WRIT LARGE: Ch 7, Part 1
In this part, Lucas finds Cathie Wood in the hotel foyer already engaged in deep conversation with Leann.
Unlike the grand marble opulence of the Raffles Hotel, the foyer of the Barracks is elegant and timelessly appealing with its open brick walls and leather Chesterfield sofas. It is warm and welcoming, a place where guests will feel equally at home, whiling away an hour with a bestselling thriller and a coffee, or preparing mentally for a meeting the outcome of which is still entirely unpredictable.
I hear voices as I enter and instantly recognise that of Cathie Wood. She is comfortable in a plump pumpkin-coloured armchair, and although she has her back to me, there is no question it is her, when the words ‘Tesla’ and ‘autonomy’ are used in the same sentence and directed at her companion. I have no idea how close Elon Musk is to releasing a fully self-driving vehicle into the world, but I understand this must be the current topic of discussion.
I stop and check my phone – a basic delaying tactic possibly better suited to a teenager. I am all for progressive technology in many areas, and particularly in medicine; what doctors and scientists can achieve today compared with say a hundred years ago, is utterly incredible. But when it comes down to technology that will ultimately result in human laziness, I am always reminded of the Disney film WALL-E, and the roly-poly characters roaming around space and requiring a robot to raise a cup to their mouth.
Cathie’s companion catches me red-handed with my phone and raises a hand to wave. Leann. I walk over to them and she rises, smiling, looking as chic as ever, and kisses my cheek. Cathie remains in her seat, a white coffee cup in her hand; she nods and offers me her hand to shake.
I ask Leann if I can assume that she received my voicemail message.
“I was leaving the hair salon,” she explains, “when I listened to your message. You sounded quite excited, Lucas, so I thought I would take the opportunity, as I was nearby, to surprise you; I am almost tempted to inquire as to whether you have won the lottery.”
I laugh and tell her that I have never bought a lottery ticket in my life so that would be quite the unexpected achievement. Not wanting to reveal my news before I have tested the waters with Cathie, I steer the subject away from the Writer’s Guild. I ask if the two women have met previously.
Leann’s smile is genuine. “We were introduced by Bernard some time ago. I have learned a great deal from Cathie’s podcast which I regularly listen to when I have the time.”
“It’s always gratifying to hear that,” says Cathie, “and to know that I’m not rambling away to myself only to have my words vanish into the ether.”
“Oh no, and your interview with Elon Musk was captivating; I listened to it in one sitting.” Leann appears to be genuinely in awe of our companion and not simply speaking from behind the sociable mask she adopts on such occasions. She certainly is experiencing none of my own reservations; I only hope this doesn’t change when I give her the good news.
“How are the two of you acquainted?” asks Cathie.
“We were recently in Paris together, and met through a close friend,” explains Leann. “We travelled back to Singapore two days ago. I introduced Lucas to Bernard knowing that his powers of persuasion would be far greater than mine, and here we are. The flight to Sydney departed without Lucas yesterday evening which means that we have the pleasure of his company for a little longer.”
I smile at Leann and insist that the pleasure is all mine, and that I am even considering extending my stay by a further night. I am about to elaborate further on the impending poker game when Cathie interrupts with a question aimed at Leann. “So, you’re a writer also?”
“I am,” says Leann, “although I have neither the experience nor the talent of my friend here.” I know that she is being gracious, but I am now concerned that by singing my praises in front of Cathie Wood, she will also be talking herself out of the potential biography that I am hoping to slide in her direction.
“Oh.” Cathie replaces her cup on the low coffee table in front of her. “I hadn’t realised,” she says. “I assumed, incorrectly it appears, that your background was in finance.” She is studying Leann’s face and her expression is almost accusatory although, I remind myself, it might simply be the angle from which I am viewing her.
“My late grandfather was Lee Kuan Yew,” Leann explains. “From a young age I was introduced to my grandfather’s business associates. My father also followed in his footsteps and so my background remains deeply-rooted in the Singaporean business sector, but my passion has always been for the written word.”
She is patient, serene as ever, and I imagine that Leann’s voice would be snapped up for use in the Mindfulness apps and podcasts that you find on Spotify.
Cathie’s gaze flits between me and Leann, and I imagine that she is trying to visualise our literary conversations. Her body language is almost making me feel as though we have somehow ended up on opposite sides of a fence, and that I should quickly decide to either remain where I am or climb over. Either way, the conversation they were enjoying before I joined them appears to be over.
Just then, Olivia makes an entrance. I say make an entrance because some people enter a room and you might describe them as having glided in, or in some cases, appeared as if from nowhere. Not so Olivia. She trips over an invisible obstacle on the floor, narrowly avoiding a spectacular collision with a waiter who is leaving the foyer with a tray of empty cups, jugs, and a cafetiere balanced upon his shoulder. He deftly turns a full circle, the tray raised above Olivia’s head, and departs without so much as a clatter of a silver spoon.
Olivia watches him leave, blinking furiously before her spine straightens and she gives herself a brief nod. I am struck that she is perhaps giving everyone else in the area time to compose themselves and glance away before she continues. Her eyes widen when they meet mine. “Lucas,” she says as if the near-miss with the waiter was an everyday occurrence. “I was hoping I might catch you. The limo will be picking us up at 1pm if you still wish to join us.”
Leann raises her eyebrows at me, and I explain that Olivia has kindly invited me to join her and Bernard’s grandchildren for their visit to the Gardens by the Bay.
Olivia offers Leann her hand in greeting. “You must be Leann. I’m Olivia Sheffield, Bernard’s PA. Lovely to meet you.” She glances behind her at Cathie Wood who has now risen from her seat and gives a brief nod.
“Such a shame you didn’t join us last night,” she continues. “We persuaded Bernard onto the rollercoaster.” Olivia grins at me. “I’m not certain there will ever be a second time, but everyone else enjoyed it.” She deliberately avoids making eye contact with Cathie and I quickly enthuse about how the children especially enjoyed it.
“How on earth did you manage that?” asks Leann. “You must give me your secret some time in case I ever need to employ some delicate coaxing.”
I inform Leann that there was nothing delicate about it, but Olivia is not to be deterred. “I’d be happy to. You never know, the opportunity might arise sooner than you realise if Lucas has anything to do with it. He has a habit of attracting the strangest invitations.”
Leann looks to me for clarification and I tell her that I will explain all after the brunch meeting; I am aware that Cathie Wood is listening, and I haven’t yet asked her to approve Leann’s involvement.
“Oh and, Lucas,” says Olivia, “I’ve been making some enquiries. It seems that Ewan McGregor would be available to approach regarding the biopic.”
To Leann, she adds, “Maybe you could convince Lucas that adapting Bernard’s biography for a Netflix Original is a great idea.” She says her goodbyes and, leaving in the opposite direction from which she entered, calls over her shoulder, “See you at 1, and don’t forget the poker lessons.”
I watch her leave. I sometimes wish I found it easier to tear down the barriers between work and play and allow a little more light-hearted banter into my daily routine the way Olivia does. But it is so inbuilt in me to keep the two separated, that I fear if I were to allow them to mix my entire world might self-combust.
When Olivia has left the foyer, Leann says, “Lucas you have been busy. We must catch up on all your news before you leave Singapore.”
I enjoy the way you use dialogue to not only tell the story, but to show characterization as well. I love how they all have such different personalities. As always, thank you for sharing this story with us!