WRIT LARGE: Ch 5, Part 3
The Sun Tzu of Luxury
In this part, Lucas, Olivia and the boys meet Bernard’s group of business people, including Cathie Wood, CEO of Ark Invest. Cathie corners Lucas on the Revenge of the Mummy ride and petitions him to write her biography.
From the dinosaur-infested rainforest, we head for Ancient Egypt. “We haven’t eaten yet,” protests Olivia. She taps the iPad screen to reload the itinerary and closes it again when I suggest we dry off a little before the meal, or it will be rather uncomfortable.
Bernard and his entourage catch up with us. His gaze takes in the boys’ saturated clothes and then drifts across to Olivia whose shoes are still swinging from her hand. I notice the brief flicker of disapproval, but Olivia doesn’t make eye contact and I am glad that she misses it.
The enlarged group consists mostly of men in fawn slacks and designer polo shirts, but a woman is walking with Bernard; she is wearing black trousers and an open-necked silk shirt which, I guess, would not have survived the Water Rapids.
“Cathie Wood,” murmurs Olivia as if reading my mind. “CEO of Ark Invest.” Her eyes linger on the ivory silk shirt and she glances down at her own dress which is drying in patches. “Bernard insisted she be included on the guest list.” I nod; I thought I recognised her.
The boys lead the way to Revenge of the Mummy, an indoor ride which is said to be part rollercoaster and part haunted house. As with the previous attractions, some extras enter along with us to add to the experience, only this time Olivia doesn’t hesitate, and follows us without encouragement to the Jeep waiting for us to climb aboard. The boys don’t even notice her as they jump into the front seat.
Before she can climb in, Cathie Wood approaches briskly, hands her iPhone to Olivia and takes what would have been Olivia’s seat beside me at the rear of the vehicle as it jolts into action. Olivia watches our departure, the iPhone in her hand.
“Cathie Wood.” The woman offers me her hand in greeting. “I read an article in the New York Times about your Writer’s Guild.”
I say that I’m flattered to be recognised in a Singapore theme park of all places when I’m sporting a Groot T-shirt and creating puddles on the seat. She ignores the hint of sarcasm, and the wet patch seeping from my shorts, and gets straight to the point. “I would like you to write my biography, Lucas.”
I’m about to protest that I am currently involved in a biographical project when she adds, “You, or a writer from your Guild. I will leave it to you to choose the best person for the job.”
The Jeep takes a sudden blast of heat and the youngest lad peers over his shoulder at us, wide-eyed. “Can you feel it, Lucas?” he asks. I tug at the neck of my T-shirt and nod with a grin. “This ride is so cool,” he says. He ducks as a mummy appears from nowhere looming above our heads.
From that moment, the special effects are relentless and then we find ourselves tipping backwards as we approach the rollercoaster part of the attraction, and everything goes dark. In the intense blackness, it is impossible to focus on anything but the movement of the Jeep, the climbing and falling, and the neon objects flashing before our eyes, so I almost forget that my travel companion is Cathie Wood until the ride slows and we crash through swing-doors and back into the artificial light of the mummy’s tomb.
Cathie Wood is offered a helping hand by the attendant. She brushes down her trousers as if she might have collected some crumbs or cobwebs along the way and turns to me with a business card. “Brunch tomorrow?” she says. “We can discuss my project at our leisure.”
I inform her that I’m staying at The Barracks as a guest of Bernard Arnault and expect to be spending some time with him the following morning.
“Bernard is flying out of Singapore on urgent business tomorrow,” she says. “The Barracks will be perfect as I’m also staying there. Shall we say 11am?” Cathie Wood doesn’t wait for a response or for us to follow her outside.
Olivia’s dress has dried a little, but I sense that she may have already taken advantage of the hotel’s services and arranged for it to be dry-cleaned tomorrow.
“How was the ride?” she asks. I wonder if she is disappointed to have missed it and suggest she take the boys around a second time. She shakes her head. “I think I might save myself for the big one after all.”
I show her the business card and ask if she was aware that Bernard was flying out to a business meeting tomorrow morning. She narrows her eyes and quickly rouses the iPad. I see her roll her eyes at the screen before she says, “The email confirmation has just come through. I’m sorry; I would have told you had I been kept informed of his plans.” She glances again at the business card. “Are they flying together?” Apparently not, I say, as we have a brunch date to discuss writing Cathie Wood’s biography.
We follow Bernard’s group towards the restaurant where a meal of gourmet grass-fed burgers and fries has been prepared for us, Olivia walking slowly in her wet heels and glaring at the back of Cathie Wood’s shirt.
“I can’t imagine that would make quite such a spectacular Netflix Original,” she mumbles.
Olivia has arranged for other children of similar ages to eat with the boys. From my seat beside her, I can’t hear much conversation taking place, but the lads are patient and polite as ever and clear their plates, finishing the meal with watermelon smoothies before we attend the firework display above the Far, Far Away Castle.
Olivia appears preoccupied and I catch her glancing from her iPad to Cathie Wood, her face illuminated by the overhead show. After the show, it is she who reminds me that we should encourage Bernard to fulfil his promise before he makes his excuses to leave.
“I think I know how to persuade him,” she says, “but I’ll need your help. Will you ask Cathie Wood to ride with you? Please?” I agree somewhat reluctantly having hardly spoken to Bernard myself. I trust she knows what she is doing; this is a duelling ride, and we are potentially discussing two of the world’s most competitive entrepreneurs.
The two separate halves of Battlestar Galactica are Human and Cylon, the latter having several inversions and therefore probably not for the fainthearted. I am happy to stick with Human, but feel compelled to chaperone the boys in the Cylon queue. My heartrate is already speeding up and I convince myself that if the boys can do it, so can I. I’m surprised to glance around and spot Bernard and Cathie waiting in the Human line.
The children wave at their grandfather as Olivia signals behind his back for me to speak with Cathie. I take my cue and, playing the research card again, call her over to our queue. Bernard nods his agreement and Olivia takes Cathie’s place. She gives me a surreptitious thumbs-up, but I don’t have time to ponder her plan as we board the ride and adrenaline kicks in.
We begin our first ascent, the boys’ arms raised above their heads, when Cathie says, “We won’t be doing the loops, will we?”
We do five loops in total, and by the time we are unstrapped from our seats, Cathie’s face is looking decidedly green. She clutches my hand for support and stumbles away as though she has imbibed several gin and tonics prior to riding. Bernard, concerned, offers to escort her back to the hotel if I am agreeable to staying a while longer with the boys.
I watch them leave while Olivia collects her iPad from the locker. “Motion sickness,” she shakes her head. “Who’d have thought?”
She can barely contain her smile and I understand now what she was checking on her iPad during the display. I ask if I might look again at Bernard’s timeline. I scroll through the list of dates and events and find what I am searching for: Bernard Arnault’s business tactics once earned him the reputation ‘The Sun Tzu of Luxury.’ I explain to Olivia the definition of Sun Tzu: The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.
Realisation reaches her eyes, and she shrugs. “I learned from the best.”