The Red Pole of Macau - By Ian Hamilton

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Ava Lee woke to the sensation of lips kissing her forehead. She opened her eyes to semi-darkness and saw her girlfriend, Maria, hovering over her, her face in shadow. Ava extended her arms, but Maria shook her head and passed over the phone. “He says his name is Michael and that he’s your brother,” she said.

“I didn’t hear it ring,” Ava said. “And he’s my half-brother, from my father’s first wife. The one I told you I met in Hong Kong.”

“I think he first phoned half an hour ago. I didn’t answer it then. He’s called back every ten minutes since.”

Ava glanced sideways at the bedside clock. It was just past eight a.m., eight in the evening in Hong Kong, where she assumed the call originated. She reached under her pillow, pulled out a black Giordano T-shirt, and slipped it over her head. Then she held out her hand for the phone. “I’ll talk to him out here,” she said, rolling out of bed and walking to the kitchen. “Michael?”


“This is an early call.”

“I’m sorry. I spoke to Dad last night,” he said, his voice strained. “He said he met you at the Toronto airport and explained that we are having some problems here. He said you were going to call me.”

“I was, later today.”

“I have to go out in about half an hour and I won’t be available for the rest of the evening. I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow for us to talk.”

“Daddy said there was an issue in Hong Kong. He didn’t say any more than that, and he didn’t tell me it was so urgent.”

He sighed. “I’m sorry.”

Ava sat at her kitchen table and looked down onto Yorkville Avenue. Her condo was situated in the very heart of Toronto, and the Yorkville district was one of the city’s trendiest, but at eight on a weekday morning the streets were devoid of shoppers and restaurant goers. Farther away she could see that Avenue Road, a main north–south artery, was jammed with commuter traffic. “What’s going on?” she asked.

“We’re in a bit of a mess.”

“Who is we?”

“My partner, Simon To, and me.”

“Explain what you mean by a mess.”

The line went silent. All Ava could hear was deep breathing, as if he were trying to gather together his thoughts and his emotions. “We own a franchise operation: some convenience stores and high-end noodle shops. We were looking at putting one of each into a large new retail mall in Macau, either renting the space or buying it. We were midway through negotiations when the developers asked if we’d like to up the ante, if we’d like to invest in the entire project. It’s something we’d always thought about, accumulating some real estate. Simon didn’t see how we could go wrong putting money into Macau. So we did.”

“How much money?”

“A hundred and fifty million.”

“U.S. dollars?” Ava said, shocked.

“No, Hong Kong.”

“So about twenty million U.S.?”


That’s still a lot of money, she thought, but in Macau it won’t buy much land. “So you took a minority share?”

“Yes. As I said, it’s a large project.”

“So what’s gone wrong?”

“The development has run into all kinds of delays and we’ve been trying to pull our money out. They won’t let us. In fact, we’re getting leaned on to put in more.”

“And you don’t want to?”

“We can’t, and our bank is all over us about the hundred and fifty million.”

“The real estate developer is from Hong Kong?”

“No, he’s Macanese.”

“You obviously have a contract.”

“We do.”

“Have you spoken to lawyers?”

“Do you have any idea how time-consuming and money-eating a process it is for a Hong Kong company to pursue one based in Macau?” he said, a trace of impatience in his voice.

Maybe you should have considered that before you did the deal, she thought. “So what do you think I can do?” she asked.

“Communications between them and us have been getting more difficult by the day. My partner can’t talk to them without losing his temper, and every conversation I have with these people just seems to make things worse. We need a fresh set of eyes and ears. We need a new perspective.”

“Michael, what did Daddy tell you I did for a living?” Ava asked.

“He said you were a problem-solver.”

“All I do is collect bad debts.”

“If things keep going the way they are, I’m afraid this could become one,” he said, his voice heavy.

“You don’t mean that,” she said.

“No, not really. We just need to find a way to negotiate ourselves out of this situation.”