolteachers were afraid of me when they were younger.”
Olivia laughs. “I was afraid of you too at Universal Studios.”
“I took your place on the Mummy Experience and asked you to look after my iPad, didn’t I?” Cathie asks. Olivia nods. “Sorry. I hope you didn’t take it personally. I wanted to speak to our favourite author and was booked on a return flight straight out of Singapore.” Cathie looks at me.
“It’s fine,” says Olivia. “I got you back by switching rollercoasters with you later.”
Cathie’s eyes widen and she breaks into raucous laughter. It is the first time I’ve heard Cathie laugh, I realise, and watching her now, it is difficult to recall the brusque business-like manner of our first meeting.
“How about you, Beth?” asks Olivia. “Do you get asked to take selfies wherever you go?”
“Only when I’m wearing my spacesuit,” says Beth.
Poor Olivia! I could feel her panic in the beginning of this section! I can tell she's not a fan of change. I'm very interested in seeing her reaction to camping!