Checkers are bank employees who check trade documents for errors, or, in a professional way of saying it, discrepancies, that may result in non-payment by the buyer's bank. If you walk around CBD areas in cities like London, Singapore, New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong or Beijing, where banks involved in international trade gather, during the lunch hour of a banking day, you may run into some of these checkers, though you probably wouldn't be able to tell a checker from other bank employees merely by look. If prudence, humility and vigilance had a look or smell, that would be how you spot a checker in the streams of people amongst the skyscrapers of CBD, who are dressed in business casual style, looking to grab a quick lunch. This profession, document checking, is not exactly on the upper levels of the food chain, nor anywhere near those best-paid positions. However, many people are willing to sit behind desks and check documents for years. It is a traditional, if not ancient, business, and it may seem to last a considerable long period of time, long enough for a lifetime career. The question is, are they really who they look like? Are all these checkers really who you think they are? Under the seemingly harmless appearances, is document checking the only thing they can do, or capable of?
Chapter 1: A Civilized Bank
December 15, 2017. CITIC Tower, Beijing, China.
Leon Gore went out of the elevator and toward the stairway to the roof, trembling and stumbling. He realized that there was less than five minutes to deadline. He knew the man he was about to meet was man of his word. If he failed to show up at the top floor in time, the boy and his father would die.
His eyelids were heavy as hell, but he dared not even just to blink. The instance his eyelids touched, he felt like he was back into the freezing cold garage back in Fargo, Minnesota flashed. He robbed his eyes, plunking up all his courage. When he opened them again, he saw the 2 dead bodies hidden under the stairway. He retched beside a pile of boxes, and sat down on the stair.
"Oh, damn you, Eric. Where are you? Please, come out. I need you...please..."
Three months before. Singapore.
It was only 7:27 a.m. on a normal Thursday in September. In the streets of Singapore, there was already not much shadow to shade the pedestrians. Leon Gore walked quickly on the sidewalk of Church Street under the scorching morning sunlight, holding a bottle of milk and a piece of sandwich he had just made at home before he set off to his office building located by Collyer Quay. Like everyone else hasting to work on foot, Leon's body became more and more sticky. There was a wet spot in the shape of an inverted triangle on the back of Leon's plain-white shirt. It bothered him the least. Actually, he quite enjoyed the heat. He even resented it a little, the thought of being only a few minutes away from the lobby of LSBC Tower. The moment he entered the revolving door, Leon could feel the pores all over his body closing instantly and his sweat drying. Leon even shivered unnoticeably in the first few seconds in the cool air in the lobby.
Leon consulted his watch on the wrist. It was still more than an hour before the working hours began. Only a few people were in the lobby waiting for the elevators. It seemed that the property management tried to make the lobby smell like a women's fashion shop by using excessive portion of perfume, or air freshener. However, Leon could still smell traces of musty carpet. By the third time Leon looked at his watch, the elevator arrived.
LSBC occupied the top 3 levels of the tower. It took a couple of minutes to reach the 66th floor, where Leon's office was located. The first thing to be seen when stepping out of the elevator was a huge white board with the blue LSBC logo and the words London and Singapore Banking Corporation in Arial Black, and in traditional Chinese characters. Leon walked past the reception desk, buzzed himself in through a translucent glass door and entered the office area. It was a spacious hall of some 300 square meters in which matrix of cells were divided into several sections by aisles, a very typical CBD style office. There were 50 cells in this hall, give or take. On the southeast corner, there were several glass cubicles by the window, which had a perfect view of the Marina Bay and, across the bay, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. One of the cubicles belonged to Leon's department head, Jack Campbell, who had not yet come to office.
Even for a first-time visitor, it would be quite easy to find Leon's desk. Everyone had put something personal on his or her desk, selfies or family photo, or print of the favorite pop-star, travel souvenirs, greeneries, magazines, stuff like that, and even goldfishes. Everyone except Leon. The clean-desk policy of LSBC was carried out literally by him. On his desk was a screen for his computer, a mouse, a telephone, a pencil sharpener, a stapler and a mug containing 2 pencils - nothing else at all, almost looked like a desk reserved for a future new joiner.
"Good morning, Mr. Gore!" Amy Lau, the girl whose desk was on the opposite of Leon's, stood up and waved as Leon approached.
"Leon." Said Leon.
"Huh?" Amy raised her eyebrows in surprise. She had shoulder-length straight hair dyed blonde, but it was easy to tell the original color had been black. Her face was light-chocolate colored and round-cheeked. Like many Malaysian young girls, she was not very tall but quite fit and slim, with her midnight blue pinstriped suit paired with a fitted satin shirt and black heels, she looked even more so.
"Leon." Leon repeated, with a smile. "Just Leon, please. You have been here for more than a month. No need for the mumbo-jumbo."
"Oh, it definitely takes some getting used to." Giggled Amy. "I'll do it, Leon."
"That's better. Another early start?" Asked Leon.
"Yea, just to beat the rush hour." Amy said with a frown. "Considering we have 23 bills to process today, it would be a good idea to get started early. I have already finished one. Here."
Leon took the file folder Amy handed to him, sat down, and said, "thank you, Amy. Let me finish my breakfast."
It was 9 a.m., and working hours officially began. Leon's co-workers started to show up. Phones started to ring. Good-mornings started to be exchanged. Coffee suffused the office. People started to talk to each other. Aloud or quietly, business or personal, they didn't matter to Leon. He could ignore the external disturbance when he was checking the documents for discrepancies, almost into a zen statues. His eyes shifted from document to document like a scanner. Sometimes he took a glimpse at the content of the Letter of Credit on the left side of the desk. All the talking of other people became distant white noise. Occasionally, he would raise his head, drew out the keyboard under his desk and type something into the system. That was when he saw Amy's avatar flickering in the instant-chat tool on the right bottom of his screen. Leon clicked it open. It said, Henderson. Your six.
Leon sighed slightly, put down the bill of lading he was checking and stood up.
"Bill." By the second Leon addressed the angry-looking middle-aged man, Bill Henderson had already reached the aisle right beside Leon's desk, with his beer-belly, which threatened the life of his Amani shirt, pressed against the partition plate.
"United Synergy called me this morning. You didn't send out their bill! What the fuck, Leon?" Bill Henderson shouted so loud that everyone nearby stopped what they were doing and looked up. He panted heavily, maybe out of anger, or because he had just sprinted from 2 levels below, or both.
"No, I didn't. And I have told you why in my email to you at 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon, which you haven't replied." Leon said drily, looking straight into Henderson's eyes.
Bill continued to shout, in his heavy south London accent. "I saw your bloody email! It was nonsense! I called you yesterday and specifically required you to finish United Synergy's bill before day end and make sure it was send out at COB!"
"Yes, you did." Leon didn't raise his voice despite the other man was practically spitting on him. He said in a manner as if he was talking to a TV salesman what kind of device he was looking for. "But I did tell you that the customer hadn't provided the specific goods name. The invoice and other documents show nothing but a series of codes. We need to know what the underlying goods is to process any transaction. You know it, Bill. You are aware of our bank's policy."
"Don't give me that mickey mouse bullshit." Bill waved his finger toward Leon and panted, "the customer need the bill to be sent yesterday! You fucking failed the customer! You fucking failed me!"
"Calm down, Bill. We'll send out United Synergy's bill as soon as you give us the goods name."
"Don't tell me to calm down! We account managers work our arses off trying to sale stuff to customers, all you checkers do is displeasing them! You are going to send out the bill! Right bloody now! You arsehole!" Shouting, he poked Leon's left shoulder with one finger. Fat and 185 centi-meters tall, and with considerable strength, any other person shoved by Henderson like this would have stumbled backward. But Leon's shoulder didn't move an inch.
Silence was all around them. Everyone was looking at the two men, speechless.
Leon closed his eyes and rubbed them, "no, no. Stay where you are. I'll handle this."
"Handle what, you fuck?" Bill shouted confusedly.
Leon opened his eyes, sighed again and rubbed the spot where Henderson had poked. "I thought this was a civilized bank, where people settled their disputes through civilized conversations, instead of cursing or physical contact." Said Leon, calmly, in a deep and firm voice. As a matter of fact, he had been speaking in the same tone all through the conversation, or quarrel, as the spectators would deem it.
"We'll send out United Synergy's bill as soon as you give us the goods name. We have a protocol to follow, Bill. You can ask the customer to take his bills to any other bank, HSBC, Citibank, Standard Chartered, or even ICBC, you name it. The same question would be asked. Now, if you don't mind, I have 20 other bills to process."
A queer look came over Henderson's face. It looked as if he was ready to cry himself. Leon looked back into Henderson's eyes.
"This is not over! Gore! This is not over!" Henderson pointed a finger toward Leon's forehead. Then he turned around and walked toward the glass door.
Leon sat down, sighed for the third time. People turned back to their screens, files, coffee, or whatever they had been attending. Amy's avatar flickered again.
Are you OK?
Yes, I'm OK. Thank you. Leon typed back.
Amy sent an emoji of a smiling face.
Five p.m., Leon's telephone rang. The LCD showed "Jack Campbell". Leon picked up the phone. "Yes, boss?"
"Leon, got a minute?" Said Campbell.
"Yes, I think I can spare a few." Said Leon, with his eyes still fixed on the documents.
"Good. My office. Won't take long."
"Right away." Leon hang up.
As Leon stood up from his chair and walked past Amy's desk, Amy looked up at Leon, full of concern on her face. Leon nodded at her and give her a reassuring gesture. Amy returned a grimace and flashed a thump-up. Leon walked toward Campbell's cubicle by the big window. When he arrived, he knocked.
Leon went in. The man sitting behind the excessively big desk didn't look up. "Shut the door behind you." Leon gently closed the door. "Oh, and close the blind for me, please. Thank you." Campbell added. After Leon did it, the sight in the cubicle was completely blocked. No one could see anything from the other side of the glass.
There were still a couple of more hours before the sun would eventually sink into the sea. The sea water of Marina Bay reflected the golden sunlight, sparkling. Some of the lights on Marina Bay Sands Hotel were already turned on. Leon looked away from the window.
"Is it too bright here? Let me lower the curtains a bit." Campbell walked by the window and pressed a button. "Please, have a seat."
"I'm good. I've been sitting for a whole day. You said it wouldn't take long." Leon refused.
"Ha!" Campbell laughed, "Right, right. Of course, won't take long."
"So, is this about this morning?" Asked Leon with a poker face.
"This morning? What about this morning?" Campbell looked at Leon, surprised.
"You weren't at the office? I had a fight, well, not really a fight, a quarrel, with Bill. He practically assaulted me." Leon frowned.
"Oh, that." Campbell leaned backward in his big chair and put a palm on his forehead. As he spoke, the middle-aged Englishman pulled what was left of his light-yellow hair to the back of his head, laughing, "don't worry about that. You know Bill. I know Bill, all the way back since London. You know, that's just Bill, KPI-driven, customers' mommy and daddy and ass-kisser. No one can stand in his way when it comes to his customers, not even me. Let us forget about what happened this morning."
"He threatened that this was not over. He still didn't give me the goods name. The bill is still on Amy's desk."
"That's my Leon Gore! You are doing the right thing! As always! I'm counting on you, pal!" Campbell applauded but without actually making a sound.
"You mean, you are not going to strongarm me?"
"Strongarm me? Come on! Whose can strongarm Leon? Look at those biceps of yours."
"So, what is this about?" Leon grew impatient. "There's still work to do. I'm trying to keep Amy from OT 4 days in a row."
"Alright," Campbell leaned forward and put his elbows on the desk, "you must understand, Leon, at the end of the day, we are the backbones of this bank. The account managers, they come and go all the time. You have seen it all, haven't you? How long have you been working here again? 8 years? 9?"
"10 years, 2 months and 17 days."
"10 years? 10 years already? No way!" Campbell said in an exaggerated tone, "I myself only 6!"
Leon frowned again.
"Don't give me that look, Leon." From past experience, Campbell knew if he had addressed the real issue to Leon too quickly, Leon would have reacted too fast that there would be no room left for negotiation. He had to beat around the bush a little bit, but not too much.
"Why always so serious? When was the last time you truly had some fun? Oh, let me think. As far as I can recall, never. You turned down every team gathering. You turned down my invitation to grab a drink at the fancy bar in Marine Sand. Well, I have stopped asking. I get it. You are not much of a people person. Thing is, ever since they sent me here to be head of TFSD, you never took a single day off. I heard you took none during Linda's time. It is against the bank's policy. For all these years, I have covered for you. Now I can't do it anymore."
"People are challenging me, Leon, for having somebody in my team who had a vocation. It's not the HR this time. If it's the HR I can ask them to go fuck themselves - again. It's people in London. They are getting very specific. They want an answer."
"You are right. I'm in a very difficult situation." Campbell shifted his look away from Leon's face which grew more and more stern. He gazed at a photo frame on the desk. "I need you to help me out here, Leon."
"Help you, how?"
"I need to show people in London some good faith, by taking certain action."
"What action? Are you kicking me out?"
"Na, na!" Campbell leaned backward again and put himself into a more comfortable position. "You know I don't have that authority to do it even If I wanted to. Besides, how can I be so stupid enough to lose my favorite lieutenant? My Leon Gore? Who has personally processed each and every bill for Singapore branch for the past 10 years? It's a live miracle!" He quickly sat back forward. "No one is kicking you out. I just need you to take one day off, next Monday. Come on, it's gonna be fun! I promise you. You can go to Sentosa. Have you been there before? Any other person I wouldn't have asked the stupid question. I mean, everybody in Singapore has been to Sentosa! Except you! Mindy and the girls went there this year when they were here visiting me. All kinds of fun! You should try it!"
Leon's lungs tightened for a second. He replied, "No."
"No?" It was Campbell's turn to frown, but he made a determined effort to rein in this conversation. "Why not? You need to know, if you don't start taking vocations from now on, I'm afraid London can really have your ass fired. Taking certain days off is mandatory. It's group policy. You know it. They can make a good case throwing you out of here."
The 2 men in the room both fell into silence. Leon slowly grabbed a chair in front of Campbell's desk and sat down.
Campbell sighed as softly as he could manage, with a long exhale. He tried not to look at Leon's face to avoid eye-contact. His eyes finally found their spot to rest, the photo frame, in which there was a photo of a fair-looking woman holding 2 little girls in her arms, all laughing happily, on the beach of Sentosa. That was his family, which didn't move to Singapore with him, only visited the husband and dad a couple of times a year, or the other way around.
"Look, Leon, I just don't get it." Campbell said slowly, "You don't social. You don't rest. You don't even give a shit about how much the bank pays you. And, when the bank deemed you over-qualified for a checker, you turned down the promotion! More than once! What is your problem, Leon? Who would do something like that? Please, help me understand!"
Leon bit his lips, rested both his elbows on his thighs and stared at the Bangladesh jute carpet on the floor as if it were a certificate of origin.
After 1 or 2 minutes of awkward silence, Leon broke it, sitting upright, "look, Jack, I know you are trying to help me, even though you said you needed me to help you. You have to trust me. I never took a single day off for a good reason. Can you discuss it with London? Or at least postpone it?"
"No. London is very specific. It gotta be next Monday, at latest, otherwise an internal investigation will be conducted on you. On us."
Silence again. This time, before it became long enough to be awkward, Leon said, "give me the night to think about it, is it OK with you? This could be the first time ever I leave my post. I need to think it through."
"Leon, it breaks my heart to say this, but you must know, London is serious."
"I get your point. I'll let you know first thing in the morning. OK? Can I get back to work? For now?"
Campbell give him a you-can-go-now gesture as he pulled what was left of his hair toward the back of his head.
As Leon was about to close the door behind him, he turned back and added, "I'm not promising anything." Then the door was closed.
After Campbell was sure Leon had been far enough, he heavily flipped the photo frame toward the desk.
One thing Leon liked about Singapore was her evening. It was almost as alive as it was during daytime. As a matter of fact, compared with daytime, Singapore's evening was more dynamic, more vigorous, and more vivid with life. Tourists in groups, big and small, were swarming the streets. People working by the bay were hurrying home. Even though the temperature did not drop much after sunset, at least girls in shorts or mini-skirts did not have to worry about sunburn anymore. People's excited faces reflected the neon lights of Chinatown, as well as the lights from all sorts of restaurants that were meant to draw the attention of passers-by who were looking for some traditional Southeast Asian or Chinese food. Some of the small restaurants had pots and pans steaming white vapor and seduction of flame-broiled meat. Who could say no to that? Even the locals sometimes stopped at one of these attractions and wrapped up some of the delicacies for dinner. Leon liked the scenes. They made him feel alive, after some 10 hours of onerous work. But none of the scenes, the tourists, the neon, the shops, nor the hot evening breeze which smelled like the sea, had anything to do with our checker. He knew he couldn't afford to take a break from the fast, homeward bound walking, so fast that he looked like running.
Right before the checker reached his apartment on Kreta Ayer Road, he stepped into a mini supermarket. A young man in yellow supermarket vest nodded at the checker, "Good evening, Mr. Gore! Working late again?"
"Yea. One of those days." The checker replied with a smile.
"Here, it's all set." The yellow vest handed a paper bag to the checker, "same as usual."
"Thank you, Meng Hui. Here, keep the change."
"Thank you, Mr. Gore. It's odd. Sometimes you can pronounce my name perfectly right, but sometimes you can't. Call me Nick, if it's easier for you."
The checker smiled and nodded. "See you tomorrow."
As soon as the checker entered his apartment, he began to undress himself. He stripped and put his shirt and pants into a dry-cleaning bag, hang his watch on the doorway's wall, took off the shoes and socks, until the only thing left was the underwear. The checker's apartment was in extreme minimalist style. Not big, some 40 square meters. A white Ikea wooden single bed with white pillow, white cover and white sheet. A white wooden desk. A white wooden chair. A white wooden Ikea mirrored closet. That was all, nothing else. No TV set, painting, nor pictures on the white wall. It almost looked like a jail cell, if it wasn't for the kitchen area, the small single door refrigerator, the bathroom and a black laptop on the desk. A real jail wouldn't have these stuffs.
The checker unpacked the content from the supermarket bag. 2 bottles of skimmed milk, 4 pieces of cooked chicken chest, a bag of toast, some broccoli, some asparagus, 12 cooked eggs and a small bottle of iced orange juice. Half of everything was put into the refrigerator. Then the checker stood under the bare water pipe that went across the doorway between the apartment door and the living room. He closed his eyes and rubbed them.
A few minutes later he opened his eyes, raised his head and smiled. He stretched his arms and body, jumped to grab the water pipe with both hands and started to do chin-ups. He did it hard and fast, 40 to 50 reps for a set, and he only stopped for about 5 seconds between sets. 5 minutes later, sweat soaked his underwear. The skin on his back turned slightly red, muscles so pumped up that every piece became visible. Another 5 minutes later, the checker slowly turned his body to a horizontal position, facing the ceiling. Then he started to pull his body toward the pipe while keeping it horizontal. The gymnast way of working out lasted for 8 sets, 50 reps per set. When he was done, he landed on the worn white ceramic floor.
It was not over. The checker bent down toward the wall, put his hands on the floor and stood up on his hands. Then he adjusted a little and put his heels gently on the wall, and started to do handstand push-ups.
As he was working out, usually the checker didn't count out loud. But tonight it was somehow different. Tonight, he did everything harder and faster, as if preparing for a combat. Tonight, he did everything with rage, gnashing his teeth.
Sweat dripped from his light brown short hair onto the floor.
"Mother…fucker…call…me…asshole…aghhh!" The checker groaned.
The checker got off the handstand position, jumped up and punched the wall. Then he quickly got on the floor and started to do push-ups.
The checker finished the rest of his push-up and ab work out, muttering these words. When he had finished everything, he looked at least 1/5 bigger than his normal size. Every piece of muscle became visible, as well as many veins all over his body. He looked like a beast, enraged and bloodthirst, ready to do something brutal.
The checker sat down on the floor, closed his eyes, panted heavily. A few minutes later, he stood up and took several deep breaths, undressed his soaked underwear, went into the bathroom, and took a shower with cold water.
By the time the checker finished his self-made chicken sandwich, sat down in front of the laptop with a bottle of orange juice in his hand, the screen was already on. The face of a lady in her 40s showed up, occupying 1/3 of the screen. She had brown curly long hair, similar color to that of the checker's. Caucasian, fine geniality of eyes. She could easily remind you of a principal of elementary school. She spoke a perfect American English like a TV news reporter from Washington, slowly and in clear articulation:
"Good evening, Eric! Have you been a good boy today?"
"Yes." The checker sipped his orange, "Yes, I have, Catherine. By the way, my name is Leon Gore."
"Cut it, Eric. I know it's you."
Amy Lau halted as she was stepping out of the main entrance of LSBC Tower. Yes, it was him. Amy didn't have to see him to know. As she was sure that he was behind her and couldn't see her face, she closed her eyes for a second and bit both her lips as though in agony. Then she slowly turned around, squeezed out a smile, shaking her head, "Ameer," She frowned, "What are you doing here? It's so late!"
Ameer was holding a bunch of roses. He looked like a little boy busted for mischief. "The…the security guy wouldn't let me go in." He said nervously.
"Of course you can't get in. This is a highly secured bank building!" Amy said, "how long have you been here? What are all these flowers for?
Ameer chuckled, "These are for you. I wanted to take you to dinner, but you didn't return my messages…you didn't answer my calls…So I figured, perhaps I could give you a nice surprise. I have waited here for 3 hours…since 6 o'clock."
"Oh, Ameer, you shouldn't have…"
"Amy, I love you. Shall we…" Ameer took one step closer.
"Just go home, Ameer. We can talk some other day. I'm tired. It's been a long day." Amy took a step back, looked at the marble ground, and held her purse tight with both her arms.
"What's wrong with you, Amy? What happened? Ever since your graduation, ever since you started working in this bank, you have always been busy! For over a month, you have been like this. You don't hang out with me anymore. You don't return my messages as prompt as before. You don't even answer my calls!" As Ameer was listing the things Amy had done him wrong, he grew more and more excited in anger, his voice grew louder and louder, "is there someone else? Is it the foreigner just now? Must be him! I saw you two walking out of the elevator side by side! Talking and laughing! You seemed to enjoy his company!"
"Stop it! Ameer! You should listen to yourself! You are being unreasonable!" Amy took a few steps back, held her purse even tighter, avoided Ameer's stare.
"Amy! My dear!" Ameer realized that he was being too scary. He suddenly knelt in front of Amy, softening his voice, "let's go home, OK?" He begged, "not your rented home. Let's go back to Langkawi, together. You and me. We can both work in your father's hotel. We can…we can start our own business. We can operate Island Hopping together! I'm the captain. You are the tour guide! In this way we can sail together again! Like when we were kids…Amy, oh, Amy. I wish you had never left our lovely island, never come to Singapore for college, and never joined the damn bank!"
"Ameer…" Amy muttered.
"OK? Go home with me. What's so good about working here? You work so late every day. You don't even have time to go for a date with me."
"No. I thought you understood me. We have talked about this. Banking is my dream. I have worked so hard in school to make it come true. I can't just give up. Don't you know my heart? Langkawi is beautiful. It's where we grew up. I miss it. But here," Amy looked around the skyscrapers on Collyer Quay, "here is where I belong."
Amy looked at Ameer in the eyes, appealing. She continued, "it is too late. I must catch the metro. I gotta work tomorrow. Let's talk some other day, OK?"
"Amy, listen to me…" Ameer grabbed Amy by the arm.
"Ah! You are hurting me!"
The fuss drew the attention of several passers-by. They raised their head from their cellphones. At the far corner of the street, 2 uniforms seemed to be patrolling this way. Ameer hesitated. Amy shook her arm free and started running away.
"Amy! Amy!" Ameer threw the roses on the ground and trampled them into pieces.
"I'm glad you didn't make a fuss during the little drama this morning." Catherine said with an approving smile. "I know it wasn't easy for you."
"Actually, it was quite easy." Eric shrugged. "Leon told me to stay put, and I knew there was no real danger. It was just bank stuff. How bad could it be? I have my way of dealing with my negativities. After working out, I feel a hell lot better."
"Good. However, you did mention something about shooting him in the head. Is it truly your intension?"
"No! I mean, hell no! It was just some angry talking." Eric contemplated, but he quickly got his attention back to the woman on the screen. "I know we are supposed to follow to your schedule during our sessions. But we have a more pressing matter. We need to discuss it now."
"What is it, Eric?" Catherine took off her glasses and raised her head from whatever notes she appeared to be referring to. "Is there something wrong?"
"It's the bank. It's Jack. Jack is serious. He said we haven't taken a single day off for 10 years. He said if we don't take a day off, latest next Monday, the bank might fire my ass."
"So this was what your little meeting in his office was about."
Eric rubbed his eyes, closed them for a few seconds, and then looked up.
"Yep. So, can we have one day off?" Leon said. "I mean, what Jack has said about the policy is true. If you work in any bank you would know it. They mandatorily have employees take vocation for a certain number of days each year. It has something to do with staff welfare. But there's more. The bank can use the time of your absence to let your backups do your work. In this way the bank may have a chance to review what you have done at work. Jack has covered for me for many years. Somehow, he can't do it anymore. He said London was serious."
"This is a big ask." Catherine said. "You realize that, don't you?"
"Yes, I do." Leon said, "Can you talk to the people in charge? If they do kick me out, where would you put Eric? We might lose what we have worked so hard for 12 years."
"I am not just your therapist. I am your warden. I am the person in charge." Catherine said.
"So, what say you?"
"Give me a moment. I'll get back to you in a few minutes." The screen went black.
Things went surprisingly smooth, Leon thought. A few years ago, when he asked for permission to carry his own cash instead of having his dinner and supplies delivered into his apartment, the screen went black for a few minutes and then there was a yes. He was granted a debit card, monitored, of cause, attached to his salary card at LSBC. He was requested to report every withdrawal to Catherine, not the amount, which could easily be monitored and controlled. He was requested to report the usage. Even though his routine of walking between LSBC and his apartment was restricted, he was allowed to go into certain supermarkets and shops on the route, like Nick's supermarket and the mall from which he bought himself the Patek Phillipe Elipse wristwatch last year, something to live up to his old standard of life.
Some 15 minutes later, the screen went back on. Catherine's face appeared on the screen, smiling.
"I'm glad to inform you that, in the light of your progress made in recent months, especially as a reward for your self-restraint shown this morning during the conflict with your colleague, you are permitted to take one day off, and take limited recreational activities within the borders of Singapore at a place of your choosing. You are requested to report to me your trip plan at our session on Saturday night."
"No need to. I can tell you now. It's Sentosa. We are going to Sentosa. Thank you, Cath."
"Remember, if you deviate from your route, we will know. If you try anything, we will know. Then you are going back to the United States and be kept in a maximum-security prison, for good."
"I know, Cath. You guys have a tracker in my body and bugged my office and God knows how many places else." Leon smiled. "Trust me. I don't want to go to back to prison. I won't do that to Eric."
The sun was shining bright outside, but in the old apartment room in Washington DC, USA, it was almost completely dark, thanks to the closed blackout curtains. In the bed at the center of the bedroom, two persons were still sleeping. Obviously, they had stayed late last night. Several empty bottles staggered on the table and the floor. They had been Bourbons. Clothes roughly scattered everywhere. Cigarette butts almost filled up the ashtray. Not only did they stay late, the party for 2 had gone wild last night. The iPhone on the floor under the bed began to vibrate.
Some 30 seconds later, a hand reached down for the phone and picked it up.
"Morgan." The man answered in a very sleepy voice.
"Are you still sleeping? It's 11 o'clock in the morning. Get up. You have a job." Said the voice on the other side of the line.
"A job? What job? I thought I still have the rest of the week off." Morgan turned over from a face down position.
"Now you are on. I have no one else available. Get your ass to the airport in one hour and catch the next flight to Singapore."
"Singapore? Why?" Morgan put one hand on his forehead, with eyes closed as if he was still asleep.
"One of our overseas asset needs a babysitter. I'll send you the briefing when you are airborne. If everything goes smooth, you will be back next Wednesday."
"Wednesday, huh? Guess I don't have a choice." Morgan yawned.
"No, you don't."
Morgan hang up, tossed the phone aside, stretched and started to dress.
"What was it?" The man lying next to Morgan raised his head.
"Work. I gotta leave town for a couple of days. It's urgent." Said Morgan as he buttoned up his shirt. "Go back to sleep, doll face. You can stay here while I'm away."
"Hmm. Do come back. I miss you already." The handsome young man looked at Morgan lovingly.
"I will." Morgan finished dressing, bowed down and kissed his lips. "I miss you, too." Then he took out a bag from the closet and started packing up. Apparently, he knew how to travel light. He only took minimum clothing for an international trip. Before he left the house, he grabbed his badge, which showed, Special Agent Kevin P. Morgan, Federal Bureau of Investigation.