Link to the The house in Bukit Timah part 1 & 2 here

 

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29/5/20- Updated – Story completed

 

 


 

I don’t know how long I was out for but the next thing I saw when I opened my eyes was lights moving and people talking to me.

 

There were a lot of commotion and shouting but I was not a critical case.

I heard a someone ask someone else to dress my wound and put me on a drip.

 

Then I passed out again.

 

The next time I woke up, I could see someone taking my blood pressure. I tried to see where I am and I realised I was parked along a corridor on a gurney. I was no longer in my own clothes, someone had changed me into a hospital gown.

 

I have never felt exhaustion like this before.

It’s like I just finished a 72km road march and instead of having only the pain of abrasion all over my balls, I have it all over my body. I don’t even know which part of my body is aching.

 

The pain this time round hurts more than the 1st round of injury I suffered at the nursing home. The pain this time rounds cuts deeper into my heart.

 

My eyes were closed as I felt the warmth of a tear roll down the sides, once it started, it didn’t stop.

Once the waterworks start, I could no longer turn it off.

 

I wished everything was just a bad dream but it isn’t.

I wanted to call out for my grandfather, I want to know where he is.

 

Yes he may have passed on but where is his body?

 

There is still so much to do.

 

My mind is going into overdrive but my body is not reacting. It’s like you know you are having a nightmare yet you can’t wake your body up to get out of that terrible dream.

 

I blacked out again and when I woke, I was finally in a room.

 

Not exactly a hospital ward, it’s an office.

I could see computers and tables hastily shifted to a side.

On the wall I saw photos and awards given to Rajah Healthcare for their outstanding contribution to the medical industry.

 

I pulled myself up with much difficulty and removed the needle from my hand.

Walking barefoot out of the office, I realised I was in a small private hospital owned by Rajah Holdings that caters mainly to medical tourist from neighbouring countries.

 

My grandfather.

 

I need to find my grandfather.

 

I asked the first nurse I saw where is my grandfather and she says she don’t know.

 

Nurse : I’m sorry…. I can’t help you now….

 

She walked briskly down the corridor, struggling with the medical supplies she was holding.

 

I grabbed another hospital staff and asked him where is my grandfather but he took a look at me and asked sit down and rest.

 

Staff : You need to sit down and rest Sir….

 

Someone’s head popped out from a door and shouted for the guy to go back and help.

 

He ran back after throwing the coffee in his hand into the bin.

 

I heard an anguish shout from the other end of the corridor before the crashing sound of things being thrown around reached my ears.

 

Holding onto the walls for support, I shuffled towards the commotion at the end of the corridor.

 

Someone was shouting and throwing stuff around in frustration.

 

As I got closer, I realised the voice belonged to Henry.

 

Looking into the room, I saw Henry smashing a fire extinguisher onto a cabinet before kicking the door in. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked like a man out for blood.

 

Henry : aRGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!AHHHH!!!!!!

 

He kept pacing around the room, screaming and kicking stuff over before collapsing into a heap on the floor.

Henry : aRGHHHH!!!..!!! aRHHH!!!!

 

He hammered the floor tile as if it was his greatest enemy until his knuckles bleed.

 

Rachel was slumped over a desk and she didn’t move despite the din Henry was making.

 

I shuffled into the room and went over to Rachel.

 

Touching her gently on her shoulder, I dragged a chair to sit beside her.

 

Rachel’s eyes were bloodshot too and exhaustion was written all over her face.

 

Jackson : What happened…. I’m…I’m sorry… I must have blacked out….

 

Rachel : what do you remember… ?

 

I took a while to recollect my memory before saying I remember seeing 2 mysterious man dressed in black before passing out.

 

Jackson : where…. Where is my grandfather….. what happened after I passed out…. Who are the 2 men ??

 

Rachel wiped tears from her swollen eyes.

Rachel : one thing at a time….. your grandfather….. we…. We brought him back….

 

Jackson : Where…. ? where… I want to see him…

 

Rachel : I’ll bring you…

 

Rachel stood up and almost collapsed but I held onto her.

 

Taking a moment to compose herself, Rachel nodded her head and told me she is ok and can manage on her own.

 

We walked silently towards the lift because taking it to the basement.

 

That’s where the morgue is.

 

Rachel : The…. The morgue is full…. A lot of Rajahs died….

 

Jackson : I’m…. I’m sorry….

 

There are several Rajahs outside the morgue, many of them just looking dazed and tired.

 

We entered the morgue and I could see the small space is filled with gurneys with white cloths covering them.

 

There was a staff in white coat inside.

 

He came over to tell Rachel that the truck is on it’s way back and they will be transferring the next batch of bodies shortly.

 

Rachel nodded before turning to face me.

 

Tears streaked down her cheeks and I could see the fire seething in her eyes.

 

Rachel : We…. We have no space….for our dead….. that we needed to use….. a meat distribution freezer…….for the time being…..

 

I gently reached for Rachel and she hugged onto me before screaming into my chest.

 

She screamed her muffled cries of anguish and frustration and I could feel her fingers rip and crumple the hospital gown I was wearing….

 

I gave Rachel a while to calm down and when she did, she wiped tears and snot from her face with the back of her hand before saying that the news is reporting that there was an industrial accident.

 

Jabbing her finger angrily in mid air with her index finger.

 

Rachel : The news !!!! is calling it an industrial ACCIDENT !!!!

 

Jackson : That’s not true…..

 

Rachel : They are calling Rajah Holdings out for unsafe manufacturing practices ….. illegal storage of highly flammable chemicals….and non compliance work place safety for our workers…. !!!

 

Rachel sucked in a deep breath before screaming that the building is a part warehouse for shoes and handbags and part administrative building.

 

Rachel : there are no chemicals there….just leather goods…..

 

Jackson : How could they do that…. This is impossible….

 

Rachel : Just turn on the TV Jackson …. It’s all over the news…. Rajah Holdings’s unsafe practices….. caused industrial accident…. More than 30 dead with plenty more injured….

 

Rachel told me that the internet is abuzz with discussion about the incident.

 

Rachel : People are calling for a boycott of Rajah holding’s business….

 

Jackson : The authorities did nothing… ? what about the foreigners …? All those crazy men that are high on drugs…. Those people are proof that we were attacked…..

 

Rachel : When the ambulances finally came…. They prioritised removing the bodies and the injured of those people….Rajahs are not a priority….

 

Jackson : This is fucked up….

 

Rachel : we pulled contacts and connections…. Bringing our own people out….

 

Jackson : They cannot do this…. We should go report this !!! The public need to know !!

 

Rachel : Report to who ? The public believes what the news tells them…. You control the media… you control the population….

 

Wiping her tears again, Rachel took a deep breath and turned away. She pointed to a trolley in the corner.

 

Rachel : I’ll… I’ll give you come time alone….

 

I recognised my grandfather’s hand even before I removed the white sheet covering him.

 

I touched his face and I broke when I felt the cold and lifeless body in front of me. The man that raised me single handed when I was dump with him is gone. His skin felt hard, the tenderness is long gone.

 

Jackson : Ah gong….. can you hear me….? sobzzz…

 

I blinked a few times in attempt to hold back my tears and I looked at the lonely light tube in the ceiling illuminating the whole morgue.

 

Jackson : Ah Gong….. please…. We still have a lot of places to go together….there is still so many countries we have yet to see together….

 

I knew he was gone, logic tells me he cannot hear anything I say but I still said it.

Everyone has difference way of dealing with grief.

 

I cried silently for a while before sinking down to my knees.

I rest my head against the trolley as the image of Guo killing my grandfather flashed back in my head.

 

And the grief started to get displaced slowly by anger.

 

The door to the morgue opened abruptly and I could hear the click of high heels pause at the entrance.

 

I could hear Hong calling out to me.

 

Hong : Jack…. Jackson….

 

I didn’t turn around. I had no energy to turn around.

 

I heard running footsteps approaching and I heard Kamal’s voice too.

 

Kamal : Where is he… ?

 

Then silence.

 

The click of the heels came closer and I felt a hand on my shoulder.

 

Yiling : Jackson ….

 

I pushed her hand away.

 

Looking at Yiling, I snapped at her when I know I shouldn’t.

 

Jackson : it’s your fault…. IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT !!!!

 

Yiling reared back and stood back up.

 

Jackson : None of this would have happened if you didn’t offer me a job !!!!

 

Turning back to Hong and Kamal, I shouted at them in between screams of agony that none of this would have happened if they didn’t ask me to work for them

 

Jackson  : IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT !!! ALL OF YOU !!!arGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!

 

I collapsed onto the floor of the morgue as I sobbed and held onto the let of the trolley.

 

Yiling didn’t say anything, neither did my Kamal nor Hong.

 

Quietly, they removed themselves from the room and they left me alone.

 

The door opened again and several staff helped me on my feet, saying that they need to move the bodies and make way for more.

There are still some coming in, people are still dying.

 

I was left on a bench in some corridor, I don’t even know which floor.

 

I saw Seven appear in front of me, his eyes red and swollen from crying.

 

He tapped his heart several times.

 

Seven : erghhh!!… erghhhhh!!!! Errghhhhhhh!!!!!  Arghhh!!!  Arghhhhh!!!

 

I don’t know what he meant but I could warrant a guess.

 

Many of his old buddies died in that attack.

 

Seven sank onto the seat beside me and took out his phone. With trembling hands, he showed me a group photo.

 

There’s 8 of them in that photo. All Rajahs in their prime, topless and well built.

 

Seven gripped onto the phone and sobbed as he shook his hand, signally that they were gone. All of them.

 

The men, or rather the brothers, he joined Rajah with.

 

Cindy’s arrival blotted out the dim light of the corridor.

 

She didn’t say anything but she held 2 coffee in hand.

 

She took Seven’s hand and put one in his before doing the same for me.

Then she walked away.

 

I took a sip of the instant coffee, my body needed a hit of caffeine.

 

When the remaining of the coffee in my hand grew cold, Seven’s phone buzzed. He read the message , tapped me on my shoulder and he walked away.

 

I watched him walked purposefully down the corridor with his fist clenched.

Without warning, he jumped and deliver a spinning kick to a vending machine, putting a huge dent on it’s side.

 

I threw away the coffee and I got up on unsteady feet.

 

Teng.

Guo may be dead, but Teng, Russell, Elmo, the Malus.

 

They are responsible for my grandfather’s death.

 

I found my way back to the room I saw Rachel and Henry in earlier.

 

They were reviewing the camera footage from their building.

 

Jackson : what… what is this….

 

Rachel answered without turning.

 

Rachel : the roof….where we were at…. They wiped the disk at the security office but we have a copy of it backed up in the cloud.

 

 

The 40 inch tv was split into 4 squares, offering multiple angles of the roof top.

 

Henry : who are they….

 

Rachel  : Nobody knows….

 

Jackson : what happened after I passed out… ?

 

Rachel : the 2 men…..They took care of the Malus…

 

Jackson : How… ?

 

Rachel : watch….

 

Jackson : what the fuck….

 

I could hardly believe what I’m seeing on the screen.

 

The 2 men held their ground against all the Malus.

 

I almost felt my heart skip a beat when I saw how close the 2 men were to getting their head smashed in or their face slit by the Malus only to see them disembowelling their attackers.

 

The Malus may have all charged at once but all it took was for the swords to sever a few arms and fingers for the rest to quickly take a step back. Those brave enough to test their resolve again tested it with muscles and flesh against the hardened steel.

 

In less than a minute, the 2 man put 6 Malus out of the game with the rest too afraid to venture forward.

At least 2 are dead from what I could see on the screen and the 2 men barely broke a sweat.

 

They didn’t attack the Malus either, remaining on a invisible line on the ground, putting themselves in between the Malus and us.

 

From out of nowhere I saw on the screen a crazed CF appearing. Bloodied and still high, he charged at the gathering of men. The Malus jostled and pushed the CF away from them, one of them even throwing a punch in his face to direct him towards the 2 sword wielding men.

 

The CF charged head first, he fell but got up and picked a metal rod before going straight at the 2 man looking at him.

 

When the CF’s arm was detached from his body with a well practised swing, the fingers were still clutching onto the weapon he took from the ground.

 

He tried to stand up again but the other man separated his head from his torso with such speed and precision that I could still see the face twitching after its cut off.

 

There were still quite a few Malus left but none of them dared to challenge the mysterious man again. Even Elmo was reduced to pointing and throwing threats from a distance away. Several of the Malus ran away despite Elmo pointing and shouting at them.

 

All it took was for one of the masked man to make a mock charge with his sword held up and it sent the rest of the Malus scurrying away.

 

Even Elmo stumbled and fell face first onto a dead CF before he picked himself up and ran into the staircase.

 

 

Jackson : who… who are they…

 

Rachel : I don’t know…. they mentioned something about Bella….

 

Jackson : I remember hearing that too….

 

Rachel : Might be related to your boss….

 

Yes, I remembered clearly they said something about Bella. Something about Bella’s promise to introduce them to someone.

 

Jackson : What happened after that….. how did I get here… ?

 

Rachel : The roads are still blocked by the accident…. We had to resort to evacuating our injured by bikes for those that can still move….

 

Those that can’t, they were carried via stretcher 2 streets away into waiting vehicles.

 

Rachel : It appears Teng is more powerful that he lets on…. My sources tell me he is going to head the defence ministry in the line up of the new minister’s cabinet….

 

Jackson : My grandfather…..he was a Rajah…

 

My abrupt comment silenced the room.

 

Rachel didn’t say anything so Henry did.

 

Henry : Is…..he will always be a Rajah….

 

Jackson : Why didn’t you tell me… ?

 

Henry let on that they didn’t know initially. They have many members, and a lot have decided to move on.

 

They found out about my grandfather after they started digging up about me.

 

Henry : He quit his job…. Didn’t even get the rest of the pay due to him….but he still takes the colleague’s calls these years when they need to ask him something….

 

Jackson  : He… he was in Malaysia….. I asked him to come back for his treatment…

 

Henry : How do you think he made his way back all the way from Kedah… ?

 

Jackson  : He said a friend….

 

I paused. Of course.

 

It should have hit me earlier.

 

What friend ?

 

My grandfather has a small social circle, and I can’t think of anyone who can make the drive all the way back.

 

Jackson : You…. You all brought him back….

 

Henry : it was meant to be a surprise….  we already lined up a specialist to…

 

Rachel : Enough…..

 

Rachel shook her head at her brother, and Henry nodded, acknowledging that there is no point going into this right now.

 

My grandfather is no longer around.

 

Rachel got up and told me I should go.

 

Rachel : There’s a lot of things to do….. you should go get some rest……and… make arrangements with a undertaker…. For the wake….

 

I went back to the room I woke up in and I saw my belongings in a ziplock bag waiting for me. There’s also a fresh set of clothes.

 

My wallet and phone still have dried streaks of blood on them. I changed with much difficulty before making my way home.

 

Opening my grandfather’s wardrobe, I could feel my heart shattering into so many pieces. It broke so badly that I doubt it would ever be the same again.

 

The large wardrobe only contained less than 15 pieces of his clothing. He always re wear the same few pieces of tops and bottoms anyway. One for formal occasions like weddings, a couple of polo t for casual days. 2 shirts that he used to wear for work.

 

Then a couple of old t-shirts that are badly stretched, some with permanent stains. A couple of singlets and sleep pants. He didn’t have much possessions. The winter clothing when we travelled were all vacuum packed and stow away.

 

I sucked in a deep breath as I picked out the last set of clothes that he will be wearing on his final journey. I tried not to look, I forced myself not too look but I can’t

 

I knew if I looked I would cry even harder but I could not resist. It’s like my brain wanted my heart to bleed further, to feel the ache and pain, to experience the burn on my raw wound.

 

I broke down again as my fingers touched the set of clothes I last wore then I was 6. My kindergarden uniform, neatly pressed and hung beside my grandfather’s own clothes.

 

Right next to it, my primary school uniform with my name tag badly frayed on the sides. My fingers touched the pen stains on the sleeve which I remember my grandfather spending hours trying to get rid off while scolding me and I literally wet the floor I was standing on.

 

Then came my secondary school uniforms.

And right next to it, my camouflage uniforms with the badges and the chevrons on my arm.

 

One set of clothes for every milestone in my life.

 

There was no empty hanger in my grandfather’s wardrobe except one.

 

The very last one beside my military uniform.

 

It was labelled in his handwriting ;

 

“ Jackson’s wedding suit “

 

I knelt down in front of the big wardrobe and I died in a literal sense.

 

I may be breathing, my heat may still be beating but I knew Jackson has died.

The old Jackson that everyone knew is gone, along with my grandfather.

 

What remained is just a shell, a soulless carcass.

 

The next few weeks came and past in a blur.

 

A simple wake was held for my grandfather.

 

Everyone came but didn’t lingered for long.

 

Some old neighbours dropped by for a chat before commenting that my grandfather is lucky to have me as his grandson.

Jackson : No… it is me, who is lucky to have him as my grandfather ….

 

Neighbour : He told me before…. Long time ago…. You’re like the son he never had….

 

Jackson : And he…. The father I wish I had…

 

After the cremation, I scattered his ashes into the sea.

 

That’s what he wanted.

 

I remember his exact words to me when we had this conversation even though I chided him for bringing it up.

We were taking a ferry ride in Hong Kong when he suddenly said he wanted his ashes to be scattered into the sea

 

Ah Gong : sea… sea… just scatter into the sea….. don’t waste money on a space in the temple…. Every year must pay money…. Pay and pay…..

 

Jackson : I don’t care about the money….don’t talk about shit like this… you’re going to live for a long long time….

 

After a brief pause, he revealed the true reason behind his wishes. I could tell from his tone he’s not saying it just to patronise me or to help me save money.

He meant it. Every word of it.

 

Ah Gong : The world is so big…. I don’t want to stay in an urn after I die…. I want to travel….. with you….. you go Australia…. I can follow… you go America, Europe…. Iceland…. Anywhere…. Anywhere….. I can follow…

 

I was on the verge of tears on the ferry but then and I put my arm around his shoulder and I just kept quiet.

 

As if knowing he struck a raw nerve, my grandfather recovered nicely just as the ferry was about to dock.

 

Ah Gong : No need ticket somemore… free one… ahhaha…

 

I laughed as I recalled the fond memories of us together.

 

I went back to the castle and the farmhouse after settling my grandfather’s affair.

 

Yiling came to the farmhouse and asked me to go back.

 

Yiling : Take a break Jackson… you need it…

 

I apologised to her about my outburst back at the Rajah’s hospital.

 

Jackson  : I’m sorry….i… I didn’t…

 

Yiling gave me a playful slap on my cheek.

 

Yiling : Don’t be silly…. Go back…. I don’t want to see you back here until October…. This is an order….

 

Jackson : the… the men… the help you sent….. who are they… ?

 

Yiling smiled and shook her head.

 

Yiling : I can’t answer that question.

 

Jackson : why not….

 

She just shook her head.

 

Jackson  : what kind of deal did you make…. ? … that you can have people like them….. helping you… ?

 

She smiled and shook her head again, refusing to say another word.

 

Jackson : Why… Yiling… why are you doing these…? Why are you doing what you do…..? is it for the money…. ? why ?

 

She exhaled and shook her head for the 3rd time.

 

She looked down at her heels, hesitated for a moment before replying me with a smile.

 

Yiling : because….

 

She looked around and gestured to the estate before walking away.

 

Yiling : …. this is my home…

 

I walked around the garden and went to the smoking point. Hong was there puffing away.

 

I apologised to him too, I didn’t have a chance to properly talk to the guys after all these happened.

 

Jackson  : I’m sorry Hong…. About those things I said…

 

Hong puffed away with the cigarette hanging from the side of his lips.

 

Hong : Aiyah…. CB la… ( curse ) don’t day things like that la…. KNN ( curse ) …. Bo tai ji… bo tai ji ( it’s ok…we’re cool ) ….

 

He snubbed out his cigarette and popped in another one.

 

Hong offered one to me.

 

Jackson : I don’t smoke… you should stop…. Every stick takes away 5 minutes of your life….

 

Hong lit up and exhaled before replying.

 

Hong : Of course… I take 5 minutes to smoke…. Of course it takes away 5 minutes of my life… you think I fail maths ah…. Hahahah…

 

I laughed and he shoved the cigarette closer to my mouth.

 

I accepted it and he lit it for me.

 

The moment I sucked in a puff, I started coughing and I almost gagged.

 

Jackson : cough… coughhh.. blerghhh.. cough!! What the fuck is this shit…

 

Hong : aiyah… you will slowly appreciate…

 

I spat out that awful taste in my mouth and Kamal appeared right about then.

 

Kamal : CCB Hong ( curse ) why are you teaching Jackson how to smoke… ??!

 

Hong : I never teach hor !!.. don’t anyhow say…. I give and he take ok !!

 

Kamal lit one up and spoke at me while pointing with the same 2 fingers holding the cigarette.

 

Kamal : Doctor’s advice…. Don’t…. serious… don’t…..

 

Hong : you very CB ( curse ) you know or not Kamal… hahaha…

 

I threw the horrible cigarette away and Declan came to the smoking area.

 

Declan : How are you doing Jackson…. ?

 

Jackson : I’m ok….

 

He must have heard our conversation and he pulled out a cigar from his vest, cut off the end before proceeding to light it with a windproof lighter.

 

Declan : You all don’t know Jackson la…. hahha…. He’s not a cigarette person….

 

Checking to make sure the cigar is lit properly, Declan offered it to me.

 

Declan : Davidoff……… Winston Churchill…..

 

Hong rolled his eye before waving his box of cigarettes at me.

 

Hong : Mar bo lo ….. Menthol Light…. Hahahah…

 

I took the Cigar and my senses took note of the fragrance and aroma of it for the first time. I’ve seen Declan smoke it before but I’ve never paid much notice to it.

Declan : don’t inhale it…. Feel the smoke in your mouth…. Relish the aroma…

 

Jackson : cough… cough… cough… ok fuck….this taste better cough..

 

Yiling burst into the smoking area and everyone tensed up immediately.

 

She saw what was happening and immediately started screaming at Declan and Hong and everyone scattered in all directions.

 

Yiling : ARGHHHH!!! Why the fuck are you all teaching him how to smoke !!!! ARGHHH !!!

 

Yiling chased everyone with her hands raised in search of a target but everyone was gone.

Before Yiling came at me, I ran off too, holding onto the cigar Declan gave me.

 

I bumped into Aaron and Seven as I walked to my car.

 

They just returned from somewhere.

 

Aaron : The Malus are gone… cleared out their usual haunts and street…

 

Jackson : What do you mean gone… ?

 

Aaron : disappeared… gone underground…. We couldn’t find any of them….

 

He tapped me a couple of times on my shoulder before walking away.

I went back home and I spent a couple of weeks doing nothing.

I worked out, went for a run , I slept.

 

 

September 2016

 

I followed the news closely and watched the TV as Welly Chin swore himself in on live tv.

 

Our Prime Minster.

 

Shortly after taking up the new position, Welly revealed his cabinet and true enough Teng was given the portfolio of the defence minister.

 

I tightened the grip on my hand rest as I looked at Teng smiling and issuing a press conference on TV.

 

October 2016

 

I alternated my days at the castle, tending to the garden and training with Candy and Xiaoyu.

 

Digging up the axes I found on my first day in the farmhouse, I grinded and sharpened the edges. I sanded the wooden handle down a little before applying a fresh layer of lacquer.

 

I went to a sports shop and bought textured tapes athlete use for better grips on handles of rackets.

I asked for recommendation from the uncle what is good for wet hands.

 

Uncle : all these are good….

 

Jackson : I mean really wet hands….

 

Uncle : no one perspires that much…. You doing Tennis….? Or squash… ?

 

Jackson : neither…

 

I put an axe on the glass countertop and he backed away immediately.

 

Jackson : competitive axe throwing…. Overseas….

 

Uncle : Ah…. I see….

 

He picked something up from the shelf and pushed it across to me.

 

Uncle : Mob grip tape…. Commonly used in skateboards…. Provides a good grip…water proof…. Tear proof…. High strength and easy to clean…..silicon carbide grit binding manufacturing process, it won’t peel off even in extreme heat or cold…..

 

I looked at the uncle and repeated my question.

 

Jackson : what about wet hands…

 

He rang me up at the cash register and waited for his payment.

 

Uncle : Assuming you accidentally cut yourself…. You are bleeding…and you accidentally get a lot of blood on it…….you……  you will still have a very good grip ….

 

I nodded and handed over the cash.

 

Jackson : Thank you….

 

Uncle : Good luck on the competition.

 

I started throwing the axes everyday. I could do 3 times a minute. That’s 180 times an hour.

 

I did it for 2 hours every day, that’s 360.

 

And with every throw, it cut deeper and deeper into a large trunk of wood I pulled from the wooded areas en route to the cookhouse.

 

One day,  I know one day, I will be throwing it at the people responsible for my grandfather’s death.

 

The Malus are gone. No one knows where the rest of them are hiding. It’s like they just vanished. They’ve gone into hiding.

 

The Rajahs are faced with several lawsuits, the media is on a smear campaign, many of their men are arrested.

 

Yiling revealed to us that Rajah holding’s business empire will survive. Businesses staff by regular employees that is, not their triad arm.  As for the men who could still fight and pose a threat , their numbers has dwindled to less than 20.

Almost 2 dozen were thrown into jail.

Many had to flee overseas to avoid persecution.

 

The Rajahs are done and one thing is clear, La Bella vita is next in line.

 

Yiling did not sit idle this couple of months. She buffed up security around the castle, we have more cameras than ever covering all angles. She went on a buying spree, snapping up more houses near the estate whenever one came on sale.

 

I was also given the task of being the main liaison with the Rajahs. We exchanged information about the Malus. Everyone is looking for them.

They cannot hide forever.

 

We will eventually find them.

 

And our break finally came when Henry caught one.

 

The Rajahs caught a lone Malu trying to engage a whore in Geylang.

 

I was in the gym with Cindy and she had just thrown me onto the floor. I landed flat on my back and before Candy could straddle and put me into a lock, I escape the submission and pinned her down in the missionary position.

 

She could have escaped but after 2 hours of play, Candy let me pressed her wrist against the mat and she bit her lips and she relaxed her legs, trying to pull a rape victim act.

 

Xiaoyu : Oh come on you slut….Candy….

 

Cindy : Jackson …. Phone…

 

I got off Candy and caught my phone that was flying across the gym, courtesy of Cindy’s throw.

 

Jackson : yes… ?

 

It was Rachel.

 

Rachel : We found one…. We have him…. One of the Malus at the rooftop that day….

 

There is this burn you feel when you work out. When you push your body to it’s limits, and I’m feeling it as I breathed and sucked in gasps of cool air in the gym.

 

That Malu the Rajahs’ caught will be the small tinder that will start a great fire.

 

A fire that will burn bright and long.

Knowing how impulsive Rajahs can be, I immediately told Rachel not to kill him. He is going to be a valuable source of information.

 

Jackson : don’t kill him….. please…

 

Rachel was about to speak when her reply is interrupted by a long agonising scream of raw pain and suffering in the background.

 

“arGHHHHH…!! aRGHHHH!!!!…ARGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!! “

 

Rachel waited for the scream to die down a little into a sob pleading for his life before replying.

 

Rachel : Don’t be silly Jackson……We are Rajahs………. not savages….

 

Another loud scream of pain and gagging rang out in the background.

 

Rachel :   And….. There is absolutely no reason why……… we cannot be civil about this….

 


 

I notified Yiling about the latest development and she told me to head over to the Rajahs.

The Malu that they caught is a valuable source of information.

 

Yiling : Do not let them kill him !! We need him…I’m sure he knows something that will be useful to us….

 

Jackson : ok…….

 

Yiling : Make sure !

 

Jackson : Right… I’m sure the Rajahs would be nice enough to do what I say….

 

Yiling : Tsk !…. don’t be irritating…. Call me once you have something !

 

 

I drove to Changi and went to the ferry terminal where a boatman was waiting for me.

I could see the Rajah tattoo on his sun beaten skin and he gestured me onboard his small boat.

 

15 minutes later, the engine of the boat was cut and we drifted the last 10 metres to the side of a floating Kelong.

 

RH Kelong & fish farm.

 

Several wild dogs ran over barking loudly as the boatman tied the boat to the side of the floating farm.

He shushed the dogs, waving them back but they were excited by the visitors.

 

I climbed onto the Kelong and let the dogs sniffed me for a bit. After a couple of pats on their heads, they led the way to the sheltered lodging located in the centre of the farm.

 

The Kelong is about the size of 4 Tennis court connected together in a 2 x 2 configuration.

In the centre, a sizable hut with zinc roof and walls made of old weathered pieces of wood formed the office, bedroom and living area of the men tending to the farm.

It’s not big, about the size of a 2room flat I would say.

 

I looked around the vicinity, the next closest farm also belonged to Rajah Holdings, and the other further away is already well past the country’s border.

 

A Malaysia flag could be seen flying at the edge of the farm.

 

We’re pretty close to the maritime borders between the 2 country.

 

Rachel was sipping on a glass of wine while sitting in front of a fan. 2 Rajahs were standing guard in front of a door that looked like it was salvage from a junk yard. There’s even a print advertisement for cigarettes when they were still sold in packs of 10s instead of 20s.

 

Posters of singers from the fifties dotted the walls of the living area and I could see furniture and appliances from another era scattered throughout.

 

There was a loud splash and I saw a naked Rajah with full body tattoo shampooing himself while standing behind 3 large blue barrels of water.

 

He looked at my direction while soaping himself down, not giving a fuck that anyone on a boat passing by can see him in his birthday suit. Men that live on the sea is a different breed it seems.

 

Rachel did not seem bothered at all by a man showering behind her.

 

Rachel : Wine… ?

 

Jackson : No… where is he,… ?

 

Rachel : Henry is talking to him….

 

Jackson : What have you found out so far…. ?

 

Rachel told me that the Malus have gone into hiding after what they did. Teng wanted them to go underground literally.

 

Rachel : There are still a handful of foreigners left…. All of them are hold up with the Malus….

 

Jackson  : where… where are they hiding…. !

 

Rachel : Relax Jackson…. Chill….

 

Rachel told me that the Malus split into 2 groups. Russell and his godsons are hiding in a industrial warehouse somewhere in the west of the country. The exact location is still unknown.

Rachel : The 2nd group…..consists of 10 Malus, and 40 foreigners….

 

Jackson : The one inside…. He’s from the 2nd… ?

 

Rachel nodded.

 

The Malu that was caught is part of the group tasked with keeping an eye on the rest of the foreigners.

Rachel : Their numbers dwindled sharply…. And from what I gathered so far, they are not very smart…. And their motivation is a combination of drugs and money….

 

Jackson : What are they giving them… they appears as if they are not afraid to die or something….

 

Rachel took out a small sachet from her purse.

 

Rachel : A synthetic drug…. A powerful variation of crystal meth… it reduces fatigue… stimulates the senses … makes you feel invincible….

 

Jackson : How did the foreigners get into the country…. ?

 

Rachel : Someone brought them in slowly over the course of about a year before the Malus got involved….

 

Looking at the door, I told Rachel I wanted to talk to the captured Malu.

 

Rachel : I think it’s better if you don’t….. I don’t want to ruin your appetite….

 

Jackson : I’m not afraid of a little blood…

 

Rachel : I never said it was little…

 

Rachel gestured to the seat in front of her and a long-sustained scream of agony and pain rang out from inside the room.

 

“ ARGHHHH!!!!! aRGHH!!!!! aEGHH!H!!!!!!!!! NOOOO!! NO!!!!aRGHHHHHHH FUCKKKKKKKK!!! aGHHHHHH…!! “

 

The screams were followed by rapid stomping of feet before it became a sob. A wet, snot snorting sob by a crying adult.

 

Rachel : The Malus are just a tool…… whatever Teng is planning…. Is far bigger than attacking us Rajahs…

 

Jackson : And what is that…

 

Rachel : can’t you tell we’re in the midst of finding out… ? haha

 

Rachel went on to update me what else they have pieced together.

 

Having considerably weakening the Rajahs, most of the foreigners are either dead or missing.

 

They no longer have the manpower or the element of surprise to pull something like this again.

Definitely not against La Bella Vita.

 

Rachel : from what we can piece together so far, the mastermind is bringing more people into the country…. But not these crazy druggies….. these men are easily disposable….meant to be used as a brute force….. the next group of men coming in…. they are going to do some damage…

 

Jackson : What kind of damage…

 

Rachel : I don’t know… but I know they are a mix of men from Malaysia and Thailand…. They received basic training in arms and explosives…

 

Jackson : Fucking terrorists…. Why are they doing this ??

 

Rachel : Power… to strike fear…. To destabilise a country….to crash the market…. So many reasons….

 

Another loud scream filled the area and I could hear stomping sound and what sounded like someone hacking and splitting a chicken at a chicken rice stall only in this instance, the hacking was complimented with a corresponding level of shouting and crying.

 

Rachel : The Malus were to take care of what’s left of the foreigners until December…..that’s what they were told…..

 

Jackson : And after that… ?

 

Rachel : no one knows….

 

Jackson : I’m interested in the most important question…. Where are the rest of the Malus…. ?

 

Gesturing back to the room with her head, Rachel says he hasn’t given them up yet but he should be talking soon.

 

Rachel : Henry….. is very good at persuading people to open up about themselves….

 

 

The door to the room opened and the 2 Rajahs stepped aside as Henry stepped out.

 

What hit me first was the smell. The pungent smell of blood and shit and whatever fuck that is in that room.

 

I could see within the room itself, there is a layer of thick plastic sheets laid over the wooden construct of the room.

 

Like a sterile interrogation room all sealed off from the outside.

Dressed like a industrial butcher, Henry was wearing a long plastic apron and a eye mask complete with a face shield. He was covered in blood splatter and what looked like bits of flesh and hair.

 

It was a disturbing sight. God knows what he did to the man inside there, but you can’t blame him.

 

Not after what happened.

 

Henry was holding something in his hand.

 

It’s a foot.

 

A fucking foot.

 

Walking casually over to a breeding pool, he tied a rope around the severed foot and threw it into the water.

 

The splashes and commotions made by the fishes feeding on the foot send water spilling and splattering onto the surrounding decks.

It’s as if they were starving for a long time.

 

Henry pulled up another rope which I assumed has been in there for a while, revealing the skeletons of a severed arm. Only 2 digits of the fingers were left while loose pieces of flesh, skin and tissues hung from the bones.

 

Jackson : Is this….. necessary….

 

Henry untied the remains from the rope and walked quietly back into the room. I heard the rustling of the plastic sheets and the door closed.

 

Rachel : When Henry went over …. To the school that day….they arrived in time…. barely a few minutes later…. A truck with half a dozen men arrived….

 

Rachel drained her wine and pushed the glass aside.

 

She lit up a cigarette and I watched her inhale the smoke deeply before letting it come back out from her nose.

 

Rachel : Now… those men, they were easily taken care off….. bunch of pussies…. Everyone inside the school…. Is safe…now…

 

Rachel sat up and I could see a glint of darkness in her eyes as she continued.

 

Rachel : The driver of the truck…. He saw… one of my man….he didn’t know what was happening…. I’m talking about a father…. Finishing work a little late…. Coming over to the school… and picking up his kids…..

 

Jackson : oh my god… don’t tell me….

 

Rachel : The truck driver was on his way back after dropping off the men at the school and he saw this… father….

 

I stopped breathing when Rachel told me the driver knocked this man down with the truck.

 

Rachel : Now… when he knocked my man down….

 

She struggled a little with her emotions before revealing that her man was carrying his 5 month old daughter in a body harness, and holding his 4 year old son’s hand.

 

Rachel : And he rammed… them all down…

 

Jackson : What the fuck….

 

Rachel : The father and the daughter died on the spot….but the son survived….at first…

 

I could feel my fist clenching up as Rachel revealed that it was captured on camera that this driver, then backed his truck up and ran over the boy.

 

Rachel : and that driver is a Malu…. The same one sitting in the room right now….. so don’t tell me what is necessary or not…

 

Jackson : That man inside there is a treasure trove of information ….

 

Rachel : and I can assure you… that we are emptying that treasure chest…. At a speed no others can….

 

Jackson : at this rate….i don’t think you can get much out of him….

 

Rachel : We will empty him….we always do…

 

The dogs that were lazing nearby suddenly got up on their feet. They pointed their snouts in the air and their ears perked up.

 

I immediately scanned the surroundings, wary of any impending threats.

 

The dogs started running towards the spot where I alighted and I could see another speedboat approaching.

 

Jackson : Are you expecting someone else… ?

 

Rachel : Nate is coming….we have men scouring the area we caught the Malu…hopefully we can find something….

 

Another loud scream came from the room before it stopped abruptly.

He must have passed out.

 

Rachel got up and I saw Nate alight. He was slashed across the chest that day but other than that he looked ok, until I saw his left hand.

The way the bandage went around the hand, it was obvious he was missing 2 fingers.

 

Rachel : Anything… ?

 

Nate : yes…an industrial complex….3 storey building in Kallang Pudding industrial area…..

 

Rachel : Is Russell there…. ?

 

Nate : We can’t tell…. but a catering van delivers food to that building 3 times day…. we had a chat with the driver….he would unload all the food at the loading and unloading bay….and leave… never saw anyone there waiting for it…

 

Rachel : how much food… ?

 

Nate : Food and drinks for 55….

 

Rachel turned to me.

 

Rachel : Our lucky day…

 

Right about then Henry stepped out from the interrogation room again.

He started removing his masks and gloves, throwing them into a disused oil barrel.

 

Henry : we got it…. A warehouse…. In Tuas….  Russell is there….

 

The moment I digested that piece of news, I could feel my fingers twitching.

I’m going to squeeze the life out of that man.

 

Rachel turned to Henry and asked him how many man do they have left.

 

Henry : Right now….. we can gather about 10 at the most….

 

Rachel : 10 is not enough….

 

Turning to me Rachel added.

 

Rachel : Call your boss….. you guys are up….

 

 

………………………………………….

 

 

I got back to dry land and spent 20 minutes arguing with Yiling over the phone.

 

Why ?

 

I was expecting to gather everyone and fucking charge into the buildings and drag every mother fucker out but Yiling has a different opinion.

She wanted to observe the Malus for a while before planning a hit.

 

I know she’s right, that’s the logical and smart thing to do but I still lost my temper. I only realised I was shouting into the phone like a spoilt brat in the carpark when I attracted stares from the passerbys.

 

Yiling : Calm down Jackson…. Come back first….we will get them….

 

I sped back to the castle and everyone was gathered in the study.

 

Yiling told me that she has spoken with Rachel.

 

Yiling : we can’t just charge in right now…. not in the middle of a work day….. not in the middle of the week… we need to find out more….

 

Declan had printed 2 A1 size of the map around the vicinity for the 2 sites.

The buildings which the Malus and the foreigners are hiding in is highlighted in red.

 

Yiling : The Rajahs will be taking the Kallang site…. But they don’t have the numbers….

 

Looking up at me, Yiling wanted me, Seven and Kamal to join the Rajahs.

 

Yiling : together with 40 of our own guys, I think we can take them by surprise….

 

Not breaking even to catch her breath, Yiling assigned Hong, Aaron and Declan with 50 others to the site in Tuas.

 

Looking back up at the group gathered in the room, Yiling wants us to spend 2 weeks gathering detailed information about what goes on.

 

Yiling : I want to know the people going in and out, what they eat. How often they shit, right to their bedtime and how many times they take out the trash…. Everything…..

 

Folding her arms, Yiling shared with us some of her concerns.

 

Yiling : I hope I’m over thinking about this… but when we hit both sites at the same time…. the castle will have minimum men….. if they used this as a diversion to take the castle…. We will lose it….

 

Yiling will stay at the castle with Cindy, Candy and Xiaoyu with about 20 men spread throughout the estate.

 

Yiling : us girls will remain within the castle ground…. In the lobby where the vault is

 

I raised a hand, asking the obvious question.

 

Jackson : What vault… ?

 

Yiling  : In the basement…. Right beside the antique room you almost trashed…. There is a vault….

 

Jackson : what’s in it….. money ?

 

Yiling : yes.

 

Jackson : you are worried about your money… ? at a time like this… ?

 

Declan : Jackson …

 

Declan’s gentle tone is a warning, asking me not to overstep the boundary.

 

Yiling was quick to fire back.

 

Yiling : Yes… I am worried about my money…. Money….. can do many things….Money can buy men…. Money can buy weapons…. Money can buy politicians…. Money can bring down entire empires and countries…

 

Obviously irritated, Yiling spoke while looking away but I knew that rebuttal is directed at me.

 

Yiling : That vault….must not fall….

 

Hong gave me a jab in my back while giving me the wide eye and shut the fuck up look.

I backed off and stopped myself from saying anything further.

 

Yiling : Questions… ?

 

Yiling looked at everyone around the room and everyone shook their head.

 

Everyone parted ways and Hong walked over to me as I headed back to the farmhouse.

 

Hong : eh brother…. Chill leh…. I’m suppose to be the hot headed one…. Not you….

 

Jackson : I’m sorry… it’s just….there’s a lot going on in my head lately….

 

Hong : Slow things down a notch…. Want to….happy happy or not… ? once you…. Release…. I guarantee you can think straight…

 

Jackson : arhghhh…. Go away go away…

 

Hong : Serious… I won’t ask Xiaoyu so…

 

Jackson : Haiyah…. Go away la !!

 

Hong chuckled and took a different path as I walked towards the farmhouse.

 

I reached under my bed and pulled out one of the axe I have been playing with.

 

I wrapped it up before putting it inside a sling bag together with a bottle of water. Kamal and Seven is coming over in a bit and we are to work out with the Rajahs how to split the workload for the next 2 weeks.

 

We met up at the cookhouse and I volunteered to take the first shift that very night.

 

Kamal : Jackson …. You need to calm down….

 

Jackson : I know… don’t worry… I won’t do something stupid….

 

Kamal : we have a shot at this…. Boss knows what she’s doing….

 

Jackson : ok… I’m…. I’m sorry… about my behaviour lately….

 

Kamal : It’s ok… just breathe man….just breathe……

 

 

28th October 2016

Friday

11pm

 

The Rajahs have found a good spot right opposite the industrial site in question in Kallang. A multi storey industrial building. The unit the Rajahs managed to procure belonged to a signage maker.

I’m not sure how the manage to get the owner to stop work for a few weeks but I bet a lot of money is involved.

 

Aside from the unfinished signages and sheets of acrylics leaning on the side of the wall, the Rajahs have stocked the place with supplies of water and crackers.

 

Something to keep the men watching the building occupied.

 

I was in the room with 2 Rajahs who already made themselves comfortable on the tables. They had rearranged the tables together into makeshifts bed.

I leaned against the tinted window and looked at the building across the street.

I could see men walking around the corridors, hanging up their laundry on makeshift laundry lines.

 

On the rooftops, about 5 of them gathered to smoke while another group was drinking standing up.

 

The quiet night was punctuated by a loud laugh and scream as I saw a CF running down the corridor with his towel wrapped around his head. His friends laughed and soon more joined in the madness.

 

2 of them were running around naked while laughing.

 

The gates to the building is kept locked and the security booth is manned by the Malus. They only opened it to allow the van delivering food into the compound.

 

I checked the camera we set up on a tripod pointing towards the building to make sure it’s recording before walking over to the pantry.

As I pour hot water into my 3 in 1 coffee mix, there was a knock on the door.

 

The 2 Rajahs that were playing games on their mobile phone stopped and it’s as if they already have protocols in placed. No more karambit knives this time. From under the table, they each pulled out a 10 inch machete.

 

I removed the axe I brought along as one of them went over to the door.

 

I walked briskly over to it and whoever is outside knocked on the door again.

 

The Rajahs took their positions on each side of the opening and I gave them the signal to open it.

 

The door swung back and I was ready to throw my axe forward when I saw it was Yiling at the door.

 

Jackson : what the fuck are you doing here…. ?

 

Yiling : I came to take a look….

 

Jackson : come in !… were you followed !! ?

 

Yiling : no… this place is practically dead….

 

Jackson : You came alone…. ?

 

Yiling : Xiaoyu and Candy are waiting for me in the car….

 

The Rajahs shut the door and went back to their game while Yiling walked over to the window.

 

Dressed in a long sleeve white blouse and black work pants, she reminded me of the time I first laid my eyes on her.

The lights in the unit we were in is off but the spill of ambient light from the outside is bright enough for us to see what we were doing.

The same light illuminated the side of Yiling’s face as she stared at the building across the road.

She looked tired and seemed like she has a lot on her mind.

 

I offered the coffee I made to her and she accepted it.

 

Jackson : what are you thinking about.. ?

 

Yiling : a lot of things….

 

Jackson : can you share… ?

 

Yiling : I can’t….

 

She sipped the coffee and I told her there is no need to shoulder everything alone. The weight would crush her.

 

Jackson : Why are you trying to take on everything…. The secrets… the cloak and daggers…. The responsibility….who exactly demands so much from you ??

 

Yiling didn’t answer my question.

 

Jackson : are you doing this for money Yiling… ? for power… ? wealth ? …. To buy nice cars…. Fancy houses… why….? why are you doing this… ?

 

Yiling : you won’t understand…

 

Jackson : stop saying I won’t understand and help me understand !!

 

I asked her how much money is enough.

 

Jackson : You already have so much…. You have more than you can possibly spend…..and… and you can fucking…..

 

I lowered my voice a notch, afraid that the Rajahs at the back can hear our conversation.

 

Jackson : You can fucking predict lottery numbers….

 

Yiling gave a bitter smirk, as if I just told a bad joke.

 

We were both quiet for a while before I commented that I knew she is working for someone else.

 

Jackson : Who is your boss Yiling…. ?

 

Yiling : I am the boss…. Did you forget…. ?… I am…. The queen…

 

Jackson : No….. you may be the queen….but….i know… I can tell… there is still someone you report to…. You work for someone….

 

Yiling : hahah… you are overthinking things….

 

I made myself a cup of coffee as well before joining Yiling at the window.

 

Jackson : Don’t do this alone Yiling…. let me help…

 

Yiling : I wish I could…

 

Jackson : to what end…. ?…are you going to do this for the rest of your life… ? .. when does this stop… ?

 

Yiling : there is no end to this…. This won’t ever stop…

 

Jackson : what if…. You just let everything go…. ?

 

Yiling turned and looked at me, asking me what I meant.

 

Jackson : I meant just let go… just stop… after we deal with the Malus and Russell…. and ….and…. we go… just leave this place…. Go somewhere….

 

Yiling smiled wistfully and I could see in her eyes she allowed herself the luxury of basking in that thought for a few seconds before reality pulled her back down.

 

Yiling : Jackson …. We’re gangsters. ….. we don’t stop…. We cannot stop…. And we will never stop….

 

She returned the coffee mug to me and said she has already made arrangements for a technician to set up cameras on the front door for easier monitoring of visitors.

 

Yiling : They will be here in the morning to get it done…. I bought the security company that was awarded the job for this building…we will be getting a feed from their cameras as well…. Gate, carparks…. Everywhere…. I don’t want any surprises…..

 

Jackson : Yiling… I …

 

Yiling : Jackson …. Stop…. I know what you are getting at….but this is a lonely path to take…. Someone has to do it…

 

She turned to make sure the 2 Rajahs were not looking before touching my face and giving me a peck on my cheek before leaving.

 

Yiling : stay safe…

 

…………………………………………………..

 

 

11th November 2016

Friday.

 

After 2 weeks of keeping an eye on the Malus and their foreigners they are baby sitting, we managed to put together a grime picture of what they are up do.

 

Every couple of days, a truck ferrying more of them will arrive. Not a lot, but 2-3 more.

This only happens for the site in Kallang. The foreigners never left the building whereas for the Malus, the snuck out occasionally but never alone.

Not since one of their friends went missing.

 

They snuck out in groups of 2 or 3, which makes a smash and grab a lot harder now that they are on the alert.

 

The number of people in Tuas remained the same but they have more vehicles.

Almost 20 cars parked within the compound of the site.

 

There is a stark contrast between the discipline level from the men at Kallang and those in Tuas where Russell is hiding. The men I was observing are more relaxed.

 

And Declan painted a different picture when he shared with the group of us what they saw. Regular change of perimeter guards, checking the food delivery van several times even though it’s the same guy doing the delivery, they even do a headcount twice a day to make sure everyone is accounted for.

 

A plan was floated to hit both sites at the same time one week in, and we just kept refining it over and over again.

The plan of attack has finally been finalised and everyone is gathered at the castle ground, including the Rachel and the 10 Rajahs that will be joining us on the raid.

 

Both locations are in a industrial area. The traffic and activities would gradually die off come Saturday afternoon.

By 2-3pm, it’s practically deserted.

That would be the best time to strike.

 

The roads leading to the 2 sites will be blocked and starting from 4am on Saturday morning. All our men will slowly move into the holding area so as not to draw too much of a attention.

 

Yiling : Questions… ?

 

Yiling looked around the large white marquee tent that has been set up on the open field leading to the farmhouse and the garden.

 

Anyone seeing it from above would think we’re throwing one hell of a party but we are not.

 

The white marquee tent stretch almost a football field in length and it’s fully air conditioned.

It’s the only way to brief everyone at the same time, including almost a 100 La Bella Vita’s men.

 

Plenty of reclining chairs pack the back of the tent for those who want to catch a quick wink, but I suspect many will not sleep tonight.

Pulling off a hit of this scale, you would be dumb to think everyone can make it back alive.

 

There is a tense atmosphere in the air. You can feel it.

It’s like the eve of going to war, everyone seemed afraid.

 

Yiling : If there are no questions…. Help yourself to the food and drinks…. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow….

 

4 buffet lines lined the sides of the tent while beer and wine are flowing freely, but no hard liquor.

 

A band and a DJ have been hired to provide a bit of entertainment for everyone.

 

I helped myself to a beer and walked over to the Rajahs who were keeping to themselves in their group by the side of the stage.

 

Rachel : enjoying your last supper… ?

 

Jackson : hahah…. I like your sense of humour….

 

Rachel : this sucks… is this the best La Bella Vita can do…? You should have seen our family day….

 

The mere mention of her family day struck a raw nerve and she stopped talking about it abruptly. It had to be cancelled for obvious reasons.

 

Jackson : I look forward to attending the one next year Rachel….. if I’m invited…

 

She smiled at my forward looking comment and raised her glass at me.

 

Right about then, I heard the tapping of the microphone and I saw Kamal on stage.

 

Kamal : test… mic test….

 

Kamal said something to the tune of wanting to lighten up the atmosphere and he would like to invite everyone to take a trip back in time.

 

Everyone looked at him, unsure of what he is up to as he whispered something to the DJ who nodded and gave him the thumbs up.

I recognised the familiar tune immediately as Summer rain. The mambo jumbo remix of the familiar song seemed to have a hypnotic effect on quite a few of the men as they cheered and raised their glasses at Kamal.

 

Rachel : Oh my god…  what is that…

 

Henry : hahaha.. you are too young to understand….

 

Rachel : what the fuck…. I went mambo jambo before ok ! I snuck in when I was 17…

 

There was another loud commotion and you could feel the atmosphere heat up a notch when Kamal gamely danced on stage joined by Seven.

Spreading their arms and doing the Mambo Jambo moves that corresponded to the tune, they ignited a wave of cries as more of the men came forward, cheering and doing the same dance moves.

The eye candies joined in shortly after, Candy, Xiaoyu and even Yiling were all sporting enough to dance with the men.

 

I could not help but laughed when the men pushed the girls onto the stage as the final part of the chorus started. Yiling confidently took the centre stage like that Ah lian up on the platform in the middle of Zouk and gamely led the entire dance floor through a old school rendition of the good old days.

 

I saw Hong running up from the side of the stage, the look of excitement is written all over his face. I still remembered the first time I saw him, he was wearing this shirt ’ I tea danced at sparks ‘ .

 

He shouted something to the DJ above the din of the music and I saw a subsequent nod from him.

 

As Summer rain ended and trailed off, the DJ addressed the everyone.

 

DJ : We have a friend here… who would like to take everyone….. further back in time…. !!!

 

The rhythmic chimes of bells sounded before an even more familiar tune stirred up more memories. This time round, even the Rajahs got excited as the old techno tune, Drive me crazy, started pumping out from the speakers.

 

I closed my eyes for a brief moment and was reminded of the first time I went into discotheques from a bygone era. Sparks, Fire, Canto, the awfully sweet mixers, the Tom and Jerry cartoon playing on the screen, the smell of cigarette smoke.

 

Everything came flooding in at once.

 

Yiling came down the stage and pulled Rachel up to join the madness and everyone gathered nearer the stage, dancing and cheering to the hypnotic tune and the heavy bass.

Like the peak of an explosive orgasm, I knew it was coming before the DJ did it.

 

They always do it.

 

I remember the first time I experienced it, it rendered me speechless, for I never would have believe something like this happened if I didn’t see it with my own eyes and hear it with my own ears.

As the singing part for the techno hit drew to a close, the DJ literally shouted into the microphone.

 

DJ : AND WHAT DO YOU SAYYYY ?>!!!

 

The dance floor erupted and I was surprised Yiling knew it too, so did the rest of the girls.

 

“ Oaei……Oaei….  Oaei Oaei Oaei !!! “

 

“Aiya….Aiya….. Aiya Aiya Aiya… “

 

“ Hiyah… hiyah…. Hiyah… hiyah… hiyah!! “

 

Henry ran onto the stage, rallied the Rajahs while Yiling displayed one of the most gangster behaviour I have ever seen her do. Something that in that split second, that is befitting her as a drug lord.

Standing defiantly in front of all the men, she led the final cheer,

 

“ Huat ah… Huat ah….. Kao Pei La !!!

 

I drained my beer as I looked at everyone cheering and partying before the big day tomorrow and I realised that earlier, I was wrong.

 

Come what may tomorrow, we are….. not afraid…

 

 

……………………………………………………………….

 

( * The gangster cheer mid chorus of ‘Drive me Crazy’ is something unique to local discotheques. Overseas readers who has not experienced the 90s party scene in SG might not get this reference * )

 


 

I went to get myself a refill of my beer and I watched more and more of the guys join in the party. It’s one of the few rare moments when I see everyone letting their hair down.

Needless to say, the girls are the centre of attention with all the men jostling to dance with them.

No they are not dress in tight short skirts with plunging cleavage showing off plenty of skin. Everyone is dressed in black for obvious reason.

 

Their skin may be covered up but their well maintained figure can be seen by all because of how tightly those long sleeve tops clung onto their body.

 

Candy hugged Yiling from behind and the men cheered as her hands went from the front of Yiling’s thighs upwards to her waist.

The cheering and whistling intensified as Candy’s hands slid slowly upwards and there was no indication of Yiling’s intent to stop her.

 

The heavy bass of the speakers thumped and Yiling leaned backwards to rest her head against Candy’s shoulder as her hands reached back to feel her up in the same manner she is doing to her.

 

Aaron appeared by the dance floor and you could see it in his eyes he was eager for his share of the action. He danced and gyrate awkwardly by Yiling, reminding me of the first few times I was in a club with my friends.

Trying to inch our way closer to the group of girl but after getting close enough, we were all too shy to make our moves.

 

The party stretched into a couple of hours into the night and although spirits are high, no one got piss drunk.

Drinks flowed freely but we are all adults here.

 

At the back of our head we know something big is going to happen in a few hours and being sober enough might be the thin boundary separating us between life and death.

 

Candy waved for me to join them on the stage but I declined.

Dancing is not my cup of tea and I can’t do it for shit.

 

I usually enjoy the visual treat and enjoy my drink at a good spot.

 

The girls stopped dancing and fooling around after a while and the men started to disperse as well.

Only a few remained on the dance floor mostly just tapping their feet to the music and talking to each other with Hong being the exception.

 

He looked like he is going into a trance, shaking his hands with beams of light from his ring like he was imparting some shaolin Kungfu to the audience.

Hong : Ai yo…. Ai yo mai. Yo !!! du ….. dut du…. Du…. ~~ !!

 

Everyone gave him a wide berth as he went on a 90s HIIT workout, splashing his sweat on everyone within a 2metre radius.

 

It was difficult not to laugh looking at him as he waved at Yiling to join him.

 

Rachel came over and asked me why am I not up there.

 

Rachel : You don’t dance… ?

 

Jackson : nahh… not my forte….

Rachel : Then what Is your forte…..?

 

Jackson : Doing nothing…. Hahah

 

She rolled her eyes at me and whistled towards Yiling who was talking to Kamal.

 

Gesturing at me, she shouted that I have yet to do anything yet.

 

Rachel : You look natural and good on stage…. Get up there… !

 

Jackson : No…. no…

 

Yiling came over and linked arms with me.

 

Yiling : Get up there Jackson…. Dance with Hong !!!

 

Jackson : what… ?!!!

 

By then, Hong as a 4m berth around him and no one dares to get close.

 

His shaolin fist dancing while shooting beams of LED light has evolved what looked like Ip Man fighting droids while wearing a iron man armour.

 

Hong : PwwwHHAAAHHHH… Du… dut… dut…..du…. Ong lai Kueh… ah Ong Lai keuh !!! Jackson !!! COME !!! join me…!!!

 

I shook my head and waved my hand as Hong spun and lose his balance for a second before staggering a little too close to the edge of the stage.

 

He came towards me and I put up my hands to stop him but it was not enough to stop his enthusiasm. The music changed and he sang while plastering his sweaty body against me.

 

Jackson : arnghhhhhhhhh!!!! Nooooo!!

 

I could see Yiling and the girls laughing an clapping their hands at the bottom of the stage as Hong tried to get me to dance with him to the new tune.

 

Hong : Together…. Forever…… and never to part…. ~~!!! Together forever we twooooooo ~~!!!

 

Jackson : ok… ok…. Hong… calm down… Hong !! anghhhhh!!

 

I just got side swiped by his sweaty arm pits before he started his mambo moves again while shouting the song lyrics.

 

Hong : To be together …… forever with youuuuuuuuu!!!! Wooooo…!!

 

I was shell shocked as I wiped my face and the laughter at the bottom of the stage grew while Hong took it as support for his dance and he waved to all his fans, reaching his palm out for high fives along the edge of the stage.

 

Yiling cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted.

 

Yiling : Jackson !!!… do something or you are not getting paid this month !!! haahha

 

Candy : Jackson …!!! Dance !!!

 

I shook my head, standing like a block of wood on stage.

 

I really can’t. I mean I can grab the microphone and what, conduct another auction ?

 

Try to sell Hong’s sweaty top to the highest bidder ?

 

Yiling put her hand around Candy’s shoulder and shouted that Candy will give me a kiss if I dance.

 

I raised an eyebrow when Xiaoyu shouted that Candy will give me a blowjob instead and Yiling smacked her on her head.

 

It was obvious to me that I won’t be able to get out of this fix if I don’t at least do something.

 

I walked over to the DJ and said something to him. He reared his body back and raised and eyebrow before giving me the thumbs up. He adjusted something on his controller before stepping over some wires to the band standing by the side.

 

After the spoke with them he nodded at me and I thanked him.

 

I’m sure when you started reading this at the beginning, a question crossed your head. With such a tacky name like mine, why was there no mention of people making fun of me.

 

Surely there would be classmates and friends making fun of my name.

With such a close reference to the king of pop, it’s inevitable that my friends make fun of me.

 

Rather than let it affect me, I took it in stride and tried to make the most of it. I can’t dance for shit but some of the slower songs are easy to pick up and they proofed to be quite a chick magnet as well.

 

The music started to fade much to Hong’s disappointment and the DJ made an announcement.

 

DJ : Alright… ladies and gentlemen… we’re going to be treated so something very special tonight…. By…. Mr Jackson….. and he mentioned to me that he too….. would like to take everyone back in time…..

 

The DJ pointed a finger at me, indicating that the ball is now in my court and I could see the band getting ready.

 

The girls were right at the front of the stage and the men filled in the empty spaces at the back. I could hear someone comment that I’m probably going to sell them something with my bullshit sales speech but I’m not.

 

Jackson : hi everyone…. I would also… like to invite you all to take a trip….back in time….to the good old days of the nineties….

 

Looking back at the band who nodded at me, I tapped my feet in tandem with the beat of the song that is about to start.

 

There was a puzzled look on the audience face but the moment I dove into a rendition of Michael Jackson’s ‘ you are not alone’, the girls screamed and went mad.

Yiling stomped her feet while Candy clung onto Xiaoyu while reaching her hand up to the stage, screaming my name, behaving like a mad fangirl.

It was an obvious over reaction but it suited the mood.

 

Rachel was sporting enough to join in the screaming and waving as well.

The men took a few seconds to react and they cheered as they swayed their bodies to the tune of the classic song that many of us grew up with.

Hong took out his zippo lighter and lit it, so did the Rajahs and the rest of the men.

With all of them waving their lit lighter above their head, it felt as if I was throwing a mini concert.

 

Jackson : Just the other night ~~~….. I thought I heard you cry~~~…

 

I walked the length of the stage and Yiling and Rachel literally went mad, trying to grab hold of my trousers as they shouted and cheered. Spirits hit another high as I got flashbacks of my younger self singing this same song to the girls I’m going after.

 

Jackson : You…. Are not alone….~~~

 

Yiling pushed her way out of the crowd and went to the buffet table. She yanked some decorative flowers off the display and shouted for everyone to move aside.

 

Her men laughed as their bodies parted a part for her up the stage.

 

I continued my song as Yiling came up the stage with loud cheers of support from the men. She laughed as she presented the flowers to me.

I sang and while looking at her in her eyes.

 

Jackson : You are not alone….~~ I am here with you ~~~

 

She kissed me on my cheek and all the men started asking for one by pointing to their cheeks.

 

Hong : oeiii!!!… I want ley… I want !!! hahah…

 

Hong tried to coerce Xiaoyu for a kiss and she really planted one on his sweaty cheek much to his delight.

 

Yiling hugged me while laughing like a delirious drunkard before walking off the stage where she immediately gets cornered by Kamal, Seven and Aaron, all demanding their kiss.

 

She gamely planted one on each of their cheek before resuming her over the top fan girl act while laughing to the verge of tears.

 

Hong : whooooooooooooo… the KING!!! The KING!!!!! Ahhahahahah!!!!

 

As the song came to an end, I pointed the microphone at the men and woman in front of me and the entire group including the band the the DJ sang the last few verses of the song unplugged

I closed my eyes and gestured for them to sing louder with my left hand while my right pointed the microphone into the centre of the party as if I’m really a rock star.

 

I ended my song with a bow and I was a little embarrassed by the applause.

I can’t imagine doing something like this without the 2 pints of beer I had earlier.

Declan pushed his way to the front of the crowd and I handed him the microphone.

 

He took and went over to the band and the keyboardist vacated his spot to help him with the microphone after laughing and nodding at something Declan said.

 

Seems like Declan wanted his share of fun as well.

 

Looking all chic and full of swag in his shirt and vest, Declan bit onto his cigar as his fingers danced on the keyboard, banging out ‘ Great balls of fire ‘ by Jerry Lee Lewis.

 

I walked passed Yiling who was dancing with Candy to the addictive tune Declan is hammering out on the keyboard while singing into the microphone.

 

She turned and looked at me before shouting above the din that I deserve a pay raise.

 

Yiling : increment !!.. increment for you Jackson… ahahh !!

 

I laughed as I walked to get myself another drink.

 

As the clock drew closer to 1am, the party mood slowly tapered off.

The music stopped and everyone settled into their own groups, snacking on left over food from the buffet line and refuelling with coffee and tea instead of alcohol.

 

Hong seemed to be the only one that is disappointed that the party is over.

 

3am

 

I finished up what’s left of a steam bun and drained a thick cup of coffee before getting into the line of cars that has formed up on the castle ground.

The 1st convoy of 4 cars is due to leave and I’m right up front with Henry and 3 Rajahs.

 

Looking at the back of the line, I was reminded of the times when I was in the army. So many activities going on at the same time in pitch darkness and yet everyone knew what they were doing.

 

I put my car into drive and the 1st packet of vehicles left the castle ground, some heading over to Tuas, some headed to Kallang.

We will all approach the site from different direction, having a few cars pulling into the area at the same time will attract too much attention.

 

We’ve even looked into the parking locations for the vehicles. Some are meant to be parked 1 street away before making their way on foot to the staging area.

 

3.30am

We arrived at the signage shop that was used to observe the men across the road for the past 2 weeks.

 

Henry has been trying to reached his men on the phone since we left the castle.

 

Henry : They better not be fucking sleeping…

 

Jackson : Relax… maybe they’re eating…. Or in the bathroom….

 

Henry : 2 men go bathroom together for fuck ?

 

I kept quiet after seeing how agitated he is.

 

Henry stopped trying after a while and when we pulled into the dedicated parking lot of the signage shop, I could see the door to the unit is partially opened.

 

It was a sickening feeling.

 

As if someone punched me in the gut after a heavy meal.

 

Henry : fuck !!… get out of the car … now…. !

 

Even before the engine was shut off, Henry and the Rajahs behind me, opened the door and got out, spreading to both sides of the door.

 

The noise of the my old car engine is practically an announcement to the whole world that someone is here.

 

If something did happen to the Rajahs on guard, the people responsible should come out soon.

 

If not, the Rajahs inside the shop should come out and receive us at the very least and face Henry’s wrath.

 

I looked around the deserted factory floor as I stepped out.

 

The other units on the same level is deserted and there are no signs of life aside from a few lit signages and a altar glowing red that is dedicated to the worship of a toast deity outside a car workshop.

 

I pulled my axe out from the side of my car seat and Henry was trying his luck on the phone again.

 

My headlights were off the moment I pulled into the industrial area, I gestured to Henry that I’m going to switch it on and flood the insides of the shop.

 

If hostiles rushed out, they would be blinded momentarily by it, and we can go in with our backs to the light.

 

I flicked the switched the as Henry swung the door opened.

 

He rushed in silently with the rest of the Rajahs and I quickly went into join them.

 

All of us stopped a few steps from the door at the sight of what greeted us.

 

The Rajahs on duty were dead. They were beaten up badly before their throats were slashed.

 

The other Rajahs checked the unit before telling Henry that it’s empty. Whoever did this is long gone.

 

Henry : aRHGHHH!!!

 

He kicked and toppled a table before his eyes drifted to the building across the road.

 

Henry ran out of the unit joined by his men.

 

Jackson : Henry !! !! WAIT !!.. wait for the rest !!!

 

I left my car running and took off after Henry and his men who were flying down the stairs.

 

Upon reaching the road level, another group of men from both Rajahs and La Bella Vita had just arrived on foot having parked one street away. Seeing Henry and me running towards the building in question, they too drew their weapons and joined us.

 

When I got to the security booth, my heart sank when I realised it was empty. Even the main sliding gate meant for cars is unlocked. There seemed to be no signs of activity and life in the building.

 

They’re gone.

 

Henry shouted to his men to split up and check every floor.

 

I followed the men up to the 2nd floor and we kicked opened every door.

 

There’s no one. All that remained were used beddings, bags of rubbish and some clothes that were left hanging on the makeshift clothesline.

 

The toilets were empty as well.

 

Someone shouted from the 4th floor and we hurried up.

 

Inside a storeroom tucked at the corner of the building were 8 bodies. The putrid smell hit me even before I got close.

 

Some of the men must have died and they dumped their bodies there.

 

Henry : arGHHH!!! FUCK!!! …. FUCK!! FUCK!!!

 

Both our phones started ringing.

 

Henry answered and I could hear him telling Rachel what happened.

 

Hong : Jackson …. The men are gone…

 

Jackson : Our side too… the Rajahs watching the factory are dead….

 

Hong : All 4 of our men are dead too over here in Tuas….

 

Jackson : you been inside the place.. ?

 

Hong : Yes, we’re here now… they cleared out…. Nothing’s left…. Except 1 dead Malu….

 

Jackson : fuck…. does Yiling know… ?

 

Hong : Declan is on the phone with her now….

 

I hung up and suddenly I could see Henry glaring at me. I could feel it even before he said what he wanted to say.

 

Henry : someone betrayed us…..

 

Jackson  :what are you trying to say… our men died too !..

 

Henry : Someone betrayed us…. And I can tell you it’s not us Rajahs….

 

Jackson : Are you saying we tip them off ? …are you mad… ? I want them as much as you do !!

 

Henry took a deep breath and gave the order to his men to grab the bodies of their friends from the signage shop.

 

Henry : What little men…. We have left… will never betray us… the leak… comes from your side….

 

Jackson : where are you going !! ?

 

Henry paused before turning to look at me.

 

Henry : This is not going to work…. From now on…. You are on your own…. We will no longer share any of our information with you…. Just stay out of our way… we’ll get the Malus on our own….

 

Jackson : Henry,…. !!… HENRY !!! ARGHHH!! ..

 

I kicked the door of the storeroom in frustration and regretted my actions as the grotesque smell of rotting bodies hit me again.

 

Jackson : fuck !!

 

I asked the rest of Yiling’s men to head back to the castle. Before I left the compound, my phone rang and it was Yiling.

 

Yiling : I heard what happened…. Leave that place immediately…. Come back to the castle…

 

Jackson : Ok… THe Rajahs…. They…

 

Yiling : It’s ok… I know…Rachel threw a fit and left with her men as well…

 

Jackson : Talk to them…. We can sort this out…

 

Yiling : You know how stubborn they are….there’s no way they will listen to anything we say now….

 

Jackson : Is it true…. The leak came from us…

 

Yiling : I don’t know….but I’m going to find out ….

 

I drove my vehicle back alone and I cursed and shouted several times inside.

So close.

 

We were so fucking close.

 

When day breaks and everyone gathered back at Yiling’s study, the mood is solemn and sober.

 

Someone betrayed us and tipped the Malus off.

 

The more I think about it, the more likely it seemed that the leak came from our side.

 

Yiling : I know everyone has questions….but I don’t have the answers….

 

No one said anything and we just listened.

 

Yiling : knowing that…. Whoever did this…could be…..among us… is really disheartening….

 

Yiling take turned looking at us in our eyes and said this is not about assigning blame.

 

Yiling : I give you my word I will do whatever it takes…. To find out what happened….and I will give everyone…including the Rajahs… an answer…

 

We all dispersed and I went back to the farmhouse.

 

Sitting on my bed, I tried to think who could it be that will betray us.

 

It doesn’t make sense.

 

No one liked the Malus.

The Rajahs wanted their revenge and I have seen first hand how far they are willing to go to get it, it doesn’t not make sense for them to fuck this up either.

 

I tried calling Rachel but she is not answering my call. In the end I dropped her a text to let her know we are trying to find out what happened, and in time to come, be in touch to sort this out.

 

Massaging my head, I exhaled and looked at the empty farmhouse.

 

Things have changed so much these few months.

 

Looking at the fridge and the table, it made me miss the old days where we would just gather for steamboat on Fridays.

 

I doubt anyone is in the mood to do shit like this for a while.

 

 

November came and passed and despite all our efforts hitting the ground, the Malus and the foreigners are gone.

 

It’s like they disappeared, or whoever is hiding them is going a damm good job of doing it.

 

My work days now revolves around the garden, and the shooting range.

 

Yiling has made arrangements for all of us to visit the range once a week at least to spend some time with Calvin.

 

I asked her why are we doing this.

 

Jackson : do you know something we don’t…. ?

 

Yiling looked towards the horizon and again, remained quiet when faced with my questioning.

 

Yiling : No harm picking up a new skill Jackson….. no harm picking up a new skill….

 

She mumbled a little absentmindedly to herself as she sipped her wine.

 

December 2017.

 

The Rajahs were getting attacked on multiple fronts. I don’t mean physical attack, I meant their businesses.

 

From environment agency picking on their food handling procedures, to tax officers raiding their office. It’s on the news and the name Rajah Holdings kept appearing.

It’s like someone was coordinating a smear campaign against them.

 

Still, they kept to their own.

 

I dropped Rachel a weekly message in an attempt to reconnect with them but it was always met with silence.

 

Then our men started disappearing.

 

First it was 1 or 2. Then 3 – 4.

 

They were gone. When people started not to show up for work, we went looking for them, but like the Malus, they disappeared.

 

27 men went missing from the castle in the month of December alone.

 

From people working in the security office, the perimeter guards, to the helpers in the cookhouse, they disappeared.

 

Initially we thought it was because they are afraid, they wanted out, or maybe they are tired of it all but no. They all disappeared without a word, leaving their belongings, their clothes, even their unclaimed pay behind.

 

Needless to say, this disappearance sparked of some panic in the castle ground.

 

Yiling tightened the security and urged all the men to stay within the castle boundary whenever possible.

 

 

January 2017

 

La Bella Vita welcomed the brand new year not with a grand celebration.

There were raids at 2 of our warehouses and had Yiling not shifted all the drugs away, the repercussions would have been severe.

 

Still, the warehouses contained a shit load of duty unpaid cigarettes and liquor and the men we have looking after it were all taken away.

 

Jackson : It’s Teng…. It’s him… he’s behind all this !!

 

Yiling touched the bamboo plants I introduced to the garden as I spoke with her.

 

Yiling : These are growing pretty well….

 

Jackson : Aren’t you concerned at all about all these ??!!

 

Yiling : I am. ! ….

 

Jackson : They are thinning the herd….. it’s a matter of time before Teng come for you in this very place …

 

Yiling : let him come….

 

Jackson  :What are we doing Yiling…. why are we doing nothing !!!

 

Yiling : sometimes doing nothing is the best thing we can do….

 

 

28th February 2017

Tuesday

 

12pm

 

It was the last day of February.

I would have written it off as another boring as fuck day at work if I didn’t see Kamal driving the buggy like a mad man cutting across the compound from cookhouse over to the castle.

 

Something is up.

I could feel it.

 

I immediately went over to the castle only to see Kamal speeding with Yiling out of the garage in her car.

 

They didn’t return for the rest of the day.

 

 

1st March 2017

Wednesday

10am

 

Yiling called me on my phone and she told me to help her run an errand.

 

Jackson : what is it…

 

Yiling : Can you stock up the pantry… ?

 

Jackson : what ?

 

Yiling : the pantry…. …food, water, and everything thing we might need for a couple of days….

 

It’s been a while since the pantry was brought into the picture.

 

Something is definitely up.

Looks like Yiling is not going to take another chance of having a leak again.

 

Jackson : For how many of us… ?

 

Yiling took a while to consider before saying that she will not be involving any of the girls and her men, it will have to be something that Hong, Kamal, Seven, Aaron, Declan and I to take care off.

 

Yiling : I will be joining you guys…. The girls will remain in the castle… tell no one you are stocking up….

 

Jackson : ok…

 

I took my car out and returned with enough food and snacks to last all of us in the pantry for a week.

Plenty of ready to eat food that just needed to be heated up in the microwave.

 

I stocked up all the shelves and brought a few set of my own spare clothes into the pantry.

 

I dropped Yiling a text later that evening to let her know it’s done.

 

11pm

 

I was working out in the farmhouse when Hong came over.

Jackson : What’s up… ?

 

Hong : Boss asked me here…

 

Jackson : Why ?

 

Hong : No idea… the others are coming too….

 

Hong’s right.

 

The others started arriving. Aaron, Seven, Kamal, Declan.

 

Only the men.

 

I served everyone drinks and no one is the wiser what is going on.

 

11.30pm

 

There was a knock on the door and I opened it to see Yiling standing outside.

She’s dressed casually in shorts and singlet and in her hand, she carried 3 glass jars filled with walnuts. It’s like she was ready for a drinking session.

 

Jackson : hey….

 

She nodded and I asked her to come in.

 

I shut the door and offered her a drink but she declined.

 

Yiling : everyone’s here…. I want to have a quick chat with all of you…

 

We made space for Yiling and she set the stuff she brought down on the table.

 

 

 

Yiling looked at everyone around the table and said that she has something she wants to ask all of us.

 

With the glass jar set in front of us, Hong instinctively reached for one, popped the cap off and reached in to grab a few only to get smacked on his hand.

 

Hong : Owww !!

 

Yiling : It’s not for you to eat Hong !

 

Hong : Ok sorry… sorry….

 

He put it back and sprinkled his fingers to dust the bits off back into the jar and Yiling grabbed it away from him.

 

Yiling : I….. i….

 

Yiling chose her words carefully. She told the room that she has a very difficult decision to make and she wants all our buy in on how to make it.

 

Yiling : So in front of you…. There are 3 jars… the contain different amount of … of….. food….

 

Looking at Hong, Yiling asked Hong if he needed to pick 2, which one will he pick.

 

Hong looked at Yiling before glancing at the rest of us.

 

Hong : Is this… a trick question… ?

 

Yiling : No…. they contain different amount… Jar A, the least…. And Jar C the most…

 

Hong : ok… ok… I know… I know….

 

Hong picked jar A and Jar C.

 

Yiling : why… ?

 

Hong : Because just now I put my hand inside C, I know some of you particular about food mah… people touch and put back…. Don’t want to eat… so I choose C, then since I already take the biggest bottle, I paiseh to take B, so I went for the least….

 

Yiling : No… no… no… I don’t mean it like this… you got me wrong….

 

Seven pointed to A and pushed both B and C back to Yiling, gesturing to the contents and shaking his head.

 

Yiling : No Seven… I’m not asking you to eat them… I know you don’t like walnuts… !… it’s…

 

Aaron : what is this about…. You are being very cryptic about this….

 

Declan : Are you ok Yiling… ?

 

Yiling : I…. I don’t know how to put what I want to say in words…. But if given a choice…. Out of these 3 jars… you can … you can only choose 2…. All things being equal…. Which one would you logically choose…. ?

 

Declan : ok… I’m on a diet…I take A and B….

 

Aaron : I’ll take B and C…..

 

Everyone started talking at the same time about their choices and I could see Yiling’s frustration grow.

 

Yiling : No… no.. I don’t mean this… !!!

 

I interrupted the group and set all 3 jars on it’s side and I rolled it over to Yiling.

 

Jackson : I think what Yiling is trying to say is…..

 

I gestured for her to roll the jars back towards me. She did and as the 3 jars wobbled and rolled towards the edge of the table, I caught onto 2 of them.

 

I caught onto B and C. The bottle that contained the most nuts.

 

A went over the side, crashed onto the floor spilling it’s contents all over.

 

Hong : Awwwww….. that’s a waste…

 

I looked at Yiling and I told her that all things being equal, logic dictates that we save the 2 bottles with the most food in it.

 

Jackson : Then there is more to go around isn’t it… ?

 

Aaron cut in at that point, saying that was exactly what he wanted to say before I said it.

 

Aaron : I mean, seriously…. If you are going to let the food drop to the floor and waste it like this…. Choose the one with the least in it and let it drop…. Minimal wastage…

 

Kamal told Yiling that if we were to approach it from that perspective Aaron and i just shared, it would make the most sense to take B and C.

 

Hong : Hmmm… I don’t know… this feels like a trick question… is this tied to our performance bonus…

 

Declan : Oh come on Hong…. !

 

Yiling didn’t say anything as she just looked at that jar of spilt nuts on the floor.

 

Hong : Actually hor…if you roll to me ah… I can catch all 3…. Left hand right hand, then I use my leg like that…. KIAP!… catch the 3rd one…

 

Kamal : Diam la… ( shut up ) which part of catch 2 only do you not understand… ?

 

Hong : Why catch 2 when I can catch 3 leh ??

 

Jackson : Yiling… what is going on…. ? can you tell us… ?

 

Yiling snapped out of her daze and looked at everyone around the room.

 

Yiling : Is everyone agreeable with what Jackson said…. Save the 2 bottles with the most food….

 

The rest nodded slowly.

 

Yiling : ok………… ok….

 

She got up , thanked everyone for our time and walked away without a word.

 

Hong : It’s her PMS day I tell you… confirm…. Stay the fuck away from her….hahah

 

The group dispersed and I spent some time tidying up the place before getting ready for bed.

 

Just as I was about to switch off the lights, there was a knock on the door and I was surprised to see Yiling again.

She didn’t give me a chance to speak, she just blurted out what she wanted to say.

 

Yiling : Jackson …. What if I say…. I know something bad is going to happen…..and….

 

Jackson : and what… ?

 

Yiling : no matter what I do….there’s no way of stopping it….

 

Jackson : what nonsense…. If you know something bad is going to happen… stop it… just stop it…

 

Yiling : What if I can’t… ?

 

I pressed her for more details and she seemed reluctant to share. I don’t blame her. Especially not after the previous leak.

 

Jackson : I know you can’t share the details…. But… can you give an example… of what you meant by something bad…. Is going to happen…

I could tell she wanted to say something but could not find the right words to express them.

 

Jackson : Look Yiling…. simple…. If 2 hands is not enough to catch 3 bottles, you find 4, if 4 is not enough, you find 6…. If 6 is not enough you find 8…..and so on…. What is going on… ?

 

Yiling : Jackson ….. we only have 2 hands….and we can only save 2 bottles…. !!

 

Jackson : Yiling… what’s wrong with you… ? then we save the 2 bottles with the most walnuts…. Simple math…

 

I never expected Yiling’s eyes to turn red and a stray tear rolled down the side of her eye.

 

Jackson : why are you crying… ? don’t scare me like this…

 

She turned and left the farmhouse without a word.

 

 

 

12th March 2017

Sunday

5pm

 

Yiling gathered everyone in the study with exception of the girls.

 

Hong, Kamal, Seven, Aaron, Declan and me. 6 of us.

 

Yiling : hand over all your phones…..

 

All of us did as we were told.

 

Yiling : As of this moment….no one leaves the pantry…. No one….

 

We nodded and Hong asked Yiling if everything is ok.

 

Yiling : i don’t know…. I hope so….

 

 

9pm

 

Yiling appeared in the pantry just as I stepped out from the shower.

Hong was waving a stack of monopoly bills in the air having bankrupted Seven with his Mayfair hotel.

 

The pantry went quiet the moment Yiling entered.

 

You could feel the change in the atmosphere.

 

Something is definitely wrong.

Yiling looked rattled and nervous.

 

She’s afraid.

In her hands, she carried 3 envelopes.

 

Her eyes scanned the room for Kamal who was stirring his tea by the counter and I could see her eyes lingering a little too long at the armoury key around Kamal’s neck.

 

Yiling : guys…

 

All of us stopped what we were doing and we gathered closer to Yiling.

 

Yiling : guys…..i  …

 

No one said a word as we waited for Yiling to compose herself. Her free fist is clenched tight.

 

Yiling : i… I don’t want to mince my words…. So I’m saying this upfront….and I’m giving you guys a choice to sit this one out if you want to….

 

Hong : Huh…. Why… what is it… ?

 

Kamal : Boss… what’s wrong… ?

 

Aaron : we won’t sit anything out …. Just tell us what is it… we’ll get it done…

 

 

Yiling exhaled and looked at the 3 envelope in her hand before setting one aside.

 

She opened the other 2, spreading it’s contents out on the large table we were gathered around.

 

Yiling : In a few hours time, there is going to be an attack…… not at us… not at the Rajahs….

 

Hong : Where is … where is this place….. it’s in the middle of a HDB estate….

 

Yiling : It’s a childcare centre…

 

Aaron : WHAT !!

 

Yiling swallowed a mouthful of saliva and as she relayed the contents of the envelope to us, it hit us hard.

 

It hit me hard.

 

It hit me so hard that I want to throw up.

 

Yiling : They are going to hit….. multiple locations at once…. And… and… we are spread really thin….

 

Jackson : Call the police… send in the fucking army !!! what the fuck are we waiting for…. People are going to die YIling !!

 

Yiling : I can’t !! We can’t !!

 

Her bloodshot eyes and her clenched fist told me she was doing all she could not to break down right there and then.

 

Yiling : Listen guys… we… we don’t know who we can trust….. Teng is in on this… and if he gets word that we know, he’s going to hit all the locations at once…. Bring forward the attack…

 

Jackson : What …..? he’s the fucking defence minister for god sake….

 

Yiling : He is in on this…. He is IN ON THIS !!

 

Yiling shouted out of the blue and you could see the frustration on her face.

 

Yiling : I don’t want to waste time… you guys will split into 2 groups… leave the castle at 5am and be at these location at 5.45am….. the attack will commence at 7am sharp….. and you will stop them…..

 

Yiling wanted us to get the men as fast as we can before they can warn their friends and spark off a chain reaction.

 

Yiling : we know for sure…. That they are taking the school and kids hostages, so stop them…. At all cost….

 

Kamal : We should stop everyone from going to school then !! these are fucking terrorists….

 

Yiling : we can’t…. we can’t….

 

Yiling explained that her sources revealed that explosives have been set at several locations, and any indication that the plan has been revealed might trigger an early attack….

 

Yiling : We have almost 20 locations… we don’t know for sure if they are going to hit every one but we will cover as much as we can….

 

Hong : CCB ! ( curse ) How can this happen ?? it’s not possible…

 

Kamal : Who… who’s taking care of the other locations…. ?

 

Yiling : You don’t need to worry about that… we just worry about this 2…. There will be people taking care of the other locations…

 

Aaron : This… this is madness…. No… no way…. I don’t believe this…. This is a joke right Yiling ?

 

Yiling was looking down at the pictures and print outs of maps on the table and I saw a tear drop wet the picture taken of a childcare centre’s exterior.

 

Kamal : This is… this is bullshit man…

 

Declan : Yiling… are you,…. Are you sure…. ?

 

Yiling : yes… yes I am very sure….

 

Resting her hands on her waist and speaking with her eyes red, Yiling told us that we’re going to be racing against time once it starts.

 

Yiling : remember…. We are on our own… this has to be fast…. Take them down fast…..

 

My throat felt dry and I find myself starting to get short of breath.

It’s like I can hardly breathe.

 

My heart felt as if someone had just stabbed a knife into it as I closed my eyes and I recalled the glass jars Yiling brought over to the farmhouse the other day.

 

Jackson : How… how many kids….are… are there….  ?

 

Yiling brought the 2 maps up on top of the piles of documents.

 

Yiling : about 70…..at Tampines…. And 60 in Pasir Ris….

 

I shook my head and looked at Yiling in her eyes.

 

Jackson : No… no… I don’t mean this 2….

 

I gestured to the 3rd envelope that was left unopened.

 

Yiling shook her head.

 

Yiling : Jackson …. Don’t…. it’s too far away…

 

Jackson : How many….?

 

Yiling : It’s too far away… we’ll never make it….

 

Jackson : HOW MANY !!…

 

Yiling looked away as the rest caught on to what is happening.

 

Yiling : 40…. In Hougang….

 

Kamal : Jesus….

 

Jackson  : we’ll split into 3 groups…

 

Yiling : NO.. !… you’re stretched thin as it is…. I don’t trust the rest of the men enough to involve them in this !!!… and if you fail at your site…. More will die…

 

Hong sang into the chair, unable to believe what Yiling just revealed to the lot of us. Seven rubbed his head in frustration before grunting and kicking a chair over.

 

Yiling : chaos is about to descend on this country….. there’s no way to stop it…. But we can try to minimise the damage.

 

I went over for the 3rd envelope and Yiling held onto my hand.

 

Yiling : Jackson…. It’s too far…. You cannot make it…

 

Jackson : You don’t know that…. !

 

I shook my hand free from her grasp and held up the 3rd envelope in front of the other guys.

 

Jackson : We’ll wrap up Tampines and Pasir Ris…. And we meet at Hougang immediately….. as soon as we can…. All agreeable… ?

 

Everyone nodded.

 

Yiling looked at Kamal who knew exactly what she wanted.

 

Kamal loosened a button off his top and removed the gold chain he was wearing, handing over the armoury key to Yiling.

Kamal : They’ll hang us if they catch us with those Boss….

 

Yiling : Then take only the smalls ones….

 

Hong laughed.

 

Hong : will we ever get to use the big ones….

 

Yiling : in our lifetime…… I hope not….

 

We walked quietly behind Yiling to the armoury and she unlocked it with a combination of biometric identification and the armoury key.

The heavy metal door slid open a little and Yiling turned to look at us.

 

Yiling : I know this is a lot to ask you guys for…..but a plague is about to be hit this place…. A madness orchestrated by a mad man…. And…. And it’s unfortunate….. that we don’t have enough …..good men to stop him….

 

I walked over to Yiling and I reached for the metal door.

 

Swinging the heavy door opened, I looked at the long shelves and racks filled with a boy’s wet dreams.

 

Jackson : we’re not good men Yiling……

 

I paused as Hong caught onto what I’m about to say and he chuckled.

 

Jackson : we’re fucking gangsters….

 

………………………………………

 

The armoury is bigger than it looks from the outside.

Most of us would have seen the insides of one when we are in the army.

 

Walls of bare concrete with racks and shelves of weapons clearly numbered and arranged.

 

Yiling’s armoury is stark contrast to the utilitarian nature of the armoury we Singaporean men who served before are used to.

 

Fully airconditioned and completed with a mini bar. The shelves and metals racks stocked not only guns, but knives, spears and even a medieval armour.

There is even a replica of the sword used by William Wallace in Braveheart.

 

Yiling said we’re only allowed to take the small ones for obvious reason.

 

A metal rack by the mini bar held a variety of handguns but the one it held the most was glock 19. Something we were all familiar with after spending so much time with Calvin at the range.

 

15 pieces of them rest at 45 degree angle in a neat row.

 

Yiling pulled 2 up at a time and handed them over.

 

Everyone took theirs and lined up at the 2 gun clearing chamber bolted to the ground. We cleared the weapon, squeezed off the trigger before grabbing a magazine each from another shelf.

 

The stacks of magazines were already filled with 9mm rounds.

 

I followed the rest of the guys, sliding the magazine into the pistol. A large box held a variety of holster and Kamal reached into it, picking and handing out ankle holster to each one of us.

 

Yiling : don’t fucking get caught with that…. Ever…. Get out fast if you need to use it….. it’s going to wake the whole fucking neighbourhood….

 

The armoury is about the size of 2 squash court. It’s big but the racks are not tightly packed.

 

The door is set in the middle and so far we’ve only stayed at the ‘small’ end of the armoury.

 

I looked at the other end of the armoury and it made me wonder how in the world did Yiling manage to get things like that.

I’m talking military grade stuff including anti-tank weapons.

 

There’s enough stuff in here to make sure none of us ever see the light of day again if we are caught.

 

There was no time to lose and the lot of us immediately went back to the panty to go through the plans.

 

Declan, Kamal & Seven will be heading to Pasir Ris while Hong, Aaron and I will head to Tampines.

 

We do not know where the men responsible for the attack are staying but logic dictates that they are already somewhere in the vicinity. Perhaps with a direct view of the childcare centre.

 

Any cars loitering around too early will draw suspicions.

With the strike happening at morning peak, he traffic alone would hamper all rescue efforts.

Everyone will be caught with the pants down.

 

Those good guys will be doing what they can with one hand tied behind their backs while Teng pulls the strings behind the scenes.

 

Yiling : I have gotten my hands on 2 taxis…. And you will park at the loading and unloading bay beside the childcare….

 

Only 2 of us are to be present by the taxi, the 3rd guy will have to drop one street away.

2 of us in each group will play the role of 2 cab drivers exchanging their shifts to start a day’s work. They can take their time cleaning the taxi, chat a little by the cab without drawing too much suspicions.

The attackers will likely also not flag 2 cab drivers as too much of a threat.

 

The 3rd guy will approach the neighbourhood on foot disguised as a jogger.

 

The childcare opens at 7am, staff starts coming in at 6.30am.

 

Yiling : At 7am, the attacks island wide will begin. ….. there is not stopping, there’s no turning back….

 

If the men’s aim is to plant an explosive device, they would surely strike early, leaving the device before moving to another area. If their aim is to take the teacher and student hostage, they will likely strike between 7-7.30am.

 

There is no way to know how long the men would take to have control of each centre.

We also do not know how many men will be there.

 

The only thing we know would be to stop them at all cost.

 

The small medical centre we have at the Castle will be activated and on standby. The private ambulance will be parked at the mid midpoint between the 2 childcare we are heading to in case anyone gets hurt.

 

It would have sense for the attackers to strike immediately when the childcare opens to overwhelm the staff but they would also likely end up with very little hostages.

 

If they waited too long, the amount of parents dropping their kids off might be hard to handle.

 

I’m not a parent.

 

I have no kids but is there is one thing I can be sure about, is that if you try to harm the kids in front of their parents. They would not hesitate to do everything in their power to protect them.

 

Even if it means sacrificing themselves.

 

Even if it means taking a life.

 

 

Yiling : Too many parents and kids, it will be too hard to handle. They will want to make sure they get a good number of staff and kids as hostages before shutting themselves in….so… it’s a fine balance …. And it’s entirely up to them…

 

Kamal : what do we do after we take care of all the attackers….. from all the centres…. If possible…

 

Yiling : Run… you run and you hide…over here…..

 

Yiling pointed to a map of Changi neighbourhood.

 

Yiling : …. I have a residential unit ready by the hawker centre….stay low for a while…. Everyone will be out for blood….we have multiple routes to leave the country from this spot….. ferry…. And if necessary, by air….

 

Yiling reminded us that we should assume all law enforcement to be against us as long as Teng is in charge.

 

Yiling : I don’t know how long his reach is, I don’t know who is with us and who is not…..but it would be prudent to assume that they are all against us… Teng only needs the ear of the top few commanders…..and once the orders get relayed….. the men and women are just doing their jobs….

 

As much as possible, Yiling wants us to avoid any direct confrontation with law enforcement.

 

Jackson : why can’t you share these information with the prime minister…. Surely with proof , he will see that he has the wrong person in his cabinet.

 

Yiling : someone is trying to handle that now…. but it might not happen in time….

 

Yiling kept quiet for a minute before adding under her breath.

 

Yiling : Besides…. Who would ever believe….. that this will happen in Singapore….

 

………………………………………

 

 

13th March 2017

Monday

1am

 

We hydrated ourselves thoroughly, almost everyone has a bottle of water in hand as we sipped it slowly while lost in our own thoughts. There’s no need for anyone to tell us it’s going to be a while before we get to eat or drink one this all starts.

 

Declan started making instant noodles for all of us.

 

Hong is microwaving some instant chicken wings and skewers while Aaron washed a jumbo bag of salad.

 

Walking over to Yiling who was sitting by herself on a armchair, I looked at the 2 old Nokia phones she was twirling in her hand.

 

Jackson : is there no one else to send…. To the childcare in Hougang… ?

 

Yiling : We’re stretched thin…. Really thin…. If I have a choice… I want all 6 of you at one location…

 

I lowered my voice a notch and asked her about the men at the roof top.

 

Jackson : What about them… those men that took care of the Malus…

 

Yiling : Everyone Jackson ….. everyone is stretched….

 

Yiling revealed that they are going to hit us so hard, that it would take years for the economy to recover and for the government to pick up all the pieces.

 

Declan called out to everyone that food is ready.

 

The 7 of us sat around the dining table filled with simple instant food.

 

Declan : alright…. Eat up everyone…

 

There was a solemn mood as we helped ourselves to the food on the table.

It felt a little like the last supper we are going to have and there is some truth in it.

 

There’s no telling who might not make it back if anything goes wrong.

 

 

3am

 

I took a final shower before looking at myself in the mirror.

I’ve lost weight, my cheeks are a little sunken  compared to the time when I first joined La Bella Vita.

 

My hair has been cut short, not because I’m chasing trend or style.

I just don’t want anyone to grab my hair during life and death moment.

 

4am

 

A fresh pot of coffee and tea sat on the dining table. Those that were drinking sipped on their drink silently.

 

Yiling tapped vigorously into her Nokia phone before pushing the cover shut.

 

She walked around the room, talking privately to each of us.

 

When she finally came over to me, Yiling told me to stay calm and rational, always.

 

Yiling : Jackson ….. I know in the heat of the moment… it’s difficult to make decision…. I hope you keep one thing in mind…..

 

Jackson : what is it… ?

 

Yiling : don’t die…

 

I smiled and asked her if she said that to everyone.

 

Yiling smiled and nodded her head.

 

She gave me a hug before whispering softly by my ears.

 

Yiling : Watch your back Jackson….. always watch your back….

 

……………………………………………..

 

5am

 

Yiling gave us new phones with preloaded sim cards. She is on speed dial and the numbers for the rest of us has been stored into the contact list.

 

Yiling : The moment….. I repeat… the moment you start making your way to Changi…. Those phones must go…. Get rid of it…

 

I put the phone in my pocket and wrapped my axe with newspaper and put it under the car seat.

 

We loaded up into 2 cars and took a 5 minute drive to another private house within the large estate.

 

Covered with canvas by the porch are 2 blue taxis.

 

5.15am

 

We pulled out of the porch and started making our way to our respective site.

The roads are pretty empty at that time and I saw Hong close his eyes and spread his arms out on the back seat.

 

He’s not sleeping that’s for sure.

 

He’s trying to calm himself down.

 

I turned to look at Aaron, I’ve never been out on a job with him before. I don’t know how he is going to be like.

 

He kept opening and closing his fist while staring straight.

 

Jackson : Aaron… you ok… ?

 

Aaron : Yes….

 

It was a short reply but immediately after that, Aaron took offence at me asking him that question.

 

Aaron : just worry about yourself…. I have been working for Boss far longer than you….

 

He just started rattling on non stop about his accomplishment as if he was desperate to proof his worth.

 

Aaron : I have seen everything…. Everything…. Anything you cannot possibly imagine….i have seen it…. I moved more than a ton of drugs through our causeway….. I’ve moved weapons by Arab warlords….i’ve seen bloodied fights… everything…. You worry about yourself…. Just worry about yourself !!

 

I looked at Aaron who was obviously agitated. He literally snapped at me.

 

Jackson : Aaron…. I’m just asking….

 

Aaron : No need to ask… no need to ask !…. I’m ok…. I’m fine… better than fine….i have seen everything…. You have no idea the kind of things Boss send me for….. Money… Drugs…..receiving guest that should not even be on our shores…… exiled politicians…. Every fuck thing I have seen and done…. You should see man…. Am I ok ? … am I ok ? … of course the fuck I am ok….. you worry about yourself….

 

I stopped talking and Hong sat up from the backseat.

 

Hong : Aaron…calm down…

 

Aaron  : Calm down ? …. I am calm…. You worry about yourself…. You hear me… you worry about yourself….

 

He raised his voice in the car significantly at Hong while gesturing for me to keep my eyes on the road.

 

Aaron : Drive properly… !!.. keep your eyes on the road… worry about yourself….

 

The road in front of me is practically empty with exception of another taxi cruising at 60kph on the left lane.

 

Aaron : Boss should have sent all those grunts by the entrance….don’t know why she keep so many of them for fuck… paying them money every month and making us do things like this….

 

Jackson : Aaron….

 

Aaron : Keep your eye on the road…. Don’t Aaron me… I am ok !!!

 

He is definitely not ok.

 

As we pulled into Tampines Estate, I could fee Aaron clenching his fist to stop himself from shaking.

 

He’s scared. So am i.

 

Everyone is.

 

Jackson : Aaron….

 

Aaron : Jackson !!! For Fuck SAKE !!

 

Jackson : I’m scared….

 

My admission of fear stopped his tirade. I slowed down the taxi and turned into the carpark 1 street away.

Hong will be playing the role of the jogger.

 

Jackson : I’m fucking scared Aaron….

 

Aaron : Well..err…..err.. don’t…. don’t be…

 

He didn’t sound convincing at all.

 

I stopped the car and Hong gave both our shoulders a tap before getting out.

 

Hong : See you later guys….

 

Hong stretched and did some warmup before heading onto the discussed route.

 

I put the taxi into drive again and I told Aaron that I’m scared.

 

I really am.

 

Jackson :  It’s taking everything I have not to piss in my pants right now…

 

Aaron : Don’t patronise me !!! I am fine… you worry about yourself !!!

 

Turning to look at Aaron, I could see the perspiration on his forehead despite a comfortable 24 degree in the car.

 

I reversed into the loading and unloading bay facing the Childcare centre.

 

The bright and neon light of centre stood out in the sleepy estate. Pictures and paintings by the kids that attended the school lined the walls.

 

There’s even a small community garden plot maintained by the school by the side.

 

Aaron : We are meant for bigger things Jackson !! big things !! big things you know…..!! do you !!

 

I nodded.

 

Aaron : Things like this should be handled by the grunts… those uneducated people… !!! Those .. those yellow ribbon rejects that boss takes in by the dozen !!!…. you know how much is La Bella Vita’s operating overheads a month !!! ? paying so many men !!! do you know !!!

 

I nodded and I put up my hand trying to calm Aaron down.

 

Jackson : Aaron… Aaron… look.. look…

 

Aaron : We are educated people Jackson  !!!! we go to school…!!! We are better than this !!!

 

Jackson : yes…yes.. I know… I know….

 

Aaron : You know what… let’s go back…. I can rally up at least 40 men and we will fucking swarm this place….. what do you think…. We will fucking kill those fuckers eh… eh… ? shall we…. It’s early… it’s still early…. We can head back!! There is still time…. I just need to wake them up !!!

 

I shut the engine of the taxi and I asked Aaron to calm down and breathe.

 

Aaron : Don’t tell me to calm down !!! I am calm !!

 

Jackson : Ok… fine… fine….

 

I looked around the empty estate, worried that Aaron might draw unnecessary attention to us.

 

Aaron : You know what, I think I’m right… we need help…. Boss is wrong…. We don’t have enough people….

 

Jackson : Aaron …. Aaron….! Look at me….

 

He stopped babbling for a second and directed his shifty eyes at mine.

 

Jackson : It’s ok if you want to sit this one out….

 

Aaron : what are you trying to say ??!! har ??  you think I no balls is it… ? is that what you think… ??

 

Jackson  : Aaron … no I don’t mean that…. i…

 

I never expected Aaron to reach for his gun from his ankle holster. I was about to reach for mine but I knew I won’t make it in time.

 

Aaron pulled out the gun and he looked angry and on the verge of losing control.

 

No he did not point it at me but he was gesturing all over the place with he.

 

I’ve seen him shoot at the range. He’s a good shot. I was still thinking that if it came to a shootout, I would want Aaron by my side but looking at the state he is now, i only hope he doesn’t hurt me in a moment of anxiety.

 

Aaron : I can do better than this… !! I’ll show you…. Ok !! I’ll proof it to you…. Bloody hell…. Terrorist arhhh ?? where… where ??!!  I’ll fucking shoot them !!

 

Jackson  :Aaron … put that away… someone might see us…

 

Aaron : Why.. ? you scared….?? Is it… ? are you scared???

 

I nodded.

 

Jackson : Yes Aaron… I told you earlier… I’m scared… even more so now that you are waving that around….

 

I looked around the vicinity again, worried some passerby might see us in the taxi.

 

Aaron : Scare for what… you also have one right… take it out….come on Jackson…. MAN UP…. Grow some balls !!.. take it out… we’ll fucking end them….!! Get it over and done with….

 

I decided to change tack and told Aaron what he wanted to hear.

 

Jackson : I think maybe your idea of getting more men is not so bad after all…

 

Aaron took a couple of seconds to register my comment before reinforcing that he was right all along and if I had listened to him, we would be on our way back by now.

 

Aaron  :We’re wasting precious time…. you are wasting time Jackson ….

 

Jackson : Yes…. I’m sorry…

 

Aaron : It’s ok… it’s ok…. We head back now…. I know which house has the most men who are ready to go at a moment’s notice…. I’ll settle the men… ok ?? ok ??

 

I nodded.

 

Jackson  :Ok… put that away please….

 

Aaron, seeing that I’m coming around, took a moment to consider before stuffing the gun back into the holster.

 

I started then engine but before I pulled on my safety belt, I turned to Aaron.

 

Jackson : Aaron…. Hong is out there alone….

 

Aaron : What…. ?

 

Jackson : Hong…. He’s jogging out there alone…. I’ll go find him…

 

I could see he was about to reject my suggestion but I told him to go on ahead.

 

Jackson : You take the taxi back first ok…? Wake the men… I will find Hong… we will wait for you…. Ok ??

 

Aaron looked at me as he considered my proposal before nodding his head vigorously.

 

 

6am

 

I got out of the taxi and Aaron pulled out of the carpark before flooring the accelerator at the main road.

 

I cursed under my breath as I left my axe under the driver seat.

 

I called Yiling immediately and told her what happened.

 

She was quiet for a moment but she didn’t sounded surprised.

 

Yiling : Ok I understand…. I’ll deal with him…. Stay safe Jackson …. Tell Hong immediately after you hang up…

 

Jackson : Ok…

 

I was about to dial Hong’s number when I saw him coming round the bend on the pedestrian path. He saw me standing alone and he gestured a questioning wave.

 

Not wanting to show that we know each other in case anyone is watching, I dialled his phone and told him about Aaron’s panic attack.

 

Hong : Bloody hell…. Always like that….

 

Jackson  : He did this before… ?

 

Hong told me Aaron is the type that will always have excuses if it comes to anything remotely violent or anything physical. He once bailed on Seven when they were suppose to change a car tyre in the middle of the expressway.

 

Hong : I went with him and Boss to a turf dispute once a few years ago against the Rajahs……. He fucking ran when a fight was about to break out….everything turned out ok in the end and he appeared again…. Saying that he got the men back in the castle to come and back us up….. Aiyah… better now then later…. Who knows, he might fucking shoot us before the terrorist come….

 

Jackson : ok…. I’ll hang around the area… you be careful…

 

Hong : Ok…. Check out the 2nd storey unit opposite the childcare unit…

 

Jackson : What about it… ? you see them… ? are you sure…?

 

I casually looked around and pretended to stretch.

 

Hong chuckled and said there’s a pretty babe smoking.

 

Hong : Chio bu… Chio bu….hahaha….

 

Jackson : Oh my god….. I don’t believe you Hong….

 

I hung up and took a stroll. People are starting to rouse from their slumber.

 

Real cab drivers are pulling out from the carparks to make their first trip of the day. Old aunties gathered in the void deck with their shopping baskets and trolleys while waiting for their wet market khakis.

They wiped their sweat with their handkerchief, their friendly banter will soon turn into one of extreme competition upon reaching the market. Each vying for the freshest produce not just for the family, but also bragging rights.

Weary eyed office workers started to appear, plugged into their headphones and a sweaty newspaper delivery man grabbed another bag of papers from his covered truck.

 

I saw a school bus rolled into the carpark and a mother sent her daughter up the bus, waving and reminding her to finish her water.

 

Another car pulled into the drop off area, tired parents got out of the car and dropped off the young son with a smiling grandmother before heading to work.

 

A mother came out of the lift with her teenage kids and separated ways, the kids off to take their own transport while she headed to her car.

 

Retiree walking his dog, perspiring auntie after her morning walk, students in uniforms playing games on their mobile phone, and even what looked like a couple in their honeymoon period holding hands coming out of the lift.

 

Town council workers were already hard at work, sweeping up the streets and corridors, one of them pushed a trash cart by the kerb and started sweeping up the offerings left by the residents. Fruits, baked goodies meant for the dead turned out to be a breakfast feast for the pigeons and sparrows.

 

I caught the metallic clink of a lighter and I turned, a kid in school uniforms walked casually and lit up a cigarette. He flicked his long fringe to the side and waved to his friends approaching from the other end of the block. Looks like they are planning to skip school that day.

 

7am

 

I felt my heart beat faster as I heart the squeaking of toddler’s shoes walk pass me towards the infant care centre attached to the side of the childcare. The little girl wobbled cautiously with a smiley smug look on her face as she turned to look at her mother, as if waiting for her praise.

 

The young tired mother clapped and in a high octave voice, praised her daughter’s accomplishment.

 

All of these mundane activities and happenings occur around us everyday. No one hardly notices it. The casual nod of acknowledgement when meeting neighbours, the discreet glance at the hot girl staying 2 floors below you, this is life.

 

A typical day.

 

I don’t know why but I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand as the clocked ticked past 7am and approached 7.30am.

 

More parents streamed into the centre with their children.

Some are dressed in shirt and pants, busy replying emails while waving and hugging their child. A mother carried an infant in a harness while dropping off the elder sibling.

 

I could see Hong pretending to stretch and cool down at a bench barely 20 metres away.

Looking at my hand, I realised I started trembling. I’m scared.

 

I could not bear the thought of what would happen if we failed.

 

I wonder if everything is ok on Kamal’s end.

 

There was a sudden lull in the number of kids arriving and I saw a father arriving with his 2 daughter. He held their hands while carrying both their bags on one shoulder.

 

He looked tired but nevertheless, kept up a smile while talking to his kids, asking them to behave in school.

 

Teacher : Good morning Alicia, Ariel ….hello….

 

As the teacher checked the temperature of the girls before signing them into the centre, I noticed the father looking a little nervous.

 

After the girls waved their goodbyes, I overheard the father telling the teacher that he’s sorry about the late school fees.

 

Father : ehh.. Teacher…. The school fees…. I’m… I’m sorry ah… I try by this week…. This week….

 

Teacher : Ok…. But Ariel Daddy…. It’s 2 months overdue for both girls already….so…ermm.. my finance is chasing us also…

 

Father : Sorry about that…. This week… I try to get it sorted out by this week….

 

Teacher : ok… thank you…

 

I looked away as the father walked away after taking one last look at the centre where his kids are before walking away with his head hung low.

I don’t know his circumstances, his story, what he did, what happened, but it seemed life hasn’t been easy for him.

 

We are one of the richest country in the world, it’s unthinkable that some of us could not afford to pay for childcare fees.

 

Another happier father came along, sporting tattoos on both his calves, he looked like a body builder. He ran with his kid in his arms before giggling and dropping him off. Another kid came in a new continental car flanked by a helper and grandparent while munching on a pastry.

 

He met his classmate by the door, both exclaiming happily and curious about what the other is eating for breakfast. The slice of plain white bread his friend is eating must looked alien beside his Danish pastry.

 

My attention was quickly and sharply diverted. Like the flick of a switch my eyes went from the entrance of the childcare centre to the approaching men.

 

Heading purposefully towards the childcare about 50m away are 4 men.

 

I looked at Hong who was looking at the same direction as me.

He saw them too.

 

I exhaled and bend down to tie my shoe laces, blending into the crowd of parents at the door.

 

The 4 men looked around and their pace quickened.

 

I turned my backs towards them to avoid making eye contact while looking at their reflection on the notice board.

 

An internal heat wave flushed inside me as I saw them break into a sprint.

 

Hong started to walk briskly towards the entrance of the childcare before breaking into a run.

 

The teacher at the door was shocked beyond words and the 4 men charged and shove her into the childcare. Screams, shouts and curses were thrown around freely by the men that were all rushing to gain deeper access into the centre beyond the entrance lounge.

 

I sprung into action and so did Hong.  I grabbed the hair of the man closest to me, yanking him backwards before striking him on his throat. Before his friend could lay his hands on my, Hong’s knuckle duster rearranged his nose, spilling first blood.

 

Just when I thought we took care of 50% of the threat, another 2 men started running towards us from a distance away.

 

There was no time to worry about threats 30m away when the 1st 2 into the childcare turned their attention to us.

 

The teacher was left crying on the floor and the commotion drew the attention of the other staff in the facility.

 

Kids and staff came running out and chaos erupted while Hong and I dealt with the other 2 man.

Amidst punches and kicks, I saw their concealed weapons. They were armed.

 

Hong headbutted his man while I smashed the one I was tussling with using a trophy left on a nearby shelf.

 

We managed to push them out the front door and Hong pulled the gate shut. The metallic catch of the door lock snapped into place, putting the metal gate in between the terrorists and us.

 

I helped the teacher who was crying and bleeding on her head up while a staring match ensured between us and the attackers.

 

The teacher ran into the childcare, shouting for the principal to call the police.

 

The principal came out, saw the commotion and did something nobody expected.

He looked at Hong and me, before turning to the men outside the door.

 

And he reached for the door release.

 


 

 

Jackson : What are you doing !!!

 

My glare did no damage at all as I watched the principal unlocked the gate before quickly retreating into his office. The teacher by the door shouted at the principal but her screams were muted by one of the man that grabbed her and dragged her out of sight as we retreated.

 

The principal is in on this. He knows this is going to happen.

 

The release of the lock triggered the series of catastrophic event to follow.

 

The men charged into the childcare as Hong and I retreated deeper into the centre.

 

Shell shocked kids and teachers scream and shouted as I watch the men shut the door before chaining it together with a padlock. A lot of the kids were unaware of what is happening, many of them still at the table sipping their milo or playing with their Lego toys.

 

Hong and I pulled every kid we could get our hands on up off their seat and on the floor as the teacher by the door was thrown onto the floor.

 

A man was about to grab her leg when I rushed forward and kicked him away. I helped the teacher up and pulled her behind me. The teacher quickly helped to gather the kids.

 

The gate was locked and more men filed into the main hall.

 

I felt sick when the men came in and starting kicking the kids unlucky enough to be near them. A toddler barely 3 years old was kicked so hard that he literally flew up into the air before landing on a table filled with used cups.

Blood poured form his cut lips as he looked dazed and confused.

 

The teachers gathered as many kids as they can trying to form a protective barrier between the men and their ward.

 

One of the teacher was grabbed by one of the terrorist while holding onto a screaming toddler. Beside the hall we were in were a series of smaller classrooms and that teacher just walked out of it.

 

Hong charged forward, wrestling 2 men at a time while I went to the teacher’s aid.

 

I punched the man in his gut before going for his arm.

 

I broke his hold on the teacher with my elbow, went low and delivered 2 strikes to the insides of his knee. As he collapsed, I jumped and sent my knee to the side of his head, denting the dry wall of another classroom.

 

I backed up just as a kick sent Hong staggering backwards onto me.

It became clear that the damage I did was not hard enough as the man shook his head and stood back up.

 

The men formed up a line in the hall 4 abreast sealing us in.

 

The cumulative cries in the centre is deafening as confused teachers tried to protect the kids. Hong and I shouted for the kids to get behind us as a mad grab for hostages started.

 

We managed to get most of the kids in the hall behind us but there were a few stranded at the ends. The men laughed and made taunting strikes at us as our attention was divided with trying to keep them at bay and trying to keep the kids safe.

 

I wanted to reach for my gun and so did Hong but with kids stumbling and falling all around us while trying to deal with the approaching men, it was impossible to do so. A few of the toddlers were clinging onto our trousers as well.

 

With each step we retreated into the centre, Hong and I tried to pick as many kids up off the floor. Some ran in random directions, some ran to the teachers. I tried to stop a kid from running towards the terrorists.

 

A man tried to rush us, Hong and I immediately made him regret his decision. Hong smashed his head with his knuckle duster while I kicked him in his kidney before imprinting his bleeding head on a standing easel with scribbles of alphabets.

 

Jackson : stay back!!.. stay back… !!

 

I shouted to the teachers behind me, asking them to help bring the kids back.

 

A man grabbed a crying toddler before throwing him like a sack of rice to his friend. The large classroom about the size of a badminton court was immediately split into 2.

 

Horrified staff including the pantry lady were crying and trying to console the terrified children.

 

Hong and I grabbed as many kids as we could, putting them behind us and handing them to the teachers.

A 5m gap opened up between those we managed to save and those we didn’t.

 

As the lot of us retreated into the kitchen area, Hong and I pushed tables and threw chairs to block the advance of the terrorist. We did so with only one hand as we were carrying a crying child in the other.

Everything happened so fast there was no time to take stock of what is going on.

 

By the time the 1st wave of calm descended on us, the men regrouped and I could see between them, they have a total of about 8 kids.

 

The principal emerged and shouted at Hong and me.

 

Principal : Who are you !!! you are not parents… you should not be in here…. !!!!

 

He did not wait for our reply and he started scolding the terrorists. He shouted at them and said he was promised this will be fast and everything will be over soon.

 

Principal : why did you all screw this up !!!!

 

The teacher behind me shouted at the principal, condemning him for planning something like this only to get a fierce retort. It was the same one by the door that saw him open the door to let these men in.

 

Principal : You think it’s easy !!! you think it’s easy to run such a big centre. !!!! all the money….the finances… !! the complains !!!! the difficult parents. !!!! you think it’s easy !!! I’m so sick of the fucking whiny parents and the kids. !!!

 

Teacher: HOW COULD YOU!!!

 

I knelt down and pulled the handkerchief off another kid’s top and I used it to wrap a long scratch on one of the girl’s arm.

 

Jackson : It’s ok…. It’s ok….everything will be ok….

 

The principal ignored his staff and instead turned to the attackers.

He gestured angrily at them while shouting.

 

Principal : how could you screw this up !!! you said you will overpower everyone before anyone knows what is going on … NOW LOOK!!! Look!!! My staff knows I’m in on this !!!! HOW WILL You!!!

 

Before he could finish his sentence, one of the man covered the principal’s mouth and stabbed him several times in his stomach.

 

The kids screamed at the horrible sight as Hong asked all of them to turn away and close their eyes. One of the older teacher fainted and collapsed onto the floor.  Several toddlers peed themselves and one of them vomited.

 

The principal collapsed onto the floor and blood started to spread outwards from his body as he clutched onto his stomach. He went into shock as his body curled into a ball. The spasms stopped barely a minute later as blood flowed freely from the open wound.

 

The man that stabbed him must be the leader of the group. He’s one of the 2 man that arrived at the 2nd wave.

 

Someone called the leader by his name and handed him a phone to look at a message.

The leader nodded and his men kept the phone.

 

Ray : I don’t know who you are…. But I assure you… you have already lost….

 

As Ray spoke, he grabbed a chair, set it down in the centre of the open space before grabbing a little girl by her hair.

 

He put the knife to the little girl’s throat and positioned her in front of himself.

 

There was no talking.

 

No offers, no demands.

 

Jackson  : NOOOOOOOOOO!!!

 

Without warning, Ray just slit the little girl’s throat.

 

Blood poured from her slit veins as the confused girl’s hands went to her neck, feeling the surreal opening as blood pooled around her body. Her eyes teared but no sound came from her.

Her small hands just kept trying to stop blood from coming out of her small body as the horrifying image burnt itself into my head.

I don’t know if she registered the pain or if she was old enough to know what is happening.

 

A teacher screamed so loud that she too collapsed while the kids were all crying and trying to hold onto the adults closest to them.

Siblings sort comfort in each other as I felt as if someone had just ripped my heart out of my chest.

 

I recovered in time to pull my weapon out of my holster and Ray had grabbed another boy who was crying and rubbing his eyes.

 

The moment the group saw the gun, they took cover, scrambling to hide behind the walls and columns in the centre.

 

I took aim and started walking towards the men on the other end.

 

Ray : Who are you !!! ?  Huh ???  you cops ?? didn’t you get the order???  HUH ??

 

I turned the corner and saw a man with his knife raised at me.

 

I didn’t hesitate, I shot him in his chest. The echo of the gunshot was so loud that the kids covered their ears and screamed louder.

 

Before I could squeeze off the trigger again, someone used the body of the man I just shot and shoved him against me.

 

He came for my weapon and the moment we started struggling for it, Hong got all the kids to lie down on the ground.

 

Hong : Everyone get on the ground !!!! lie DOWN… lie Down !!!

 

Ray shouted a command to his men, asking them to grab the kids and start stabbing them.

 

Ray : Alright… fuck the hostages…… Kill as many as we can… and let’s go to alternate site !!

 

I relaxed my grip on the weapon and let the man pull it towards himself. Using the momentum, I smashed it into his face and I hit the release for the magazine.

 

It didn’t fall out like the movies, but it came out enough for me to grab onto it. Separating it from the weapon, I jabbed the magazine into the man’s eye before slamming it against the side of his temple.

 

His momentary disorientation allowed me to disarm him.

 

Turning the gun around, I pointed it at his kneecap and squeeze off the round in the chamber.

 

Using the empty weapon like a hammer, I struck him several times on the head as he tried to hold onto me. I could see the large section of scalp I ripped off with the hammering as his grip loosened before sliding to the ground.

 

There’s a total of 6 men. The one Hong and I put down is still on the floor. Plus the one I shot and the one I just hammered, there’s still Ray and 2 others.

 

They had gone into a classroom from the other side of the hall and I could see them trying to gain access to Hong and the kids in the main area via a internal window.

 

I took the same route Ray and the men did and I was overwhelmed by emotions and I started crying. I could not control my emotions. Tears just started dropping.

 

I cried as I stepped over the bodies of the kids that Ray and his men had stabbed.

 

I screamed in agony as I stepped over not lifeless bodies, but bodies of toddlers still fighting for their lives, confused and lost as to why this must happen to them.

 

They clutched onto their wounds, some were twitching on the floor, another 2 held onto each other as blood spread outwards in a radial pattern from their small bodies.

 

I got to the room where Ray and his men had retreated to. Ray and another man has jumped out from the internal window to where Hong is. Before the last man could leap off, I grabbed him and yanked him backwards into the classroom. He landed on a plastic crate of lego tiles, spilling it’s content all over the floor.

 

He tried to stab me with a sharpened screwdriver and I barely ducked in time. The wild swing of the tool caught me twice in a row and I could feel the sting of pain in my forearms.

 

I caught him on his 4th attempt on the wrist, and I turned my body inwards, angling my back towards him. His teeth snapped too close to my ears for comfort as he tried to bite me.

 

I brought his weapon bearing arm low, shifting his centre of gravity, and waited for my opening.

I felt his hot breath behind my head and I snapped back, catching him on his nose. His gripped loosened and I grabbed his thumb, twisting and bending it hard enough I felt it pop out of it’s socket.

 

Man : ANGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

 

I wanted to grab the tool but it dropped.

 

I heard gunshots twice in a row from a few metres away.

That must be Hong.

 

I slammed my fist several times into the man’s eye socket before grabbing his hair and dunking it towards the floor with the lego tiles.

 

I stomped on the back of his neck once and he stopped moving.

 

I pulled myself up the internal window and I saw that Hong had shot one of the terrorist on his thigh. Ray was trying to wrestle the weapon from his hand. I dove straight for Ray, slamming both our bodies against a bookshelf.

We collapsed layers of framed photos and accreditations on the way down.

 

I pulled a inch long splinter from my cheek and Ray was trying to get up.

 

Hong was trying to stem the bleeding from a boy’s arm while a little girl clung onto him like a koala. With a free leg, Hong tried to hook the lifeless body of another child towards him.

 

A little boy picked up Hong’s gun for him and he quickly took it before thanking him for his help. Hong shouted for more bandages and another older crying girl ran into the kitchen before emerging with the first aid box.

 

The remaining conscious teacher was swarmed by the remaining kids, all desperate for her protection.

 

I kneed Ray on the side of his ribcage and I grabbed him by his collar before punching him with a wide swing that he staggered 2 steps before collapsing onto the floor.

 

Ray laughed.

 

He chuckled, spat blood onto the floor as he pushed himself off the ground.

 

Not wanting to give him a chance to recover, I grabbed his hair and slammed it repeatly against the leg of a toppled table.

The leg snapped, exposing angry sharp splinters attached to the table top.

 

Ray used his last burst of energy and shove me back, screaming and laughing like a mad man.

 

Ray : who do you think you are… ? ahahah… who do you think you are…. !! hahaha… you think you are a hero are you….hahah what do you think you are stopping… hahaha ???

 

I grabbed Ray’s hair and his collar before driving him against the concrete pillar.

I ripped the corner protective edge the school installed to protect the kids, exposing the close to 90 degree angle of the structural column.

 

Ray spit at me and swung a half hearted punch at me.

I grabbed his arm and pressed it against the side of the column, trying to bend it at an awkward angle.

 

Ray : argnhhhh!!! aRGHHHHHHHHH!!!..AEGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

 

Then I punched him again.

 

Ray: you lost… ahhahaha… you already lost….ahhahaha.. hahaha….

 

Ray tried to kick me but I blocked it with my arm.

 

Ray : who do you think you are !!!!!! hahaha who do you think you are…. !!! hahaha

 

I smashed my fist into his teeth and I could feel the pain in my knuckles when going head to head with one of the hardest part of the human body.

 

I grabbed the table with the exposed sharp splinters. Before I slammed it against Ray’s face, I replied.

 

Jackson : right now…. I’m a monster… .

 

I buried the splinters into Ray’s cheeks and his screams were muted by 10% due to the table top.

 

I stabbed my leg down on the table, driving the splinters in whatever part of his face it didn’t reached the first time and Ray stopped moving.

 

Sirens could be heard a distance away, help must be coming.

 

Hong : We need to go Jackson …. ! ….

 

Hong exclaimed as he help another kid put on a cartoon plaster for a cut.

 

Jackson : Search the men for the key to the padlock… !…

 

I picked up my gun and the magazine and a little girl clung onto my pants.

 

I turned and saw that it was Ariel.

 

The little girl that I saw earlier with her dad.

 

She was crying and begging me not to go. She was looking at the still conscious man by the side which Hong had shot in the thigh. He’s bleeding profusely but he is still conscious. His face is pale and he looked half dead already.

 

Ariel : Uncle !!! Uncle…. No… no please… please don’t go away… please don’t go away… !! sobzz.. sobzz…

 

A couple of other kids wanted to run over but they were terrified of the blood on the floor and the bodies scattered throughout.

 

Ariel kept holding onto me, her hands reached up in a gesture as if she wanted me to carry her.

 

I lowered myself and told her I can’t stay.

 

Jackson : I’m sorry…. I’m sorry… Uncle has to go…. There are other kids who need help…. Ok ?

 

Ariel sobbed and cried harder but she nodded her head.

 

Hong : Jackson … here….

 

Hong yanked the key out of one of the men and a phone fell out as well.

 

The same phone I saw he showed Ray before.

 

I grabbed it and we went to the padlock.

 

I turned and looked at the crying kids. One of them waved goodbye and I told them help will be here soon.

 

I can’t stay. Not a second longer.

 

I knew if I did I would break down.

 

I would collapse onto the floor if I need to look at the lifeless bodies of the kids the attack left behind.

 

Opening the door, we were greeted with another surprise.

 

More bodies were scattered throughout the void deck leading to the childcare.

 

“ aRGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! “

 

Another man charged at Hong from round the corner and I felt a sharp pain on my shoulder as someone just stabbed me.

 

Jackson : aRGHHH!!!

 

I pushed him back and I touched the fresh wound near the back of my shoulder blade.

 

It’s not deep but I’m bleeding.

 

The attackers did not all enter the centre. Another wave of men were left outside to stop other parents from approaching. I could already see the lifeless body for a pregnant mother on the floor holding her toddler.

 

Another kid was shaking his father who was bleeding on the stomach.

 

I was attempting to duck the subsequent attacks when help came.

 

No, it was not Aaron returning with 40 men to swarm the centre, it was the man I saw earlier.

 

Alicia and Ariel’s father.

 

He grabbed and wrestled my attacker to the floor just in time when I saw a 3rd attacker charge straight at me.

I went low for his legs, wrestling him to the floor as I shouted like a mad man, delivering punch after punch into his face.

 

He pulled a knife and tried to stab me but I grabbed his hand, twisted it back before I pushed it against his chest.

 

Man : ARGHHHH!!!!!!aRGHHH!!!!!!

 

The tip went in a little but the ribcage is too hard to penetrate like this.

 

I grunted and I tried to put my body weight on the handle of the knife.

 

I slammed my palm onto the back of the knife several times but still it didn’t go in deep enough to deal fatal damage.

 

I hammered again and again, grunting as if I was trying to put a nail inside a vampire’s heart.

 

The pain I was dealing is enough to loosen the man’s grip

I tried to grab the knife but it slipped because of the blood on my palms.

 

I kneed the man in his groin before piling my elbow into his nose.

 

Alicia : DADDY !!!!

 

I turned around in time to see Alicia rushing out followed by her sister.

 

The man kicked and pushed his attacker away and tried to go towards his daughter.

 

Before he could hug both of them, the man he barely wrestled away tried to stab him on his back but he fell, plunging the knife low into the back of the father’s calf, dragging a 3 inch cut and splitting open the skin.

 

Father : aRGHHHHHHHH!!!

 

Alicia , Ariel : Daddy !!! DADDY!!!

 

I ran forward but was rugby tackled onto the ground by another man that appeared out of nowhere.

 

I moved and put a lock around the man who just tackled me as I watched the stabber tried to score another kill targeting the girls with the father nursing his wound.

 

He got up and was about to go for Ariel when her father fought the pain in his calf, stood up and grabbed the knife with his bare hands before punching the terrorist on his nose. His daughters screamed as the man I was trying to put a lock on struggled violently.

 

He’s a lot heavier and bigger and it took everything I had to keep him down.

 

I wrapped my legs around his body and I pulled my head back as I felt the muscles in my arms burn.

 

Jackson : ARGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

 

I saw Hong collapse a shoe cabinet onto the guy who jumped him the same time the girl’s father took another slash across the chest.

 

A teacher from the childcare shouted for the girls to come in but they refused. Their tiny hands were up, waving and flailing helplessly for the man to stop hurting their father.

 

Hong grabbed the man attacking the father by his hair and lifted him off the ground with a roar before slamming him back down. He kicked him in his face before stomping on his head.

 

Jackson  :aRGHHH!!!!!!!!

 

I felt the man in my arms go limp and I relaxed my grip the same time I saw the 2 girls run to their father.

 

Alicia was crying as she tried to stop the bleeding with her cartoon print handkerchief. The moment it touched the wound, it was soaked with blood.

 

I shove the man aside and I saw Candy running towards Hong and i.

 

She paused and her hands went to her mouth when she saw the carnage in front of her.

 

I went over to the father and he just hugged onto his daughters.

 

Jackson : Are you ok…. ?

 

He nodded at me as he patted his crying daughters’ back, trying to reassure them everything is ok.

 

Father : It’s ok girls… it’s ok… daddy is ok….

 

I’m not a father, perhaps I would never be but at that very moment, I felt as if life has taught me a valuable lesson.

 

There is nothing a parent would not do for their child.

 

Candy : I….I… Jackson ….Hong… I got your ride…. Follow me….

 

I saw several paramedics run towards the childcare from carpark on the opposite block.

 

It’s still not safe. Several of the men we put on the ground is starting to rouse.

They were regrouping and picking up their weapons to make their last stand.

 

Probably they wanted to kill as many as they can before they were stopped.

 

I shouted for the teachers to bring the children out of the centre.

They need to leave now.

 

 

Right about then I saw more people arriving.

No, not terrorist. Not attackers.

Several residents had gathered on the ground floor and they were all armed.

 

Hong : Jackson !!! we need to go !!! ..

 

Father : go… go… I asked…. I asked the neighbours for help….. go…

 

Ariel waved at me as I started running.

 

As I ran, I turned and saw not Singaporeans going about their everyday lives.

 

No longer do I see people going to work.

 

No longer do I see aunties going to market.

 

I saw everyday folks, of different ethnicity, different skin colour, neighbours, fathers, grandfathers and even foreign domestic worker charging into the scene and beating up the terrorist who attacked the child care.

 

The worker from India who cleaned the estate hammered one of the attackers with the metal dustpan when he tried to approach Alicia and Ariel with a knife raised.

 

A helper with a broom was crying and screaming as she waved it frantically in front of her while putting her body in front of the girls and the father.

 

A mother with a knife, and a grandmother with a meat chopper came down, apron around their bodies as the teacher brought out the first group of kids crying for their parents.

 

They too put themselves in between the kids and the gathered group of bloodied terrorists.

 

The kid I saw earlier in smoking in school uniforms ran in, flanked by his friends, some of them with blonde hair and tattoos covering entire arm and legs.

 

He was shouting for his little sister that goes to that childcare.

 

The bloodied terrorist charged towards the resident line while the paramedics tried to save whoever they can. Before they can reach the line, the school skipping teenager bulldozed in followed by his friends.

 

The town council worker, the foreign domestic helper, a half naked retiree, a delivery man unloading goods half way, even a fast food delivery man still holding his helmet.

 

Everyone rushed the attackers, providing cover and protection for the helpless kids.

More neighbours arrived in droves, each carrying a crying child and bringing them to safety.

 

Differences among neighbours were put aside, it didn’t matter where you come from. The colour of your skin didn’t matter, the name in which you call god didn’t matter.

 

Where you go and pray and how you conduct it, didn’t matter.

What mattered is the place they call home.

 

The very neighbourhood, the place where daily lives as they knew it is different now.

 

Everything seemed to be happening at breakneck speed, its like watching a horror movie unfold in fast forward.

 

Candy told us that the car is 2 streets away.

 

We sprinted all the way over. The moment we got in, Candy put the car into drive.

 

I looked at the clock on the dashboard.

 

It’s hard to imagine barely an hour has passed since it all began. It felt like a lifetime ago.

 

 

8.35am

 

Jackson : Hougang…. Go to Hougang !!!

 

Candy : Jackson …. ! there’s no time… !!

 

Jackson : Hougang !!! go please !!

 

Candy turned onto Tampines ave 10 before swerving left into old tampines road.

 

I held onto the handle as Candy overtook cars on the narrow road by going against in coming traffic whenever she could.

 

There’s still time.

 

I kept telling myself there’s still time.

 

There must be.

 

Hong handled a bottle of water to me from the back seat and I coated the exterior of the bottle with blood when I took it.

 

I drank it all in a go and I bit down on my teeth trying hard not to break down.

 

Tears flowed freely from my eyes and I kept wiping them away.

 

I kept looking at google map on my phone. The triangle arrow moved closer and closer to the childcare in Hougang.

 

I only prayed it’s not too late.

 

I used up all the tissues in Candy’s car and I tried to wipe myself down as much as I could.

 

9am

 

There was a queue to enter the carpark. Someone was having trouble with the gantry.

 

Not wanting to waste time, I opened the door and I started to run.

 

It was right there in front of me barely a hundred metres away. There are no widespread carnage on the outside. People are still dropping off their kids.

 

A cloak of fear so dark spread inside me as I quickened my pace. It there are no one taking hostages, it meant someone must have planted something inside the childcare.

 

I just need to warn everyone and get all the kids and teacher out. Within that split second, I was even considering pulling my gun out and threatening everyone so they would run.

 

Cutting across the landscape turfing would save valuable seconds even if it meant leaping over bushes and still burning offerings on the ground. I leapt over a burning heap of incense paper and a auntie shouted at me in dialect for being disrespectful to the dead.

 

As I got closer I could see a little girl running back to a waiting car while her father went on ahead to the childcare.

 

I’m on time.

 

Everything seemed normal.

 

I’m on time.

 

I was almost there, right across the dual lane carpark when I felt a shockwave hit me. It threw me backwards against a parked bike. I collapsed and set off a domino effect, toppling 3 bikes in a row.

 

I landed on my back and I felt the searing heat brush past my face before dissipating.

I turned off the bike and collapsed onto my arms.

 

I felt as if all the air in my lungs has been sucked out and I could not hear anything. There was just this buzzing sound in my ear.

 

I opened my eyes and all I could see was thick grey smoke.

 

My fingers clawed at the ground and I saw Hong and Candy running towards me. The checked that I’m ok before grabbing and pulling me off the ground.

 

They were speaking and shouting but I could not hear anything.

 

My eyes barely registered their presence as I looked helplessly at the childcare in front of me covered with smoke as flames licked the interior.

 

I wanted to scream but no voice came out.

 

Hong and Candy got me back into the car and I screamed to the point of exhaustion in the car as we raced down the road.

 

On the opposite direction, ambulance and police vehicles raced towards the site where the explosion just happened.

 

Hong buried his face in his hands while Candy kept wiping her tears with the back of her hand as she drove.

 

We pulled into the carpark at the residential unit and Candy asked us to stay in the car for a bit as she goes up to make sure the place is clear.

 

I pulled the phone I took from the attacker out from my pocket.

 

It’s a cheap disposable phone.

 

I opened the messages and I saw only 1 message that was sent that morning. The time stamp coincides with the time Ray read it.

 

“ Attempt to take lion’s den failed. Regroup and hit again on 15th “

 

I started scrolling through the other messages and I tried to piece together what is happening.

 

There were news on the radio about accidents and incidents where many were injured but authorities say they are still trying to piece together the details.

 

Candy turned up the volume and the authorities is asking everyone to stay at home.

 

We arrived at the residential unit at Changi. It was empty.

Kamal and the rest has yet to arrive.

 

Candy helped Hong and I remove our tops to check for wounds.

 

She brought out the first aid kit and started cleaning our wounds.

 

Candy : Seven was shot on the shoulder and Declan needed surgery to remove a metal rod that went through his calf….they’re all back at the castle….

 

Candy told Hong and I that the injuries are not serious and Kamal is more than capable of attending to them with the help of the medical crew back home.

 

Candy : I need to close your wound Jackson…. It’s going to hurt…

 

I felt the needle punctured my skin near my shoulder and the drag of the string sliding inch by inch as Candy pulled both sides of my split skin towards each other.

 

Hong turned on the TV and all the news channels are reporting wide spread chaos all over the country.

 

Foreign news media are fast to conclude that this is a terrorist attack.

 

“ Barely a couple of years after their 50th birthday, Singapore was hit hard by what appears to be a coordinated terrorist attack…..”

 

The news drone on in the background and I could not hear anything all of a sudden. It’s like someone pressed the mute button.

 

Candy went over to Hong after she was done with me. Hong had very bad abrasions and bruises including a long cut across the tummy. It’s not deep and it barely bled but you could clearly see the red and angry skin on the verge of splitting.

 

Hong drank water as Candy cleaned up a wound on his calf. Her tears never stopped and they kept falling on Hong’s leg.

 

Hong : Candy…. Can…. Can I touch your breast before I die…

 

She smacked Hong on a bruise and he squeezed the bottle he was holding, splashing water all over his own face.

 

Hong : arghhhh!!! Arhgh!! Arhg!!!

 

Candy went to the bathroom after she was done attending to us, giving us time to calm down.

 

I could hear her on the phone talking to Yiling, giving her an update of what happened while trying hard not to break down.

 

Candy came out of the bathroom and asked for our guns.

 

Candy : I need to get rid of them …. And the phones too…. Give them to me.

 

I pulled it out and I was about to hand it over when I stopped myself.

 

I dialled Yiling’s number and she picked up at the 1st ring.

 

Yiling : Jackson ….

 

Jackson : They’re going to hit the lion’s den again on the 15th

 

Yiling : How do you know that….?

 

Jackson : I …. I overheard it from one of the terrorist….

 

 

Yiling : Ok I’ll handle it…

 

Jackson : Where is the lion’s den… ?

 

Yiling : Jackson…. The lion’s den is safe…

 

Jackson : Tell me… where is the lion’s den !!

 

Yiling : NO!!.. I’ll handle it… the lion’s den is fine !!  give the phone to Candy and stop using this line !!

 

She hung up on me and Candy grabbed the phone from me.

 

Candy : Jackson…! Calm down… !!

 

Candy chugged the phone and guns into a bag and checked the corridor before leaving.

 

Candy : I’ll buy food back…. Don’t leave this place…

 

As the door shut, Hong turned his attention from the door over to me.

 

Hong : I don’t care what den it is…. If I get to have another go at those fuckers…. I’m in….. find out where it is….

 

I opened the phone and I saw hundreds of messages dating almost 2 weeks back.

 

I opened each one, trying to piece together what happened.

 

I finally saw what I’m looking for. An address.

 

Somewhere awfully close to where the castle is. Barely a 10 minute drive away.

 

It’s another childcare, privately operated.

 

Jackson : I got it….

 

Hong : Where…. ?

 

Jackson : Bukit Timah….

 

 


 

Hong : ok…. That solves half the problem…. Now we just need to get there….

 

Jackson : It’s quite near the castle….

 

Hong : well I can tell you for sure if we go back to the castle, no way will boss let us leave it….. especially not when she knows you want to go where she don’t want you to go…..

 

Jackson : We’ll take one step at a time…. we need a ride….

 

I opened the door and I saw the gate is secured with an additional padlock. 2 separate keys are needed to leave the place.

There’s a camera in the living room as well.

 

Looking at the hinges of the gate, it doesn’t look like your typical standard HDB gate either.

 

I know it’s to keep us safe, but right now, it’s stopping us from getting out.

 

The chances are slim that there will be a spare key around but I have to try.

 

Hong : Candy has the key…. I saw her keep it in her pocket…

 

Jackson : there might be a spare one lying around… or something we can use to break the lock… worse case scenario, we’ll have to grab the key from her…

 

Hong : hahha…. I like your sense of humour….

 

Jackson : we can take her together easily… even in current condition….

 

Hong : that don’t sound right to me right now hahah….. but she’s a feisty little chilli padi Jackson ….. the hard approach don’t work…

 

Jackson : then what.. you want me to beg… ?

 

Hong : no harm trying…

 

I went to the kitchen and opened the cabinets. It’s fully stocked with instant noodles and canned food. Several crates of bottled waters sat on the floor and there’s even a mean looking water filter connected to the tap.

 

The fridge is empty but the freezer compartment is full of microwaveable stuff.

There’s no alcohol.

 

There’s a knife by the sink but I cannot find any tool I could use to break the lock or gate.

 

Looking out the window from the 4th floor unit, it’s too high to jump and we’re not in any condition to do a bit of wall climbing either.

 

Hong groaned in pain as he orientated his body to lay down on the sofa. He increased the volume of the TV and every channel he switched to are covering the different incidents happening all over the country.

 

From explosions to incidents with mass injury, the scenes in which the reporters were reporting from is pure chaos.

 

Medical personnel rushed to help the injured and while many more residents chipped in to help in whatever way they can.

I walked over to the living room and I could see a table by the side with numbers in red.

 

A tally of the number of casualties.

 

12pm

 

Candy came back with lunch and she saw us eyeing the key she stuffed deep into her pants.

 

Candy : I spoke with Boss…. NO!… you both are not leaving this place….just stay here for the time being….

 

Hong : Jackson says he’ll take off your pants if he has to, ahhaha… for the keys I mean….

 

Candy gave Hong a death stare as she made the gesture of throwing the packet of noodles at him.

 

Hong : Just kidding… just kidding…. Hahah…

 

Candy looked at me and I said nothing. She gave me my share of the food and the 3 of us ate quietly while following the news on the TV.

 

Some of the victims gave interviews, some of their relatives told what happened. Many more are crying on screen.

 

There was a shaky footage of a mother fainting when she saw the bodies of both her kids lying motionless outside a childcare in woodlands.

 

News also covered videos that went viral, of a father who lost his son breaking through the police line to stab one of the arrested terrorist in his neck.

 

Another viral video at a centre in Jurong showed a grieving father who lost his wife and kids. The pregnant wife was sending their 3 year old daughter to school when the attackers struck.

 

The screams and chaos around the childcare have barely settled when he snatched the gun from a police officer, shot 2 of the arrested terrorist point blank in their faces before turning the gun on himself.

 

I put the packet of noodles down, and while Hong continued eating, I could see his eyes turn red and watery. He forced himself to wolf down the entire packet of noodles before he limped and staggered to the bathroom and vomited it all out.

 

Candy’s food remained suspended in mid air as her shaking hands holding the chopsticks grabbed onto a few strands of noodles.

 

3.00pm

 

By 3pm, it was official.

The defence ministry put out a notice and condemn the attack.

 

I almost threw the chair at the TV when I saw Teng delivering a prepared statement while trying to act emotional.

 

 

3.30pm

 

All of us remained glued to the TV screen as reporters ran along the streets of Geylang. Apparently, there is still a hostage situation going on there.

Shaky footages of men fighting in the rough neighbourhood flashed on the screen and I could not longer watch any of it.

 

Jackson : shut it off….please….

 

With the TV gone, the house descended into eerie silence.

 

No one spoke and we just stared blankly into the air.

 

Candy : get some rest guys….

 

Jackson : Candy….

 

Candy : yah ? ….

 

Jackson : we need to go to the lion’s den…

 

Candy shook her head.

 

Candy : No… Boss told me it’s being handled….it’s quite the castle… she has sent men there already….

 

Jackson : who ? ..

 

Candy : Aaron and 10 others are parked right outside the gate…. It’s fine…

 

Hong : Jesus… Aaron…

 

Candy : There’s 10 other men there besides him….. it’ll be ok…

 

I gestured to the TV and told Candy that base on the latest reporting, there are a total of 7 explosions and 11 hostage taking incidents, there might be more we do not know of or it’s not reported.

 

Jackson : There’s more than 10 men at the childcare at Tampines… and they were told to regroup and hit the lion’s den on the 15th….

 

Candy : but…

 

I put up a hand and asked Candy to let me finish.

 

I showed her the phone I took from one of the attackers.

 

Jackson : I don’t know how many of them are here…. I don’t know how many going to hit on the 15th…. But there is more than 10 that is supposed to regroup from 1 childcare alone…. Can you imagine if all of these men hitting that 1 childcare at once….

 

I could see Candy considering what I just said and I asked her what does she know about that Childcare.

 

Jackson : What is this place…. Why is it so special ?

 

Candy : I don’t know either….

 

Jackson : Have you been there before… ?

 

Candy : A couple of times… I went with Boss but I always stayed outside….she goes in alone….

 

Candy assumed Yiling knew the principal or something, maybe catching up with friends.

 

Candy : It’s always during lull period, or when she stops working…. Or … or… late in the evening…. It’s… it’s not work related… because if it is, Boss won’t go there dressed in her pyjamas… bringing a few cans of beer…

 

Jackson : that place opens into the night… ?

 

Candy nodded.

 

Candy : there’s always people there… sometimes I see people picking up their kids as late as 10pm… some kids sleep over when their parents work late too…. I think Boss knows some of the teachers there…..

 

Jackson : What else can you tell me about that place…. ?

 

Candy : Boss owes the property that the childcare operates from including the adjacent sites…. In fact, out of that plot with 5 properties, 4 belongs to La Bella Vita….

 

Jackson : What about the 5th.

 

Candy : That one you cannot buy….

 

Jackson : Why not… ?

 

Candy : That is the North Korean Embassy….

 

Jackson : You’re shitting me….

 

Candy : No I’m not… it’s a pretty big plot….they never bothered anyone…

 

Jackson : There must be a reason why they are going to hit the place….

 

Candy : Boss has people outside on the road already…. The units beside the childcare are left empty and sealed… no one stays there…. And you can be sure no one will try to trespass into North Korean Embassy ground….

 

Jackson : In normal times….maybe… but not when everything is going crazy… we have to go…

 

Candy : What can we do even if we go there Jackson ??

 

Jackson : It beats sitting here and watching TV….

 

Candy : It’s for your own safety…. Do you know what you guys have done… ?? You discharged a weapon in a childcare…. You killed people in front of kids…. The teachers saw your face…. The kids saw your face… the cameras in the childcare saw everything….. you should lay low for now until everything gets sorted out…..

 

Jackson : We can’t… and you know it….

 

Candy : aRGHHHH!!!

 

Candy stood up abruptly, obviously frustrated.

 

She walked into the bedroom and I called out after her.

 

Jackson : We don’t know what time they will strike….but 15th is less than 48 hours away….

 

 

…………………………………………………………….

 

14th March 2017

Tuesday

 

8am

 

I hardly slept.

 

I sat in front of the TV, drifting in and out of consciousness.

 

Rumours are awash all over the internet with several conspiracy theories popping up.

 

Some foreign media are calling it an inside job.

An attack of this scale is near impossible to pull off unless you have someone on the inside making it happen. Especially not with Singapore’s tight control on firearms, explosives and immigration.

 

More viral videos emerged overnight with residents witnessing soldiers storming police posts, and police officers engaged in firefights with other police officers.

 

Some claimed a coup is taking place with politicians trying to seize power during this period of chaos and uncertainty.

 

 

3pm

 

The overall death toll continued to climb throughout the day. Candy tried talking to Yiling about the lion’s den but it was a no go.

 

Yiling refused to let us near that place.

 

Candy : Boss is adamant that you stay here…. Kamal, Seven and Declan are hold up in the pantry as well….

 

Jackson : Candy… think about it…. Please… just think about it….

 

She finished changing the dressing on our wounds and said she would.

 

 

 

8pm

 

Candy came back with dinner and after much persuading by Hong, she relented and bought some beer from the supermarket.

 

I kept looking at Candy, and she avoided my eyes on purpose.

 

10pm

 

Candy : Fuck it…. Let’s go ….

 

Hong : hahaha… alright….

 

Candy gestured to the camera up by the ceiling and says Boss will know what we are up to the moment she logs in.

 

Hong pulled a stool, got up on it and yanked the camera out.

 

Hong : there… problem solve….

 

Candy : Boss is going to kill us after this…..

 

We left the unit at 11pm and we drove straight to the lion’s den.

 

True enough, small 2 way road is packed with 3 vehicles on one side.

 

The childcare is operated out of a refurbished 3 storey bungalow. There’s a playground and sand pit by the side of the porch.

The lights are off on the top 2 levels but there are still activities on the ground floor.

 

I saw a female teacher through the window. She appears to be sorting out some paperwork. I could see her sporting a cap and her hair which is tied into a pony tail sticks out from the back.

 

Candy pulled up to one of them and the men inside were surprised to see us there.

 

We asked for an update to the situation and he told us they were running 3 shifts.

 

Jackson : Where is Aaron …. ?

 

Man : He just went to grab some food at the cookhouse……. He hasn’t slept in 2 days man…. Always running around….trying to organise things…

 

Jackson : I see…. Thank you…

 

Candy drove off and Hong commented under his breath.

 

Hong : Well… I believed the running part…

 

Candy : Tsk…Hong… don’t be an ass… Aaron has been coordinating the castle’s defence and deploying men to the warehouses this couple of days….

 

Hong : okaaaayyyyyyy….

 

We circled the plot to familiarise the surrounding and we passed by the North Korean Embassy.

 

The embassy guards looked at us and their fingers were never far away from the trigger of their rifle.

 

Candy parked outside a unit that belonged to Yiling and ask what’s the plan.

 

Candy : We can’t possibly just sit here….

 

Jackson : No need for all of us to be here… let’s take turns….The castle is near….go back and rest Candy….

 

Candy : If we go back… Boss might not let us out again….

 

Jackson : Don’t go from the front… head to the cookhouse and take the path to the farmhouse…. Everyone’s busy at the castle….they won’t look there….

 

Candy : Ok….

 

Jackson : Hong.. you too….

 

Hong : Oh goody… I get to sleep with Candy at the farmhouse… ? hahah..

 

Candy : touch me and you’re dead…. !

 

Hong : hahhaha…

 

I sent both of them back before going back to the lion’s den.

 

I remained awake, my eyes kept scanning the surrounding area for signs of activity.

 

To my front about 50m away are the line of 3 cars with La Bella Vita’s men in it.

Behind me is the North Korean embassy and my rear mirror allows me to see any vehicles coming from the back.

 

 

15th March 2017

 

6.30am

 

A motorcycle approached me from the front. I tensed up and only relaxed when I saw it was Hong.

 

He cut the engine and removed his helmet.

 

Jackson : You’re early….shift change is at 8….

 

Hong : If they are going to hit in the morning… it should be around now…. here… I got you something…

 

Hong showed me one of the axe I kept in the farmhouse.

 

Jackson : haha… thank you…

 

 

8am

 

Nothing. Nothing happened. Just your average day of parents dropping kids off at the centre.

 

I waiting until 8.30 just to be sure before leaving.

 

Hong : Go and rest… I doubt it will happen in the day….

 

I got to the farmhouse and I saw Candy tying up her hair in the bathroom.

 

Candy : I’m going to grab breakfast with Cindy and Xiaoyu….

 

Jackson : Does Yiling know… ?

 

Candy : Yes… she’s fucking pissed but she has no time to deal with us at the moment…..

 

I slept and woke up at 4pm with a jolt.

 

Hong was in the farmhouse with me. Candy must have started her shift by the den.

 

Hong : You were shouting in your sleep Jackson …..

 

Jackson : I was… ?

 

Hong nodded as he sipped his beer.

 

I took a shower and went to grab some food with Hong at the cookhouse.

 

Aaron walked in while on his phone, he saw us and he made an about turn, pretending he has something to attend to.

 

Hong : Unbelievable…

 

Jackson : Leave him be….

 

 

7.30pm

 

I took Hong’s bike over to Candy and took over the shift at 8pm.

 

Candy : It might not happen Jackson ….  They might have call it off…. My guess is most of them are hiding now…. Go and rest Jackson ….

 

Jackson : it’s only a few more hours….

 

Candy : ok.. Boss is pulling the guys out tomorrow morning… we need them at the warehouses…

 

Jackson : ok… hopefully it’s a false alarm.

 

I listened to the radio while keeping an eye on the road.

 

10.30pm

 

I saw the headlights of the cars parked outside the childcare light up.

 

They started to move and when they came close to me, I rolled down my window and ask them what is going on.

 

Man : I don’t know…. got the order to head back to the castle….

 

Jackson : what… ? order from who… ?

 

Man : Aaron asked us to head back to the castle….

 

Jackson : Why… ?

 

Man : No idea man…. We’re pulling out…. We’re told to head to the warehouse in Jurong to relief the men over there….

 

The 3 cars drove away back towards the castle and I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand on it’s end.

 

This is not right. Something is wrong.

 

This don’t make sense at all.

 

10.45pm

 

I saw 2 goods Van approaching from the opposite direction. I started the car engine but I kept the headlights off.

 

One stopped before the childcare while the other parked in front of it.

 

My foot gently applied pressure on the accelerator and I released the hand brakes.

 

The side door of the van slid open and I saw several man emerge from the vehicle. They checked the surroundings before pulling out their weapons from inside the vehicle.

 

Machetes, clubs, crowbars and even a baseball bat.

 

I floored the accelerator and sped towards the men.

 

As I got closer, I saw the Van parked further away had even more men. Close to 10 of them.

 

The gate to the lion’s den was shut and many of them started scaling the fence.

Someone shouted to warn their friends of my approach as I rammed my vehicle into a man who was trying to unload a large canister of what looked like flammable liquid.

 

I sandwiched him against the side of the van and the crashed deployed the airbags in my car.

 

I could taste blood in my mouth as I staggered outside and grabbed my axe. I tried pulling it out but it’s stuck. More than half of the men already made it inside the den’s compound and I could hear the leader shouting for all of them to get in.

 

“ GO !!! GO!!! GO!!! Take the DEN!!! “

 

A guy rushed towards me with a machete and I avoided his mid air slash. Grabbing his arm and sliding my body in, I pulled his wrist down against my shoulder as I disarmed him. I wrestled him onto the floor and I grabbed his hair, using it as a handle, I rocked and smashed his face a few times against the road, painting the white directional arrow a dark shade of red.

 

One of his friend tackled me onto the floor and I blocked his attempt to knife me. Pushing my thumb into his eye, I got him to release the pressure he was putting on my body with his.

 

I got up and head butted him before grabbing the knife and plunging it into his stomach.

I pulled it out and plunge it under his armpit and pushed him away from me.

 

Most of the men have made it over the fence and are all heading into the childcare.

I jumped onto the fence and I started to climb.

 

The attack has already started. Anytime now the screams of the teachers and kids that were roused from their sleep will reach my ears.

 

There was plenty of shouting.

 

I ran into the ground floor living area. It was empty.

 

There’s no one there.

 

I grabbed an ornamental candlestick and ran up to level 2.

 

The staircase leading up to level 3 is at the other end of the corridor and I caught sight of one of the men running up.

Level 2 is flanked by doors on both sides of the corridor.

 

I pushed open doors to empty classrooms and play area, with each open door, my heart braced itself for a grotesque scene of blood and bodies but there were none.

 

All 6 doors I opened on level 2 were empty.

 

I could hear the shouts and commotions on level 3.

 

I flew up the dog leg staircase as fast as my legs could carry me.

I saw the terrorist closest to me and I smashed the candlestick into his back, snapping it into 2 before he could step through the glass door his friends just walked into.

 

I wrestled him down onto the floor and I struggled to put him in a submission lock. We grunted and tussled on the ground and I finally managed to get my arm around his neck.

 

With internal walls knocked down, level 3 is essentially a large hall about the size of a basketball court albeit with columns at regular spacing. A full height glass wall separated the staircase from the rest of the hall.

 

The entrance is controlled by an electronic lock and it was snapped shut. One of the terrorist tried to hit the release button repeatly but it would not open. He tried smashing the glass with the bat he was holding but the glass refused to budge.

 

He could only look on helplessly as I slowly choke his struggling friend. Another guy came to try and open the door but it was no use.

 

Just before I wash myself in despair that I would not be able to help the kids and teacher inside the hall, I froze.

 

I could see the kids that were roused from their sleep and gathered in the hall during this ungodly hour. They varied in age, between 3 to 15 years old. There are almost dozen of them.

 

I could see the 2 female teachers standing in front of the children.

 

I held onto the struggling man as I realised something was wrong.

 

The kids at this childcare did not cry.

 

The teachers at this childcare did not scream.

 

Faced with almost a dozen armed men in front of them, they remained eerily still and calm. Like a portrait in a horror movie.

 

It was then I realised both the female teacher have their caps pulled down, covering most of their face.

 

The terrorist tried to advance but paused almost immediately.

 

A figure clad in black stepped out from behind a column. It’s a man.

 

He was dressed in the same manner with a mask similar to the 2 guys I saw on the roof at Rajah Holdings that day and he’s armed.

 

Not with a samurai sword. His built is different from the 2 lean man on Rajah’s rooftop. He’s beefier.

 

He stood upright with an imposing posture carrying the 2.1m long Kwandao in the same manner a general would in the battlefield.

 

A door at the back opened and I could feel my hand tremble when I saw a large heavy set man walk out slowly. He’s huge, and around his right wrist is a metal cuff that drags a 2m long chain.

 

On his left hand, he held a fucking meat cleaver with chipped and jagged edges.

 

He too wore a mask and was dressed in black but he has an apron around his body. He looked like a butcher in a fucking horror show.

 

He stood beside the man carrying the kwandao and you could literally see the terrorist trapped inside the room tremble in fear when faced with such abomination.

 

They are used to seeing kids cry and teachers scream in fear.

 

They are used to the intoxicating satisfaction from threatening helpless care givers and children.

 

Now, faced with teachers that don’t falter in front of danger and adversity, faced with young children and kids that don’t cry, don’t scream, don’t pee in their pants, they froze.

 

All of them froze.

 

The group of terrorists backed up against the glass and a few of them tried to unlock the glass door by hammering it. I could feel the life of the man I was strangling slowly slipping away.

 

One of the female teachers, with her head held low, switched on the large projector TV in the room with a remote.

 

I saw our Prime Minister’s face appear as he addressed the nation during this crisis.

 

The teacher kept increasing the volume.

And the more she did, the more frantic it got the men trapped inside the hall.

 

I could hear the prime minister speech from outside the glass door.

 

I could see his face projected on the large screen by the side.

 

Welly Chin looked tired, it’s like he hasn’t slept in days but look beyond that exhausted expression, you could see the fire in his eyes and the iron in his will.

He spoke with anger and conviction

 

PM : We shall fight them ………………we shall fight on the seas and oceans……

 

The teacher kept increasing the volume and I felt goosebumps all over my body as the kids slowly and calmly raised their hands and put it over their ears. It’s like all of them knew what to do.

 

PM : We shall fight them in the streets….. on the roads…. On the very path your kids take to school……

 

 

PM : We shall fight them on the beaches,…… we shall fight them in the streets of the CBD…… no matter where they may be….. we shall fight them

 

 

The younger kids turned and face the other direction, away from the terrorists

 

 

PM : We shall fight them in the hills, in our alleyways…………………we shall defend our island home…… no matter the cost…..

 

PM : We shall never surrender………..

 

There was a moment of pause as the prime minister gathered his emotions before wrapping his message up.

 

When he looked back up at the camera, he delivered a message to LFO.

 

The organisation responsible for this attack.

 

 

PM : And to the organisation responsible for this …………you did not cripple this country……

 

 

PM : You just woke a sleeping lion…

 

 

I felt the man I was strangling in my arm go limp as the older kids who remained facing the front closed all their eyes.

 

 

……………………………………………….

 

One of the terrorist started hammering the magnetic catch at the top of the glass panel, hoping that it will give way.

 

The leader among the terrorist , a dark skinned individual grabbed him man, trying to get them to snap out of their fear. He turned them around to face the 2 masked men who remained unmoving.

 

Leader : They’re just trying to scare you !!!! they’re just trying to scare you !!!!!

 

He started pushing his men 2 at a time towards the centre of the hall.

 

A few of them hesitated for a couple of seconds but seeing that the 2 masked men did not move, he decided to go for the kill.

 

Their half hearted cry accompanied their raised weapons as 4 of the terrorist went for the man carrying the 2m Kwandao. No one dared approach the butcher with the chain and cleaver in hand.

 

It was the logical choice to make in that situation, go for the less scary and smaller size one.

 

That decision turned out to be a decision that they would not be able to regret.

 

The leader grabbed and pushed all of his men forward while he himself remained by the glass door as I looked on.

 

The man with the kwandao took a step back while leaving the massive blade on the ground, unfazed by the approaching men. He held onto the handle end of the kwandao and timed it perfectly as he kicked the heavy weapon upwards, slicing the cheek of one of the terrorist off his face.

Before the lump of flesh touched the ground, he dashed back into the kill zone with both hands on his kwandao. He swept one attacker off his feet with the end of the kwandao, parried the slash of a machete with his blade, before throwing the whole weapon horizontally at the remaining terrorist.

 

The last man tried to hold onto the weapon without knowing how heavy it is. The moment he held onto it, he staggered backwards as the blade part of the weapon fell on the floor like a gym goer overestimating the amount of weights he could lift.

 

The owner of the blade delivered a perfect uppercut, dislodging the terrorist’s hold of the blade and sending him at least 15cm off the ground. The masked men grabbed onto his kwandao and angled the blade to cover his face the same time the machete he parried from the first strike made a 2nd attempt.

 

He face fuck the attacker with the side of the massive weapon and swung it with such force that it ripped open the stomach of the man he tripped onto the ground earlier as he tried to get back up.

 

Completing the swing of his kwandao, he lodged it into the side of the man wielding the machete, spilling blood and flesh onto the pants and shoes of the teacher with her cap pulled low.

 

Jackson : Jesus…..

 

It happened all within 1 smooth strike.

 

He took out 4 men at once.

 

There’s no hesitation, no mercy.

 

The leader pushed 6 men towards the scary looking butcher who had coiled up the chain around his right arm while his friend fought.

 

The butcher’s roar could be heard through the glass panels and the late night commercials that is showing on TV after the prime minister’s speech.

 

Blocking metal rods and machetes with this arm that is encased with metal chains, he swung his cleaver, separating limbs from bodies as easily as a sushi chef removing chunks of fish for your dinner plate.

 

A man suffered his kick and the force knocked him back on his bottom before he did a backward roll.

 

The butcher’s chipped cleaver lodge itself in one of the man’s shoulder, spilling blood all over his screaming friends as he fisted another in the face with knuckles of metal chains.

 

A gungho terrorist ran and jumped into mid-air with his machete raised as if he was a samurai going for a critical strike.

 

The only thing greeting him was the blunt end of the kwandao, fracturing several of his ribs. The terrorist fell face first onto the floor and kwandao repositioned his head and shoulder at a new 30 degree angle while spilling blood all over the hall.

 

Spending time lodge in a person’s body is never the intent for the massive weapon in play in the hall.

 

I trembled and took a step back as the horrifying screams of the men in the hall pierced through my ears.

 

The chain uncoiled itself and swept through the air at a 1.5m height as the butcher used it as a whip.

 

He didn’t care who was in the way.

 

He swung it even when his friend was in the way, the heavy metal split flesh immediately when they came into contact.

 

They must have fought together often, the butcher’s friend dropped to the ground at the last minute, landing firmly on 1 hand, displaying nothing short of a perfect 1 arm push up position before bouncing right up and shoving the blunt end of the kwandao into another terrorist’s stomach.

 

The leader and another man circumvent the fight in the middle of the hall and went for the teachers and the kids instead.

 

With the 2 masked men pushing forward, the space behind them had opened up, leaving the teachers and the kids exposed.

 

Jackson : WATCH OUT !!!! BEHIND  YOU!!!!!

 

I don’t know if they could hear me as I hammer on the glass door that was just redecorated with a fresh squirt of blood.

 

The leader went for one of the teacher.

 

The teacher with the remote control moved at the very last moment, sliding low like a defender tackling the striker of the opposing team.

 

She tripped him off balance, rotated her body around him like she was a ballroom dancing with her partner only in this care, the completion of that swift rotation positioned her arms around the leader’s neck.

 

The teacher leaned back, avoiding the wild swing of the leader’s knife. She brought him down to the ground like predator tackling a bigger prey.

 

With the leader on his knees, she danced around his shoulders and before you know it, has her thigh gripping onto his neck while her free arm locked onto his weapon wielding arm.

 

I saw the abrupt snap of her body, like a opera artist snapping their head towards the audience with their eyes wide apart and the leader went limp immediately.

 

The other terrorist went for the other teacher and suffered an equal fate.

 

He suffered a flurry of punches and kicks the moment his weapon was knocked off.

 

With each punch, I realised the teacher’s white top gets more and more splattered with blood. Only when the terrorist fell backwards like a tree being cut for it’s timber did I realised that his face is all ripped up with flesh hanging loosely off it.

 

The knuckles of that teacher stained a deep shade of red and I could see she was wearing something that looked like a customised knuckle duster. Perhaps one that is decided to rip flesh and skin.

 

I backed away again as the remaining terrorist in the hall dwindled to a few screaming and crying ones clutching their injured limbs and friends.

 

The butcher severed the head of one of them and blood began to floow out form under the glass panel, spilling into a miniature waterfall down the steps I was standing on.

 

I backed down the stairs all the way as the horror I just witness replayed itself again in my head.

 

They fucked with the wrong people.

 

Teng is fucked.

 

What Welly Chin said on TV is right.

 

Not only did they wake a sleeping lion, they tried to fuck with his den as well.

 

I jumped onto the ground floor and ran out into the porch.

 

This is not your everyday childcare.

It’s not a place where your office going parents send their kids to school.

 

It’s the place where the men and women who do their work while wearing that same black masks send their kids to be taken care of.

A place where they know their kids will be safe as they do what they do for a living.

A place where they know no one can ever threaten their love ones.

And if anyone is dumb enough to try, they will not live to tell the consequences.

 

As I climbed the gate to get back out, I saw 2 more vans approaching.

 

I saw the flash of headlights from the other end and within seconds, the cars on the right were speeding towards the vans approaching from the left.

 

The 3 cars of men which were earlier recalled by Aaron reappeared.

 

The sound of metal meeting metal broke the silence of the night in the neighbourhood as men emerged from both sides and immediately engaged each other.

 

A 4th car from La Bella vita screeched to a stop shortly after and I saw Aaron, Hong , Cindy and Candy jumping out of the vehicle.

 

One of the terrorist came at me but I disarmed him and sent him headfirst into the mangled remains of a car bonnet.

 

Aaron hung back and while Hong ran towards us, kicking a man who just received a blow in his head by a metal rod. Cindy’s fingers closed around the neck of one of the attackers and literally ripped him from the ground which he was standing on, sending him into a lamppost.

 

The impact was strong enough to shake the structure, causing all the shadows on the ground cast by that lamp to shake for a second or two.

 

Aaron remained by the car, shouting instructions to the men who did not look like could hear him, he held onto Candy to stay back as he jabbed angrily at his phone.

 

 

Cindy took the position in front of the gate, making sure no one enters the compound again, not the terrorist, not La Bella Vita’s men either.

 

Hong : Are you ok Jackson ?!!

 

Jackson : I’m ok… I’m ok…. What’s happening… ?

 

Hong : we came as fast as we could…. I was out at the medical centre with Aaron when we saw the cars coming back…..We quickly approached them to find out why……. The driver told us they were ordered to head straight for the warehouses but quite a few of the guys wants to be dropped off to use the toilet…..

 

Jackson : I was told Aaron redeployed all of them to the warehouse….and shortly after that, the attackers came…..

 

Hong shook his head.

 

Hong : No… I don’t think it’s Aaron….i was with him all the time…he was as shocked as me when he saw the men back at the castle…. He asked them who was the one who told them he gave the order to pull out…. No one could answer…. It was then they realised 2 of the guys who needed to use the bathroom were gone….

 

Someone just passed the message and the rest bought it.

 

Hong : we immediately grab a car and sent everyone back here….

 

Hong told me they barely started driving when Yiling called and was screaming over the phone about where the fuck everyone is and why is the lion’s den unguarded.

 

Jackson : This don’t make sense…. So it’s not Aaron who called them back…. ? then who…. ?

 

Hong : Doesn’t look like it…. We were talking to Kamal all the time and none of us even touched our phones…. Aaron was still bragging to us about how he managed to schedule the guys to make sure there is always an overlap during shift change…..and that he would …. Chop…. If anything happened…

 

Hong did a self-castration gesture before adding that Aaron was eager to redeem himself after he bolted on us, he’s not going to fuck something as simple as keeping a shit load of guys at the lion’s den up.

 

Hong : Aaron may be a coward… but it doesn’t make sense for him to redeploy.

 

Jackson : … then… who… ?

 

Hong shrugged his shoulders.

 

Hong gestured towards the childcare and asked if the kids are ok.

 

Jackson : They’re fine….don’t worry about them…

 

Another 2 vehicles arrived from the other direction, cutting off the escape route of the vans, effectively boxing them in.

 

We overwhelmed the attackers with sheer numbers and in a matter of minutes, it was all over.

 

Candy : Boss wants all of you back at the castle….

 

Jackson : All these men… the prisoners….i’m sure they have a lot of information…..what do we do with them…. ?

 

Candy : Boss asked Cindy and me to clean up…. I’ll handle it… she wants to speak with the rest of you…

 

I looked at the number of attackers we caught. Almost a dozen of them from the 2nd wave. They were zip tied and bundled into the vans they arrived in.

 

A few of our guys were trying to stop another one of their friends from killing the terrorists as he kept kicking and hammering them. Before his friends could drag him away, he held onto the hair of one of the terrorist and slammed the sliding door of the van against his head.

 

His friends asked him to calm down and I overhead from the commotion that he lost his parents and son on the day of the attack.

 

All died in an explosion while dropping off his son in the childcare.

 

I got into the vehicle that Aaron came in.

 

Aaron : Jackson….Ja… Jackson… ar…are you ok…

 

I nodded and told him I’m ok.

 

Aaron : I…. i…..I’m…. I’m sorry….

 

I shook my head and told him it’s ok, just drive.

 

Looking up at the lion’s den, I could see it was pitch dark up there. The lights were all switched off. The uneasy feeling never left me as I looked at the darkened windows.

 

It’s like you know someone is staring at you but you can’t see them.

 

I wonder what are they going to do with the bodies and the blood.

 

 

We gathered in the pantry and waited for Yiling to arrive.

 

3am

 

I had fallen asleep on the table when I was nudged awake by Seven.

 

Yiling arrived in a pair of hip hugging jeans and a crumpled looking blouse. Her hair is in a mess and she looked like she didn’t sleep or showered for a couple of days.

 

Here eyes were red from apparent crying.

 

We were all there except the girls, and the moment Yiling entered, she walked angrily towards me, grabbed the glass of water in front of me and splashed it all over my face.

 

I wiped the water from my face and I said nothing.

 

Yiling : WHICH PART OF STAYING PUT AT CHANGI DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND !!!!

 

Hong : err…Lao ban…..~~ ( boss ~~)

 

Yiling : HONG !!!…YOU OF ALL PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW !!! you should have stopped him…..

 

Hong : orh….

 

Hong knew he would not win in a shouting match against Yiling and he backed down immediately.

 

Yiling massaged her head and rest her free hand on her waist as she sucked in a deep breath of air before exhaling slowly, trying to calm herself down.

 

Directing her pissed off look at us, she asked if we have any idea what is going on outside.

 

YIling : do you know how many people are looking for you Jackson…. Hong ? …do you… ?

 

I shook my head.

 

Yiling : The kids are all saying 2 uncles saved them…. 2 uncles saved them…. Everyone wants to know who the fuck these 2 uncles are….!!! Including the police because these 2 uncles fucking discharged their weapon inside the fucking childcare !!!!

 

Yiling jabbed her finger angrily at me and Hong.

 

Yiling : They will fucking hang you !!!! you understand…. ??!!! they will fucking hang you…. If they find you…

 

Jackson : we saved the kids….

 

Yiling : you saved the kids … ? you think ?? and what… you expect what… ? the parents lining up to thank you…. Give you a garland….?? Give you an award… ?? Jackson for Christ sake !! .. people are out for blood now….what about the parents whose kids died…. What about them…. ?

 

Jackson : we tried… we… we can’t save all of them…

 

Yiling : That’s what I fucking said before this started…. We can’t save all of them….

 

Jackson : but you cannot fault us for trying….

 

Yiling : I am not angry at you for trying…. I am angry at you for not listening….you need to lay low…. You should be at the house in Changi…. You should disappear for a couple of months…..

 

The pantry is so quiet that if a pin dropped, I’m sure we could all hear it.

 

Jackson : I’m sorry….. I should have listened….

 

I looked at Yiling and told her I forced Hong and Candy to come along.

 

Jackson : It’s my fault…

 

Hong : oei….i went along of my free will… simi your fault…

 

Yiling shot me an irritated look

 

Yiling : I’ll deal with you later…. !

 

Yiling took a while to compose herself before speaking to everyone gathered in the pantry.

 

Yiling : Something like this…. Has never happened before in our country’s history….. this level of chaos is…. Unheard of….

 

Yiling used her phone and played a recording that is going viral on the internet.

 

A recording from the people responsible for this attack.

 

I’ve heard it before when it was forwarded to my phone in one of the various chatgroups I was in.

 

LFO : People of Singapore…..you have long been oppressed under the rule of your government…. You are buckling under the weight of trying to survive in this city of yours. We, the LFO brothers are here to liberate you. We shall free you from the shackles of your meaningless lives.

 

 

We have infiltrated your country right under everyone’s nose. We are everywhere. We bear no allegiance to religion and we do not care about politics. My brothers and I just want the people of this country to live free.

 

Free of the rule of law, free of bills, of taxes.

 

Singapore is just a start. Our ideals shall be carried by the wind and spread throughout the world.

 

There is no stopping us. We are in your midst. We are entrenched in your life. We want you to join us. Join us and be free.

 

 

There is no point in resisting. My brothers and I shall topple this country in a matter of weeks. We wear no uniforms, we will not be identified by the colour of our skin or the language we speak. We blend in like the rest, striking when you least expect.

 

 

We have already crippled this country with the 1st wave of attacks.

 

There will be more attacks, they will be bolder, bigger and there is nothing you can do to stop us.

 

 

Join us brothers….. join us and be free.

 

Yiling : LFO, Liberation from Oppression…. We’re trying to get a better picture of the organisation….

 

She played another recording which is a video.

Masked men standing in front of a plain backdrop addressing the viewers with the same ideology.

That the society we live in is broken.

The rich are getting richer, the poor getting poorer.

 

LFO : A reset button…. That’s what this is…. A reset button my brothers and sisters….for those that are not with us…..Your gates at your houses and condominiums will not be high enough…. The walls of your house will not be strong enough…..

Join us…. Or suffer the same consequences as the rest who refused to listen….

We will free all the criminals from the prisons, everyone will be given a new lease of life. Housing will be made free for all, if you are unemployed, we will take care of you and your family.

We will scrape all the shit policies made by the stupid government once we come into power.

All you need to do …… is just come out of your homes….. protest …. Demand these from your government…..and if they don’t listen… you make them ….

We are already among you, the civil service, your military, your community…. We are your neighbours…. Your colleagues… your friends… we are so deeply entrenched within you that our success is imminent.

Join us and together, we will rebuild a society where everyone is equal….

Liberate all, and be free of Oppression…….

 

 

Yiling stopped the video and gave it some time to sink in.

 

Yiling : These are mad men…. They’re crazy…. They’re all fucking crazy…

 

No one said a word and all of us waited for Yiling to go on.

 

Yiling : What has happened so far….. is affecting our business….they have burnt down a warehouse…..and some of our usual water routes haven been taken over….

 

Yiling revealed that even among us, there are traitors. Men whose loyalty are questionable.

 

Yiling : I don’t know how many, but I’m estimating at least 10% of La Bella Vita’s men have been bought….some of our guys disappeared…. They didn’t show up for work…. Some just left their post…..some are uncontactable…

 

Yiling outlined an action plan for all of us.

 

Aside from protecting the business, we are going on the offensive.

 

Yiling : These terrorist…. They are affiliated with the Malus….. we must find them….. and we will hunt them….13 of our men died in the warehouse fire…. They were locked in, the doors were chained and they were set ablaze alive….

What was done to us…. We will repay in full…. Several times over….

 

Yiling took a seat and after keeping quiet for a while, continued talking.

 

Yiling : together with Declan, Kamal and Aaron, we will take care of operations for La Bella Vita……

 

Hong, Seven and I will go on the offensive.

 

Yiling : you will lay low for 3 months…. Wait for the dust to settle….

 

Yiling tapped her manicured index finger on the table rhythmically and warned all of us.

 

Yiling : If any of you…. In this room leaves the castle ground…. Without my permission… you’re out…. You’re done….

 

She made eye contact with each and every one of us before getting up and leaving the pantry.

 

After the door to the pantry shut, Hong exhaled.

 

Hong : ok… she’s pissed… I’ve never seen her so angry…

 

Declan : ok I think the instructions are pretty clear from here on….. stay within the castle ground…. Watch the TV… eat the free food and don’t stir shit….Gum bo ?? ( roger ? )  Hong ??

 

Hong : Ohkay… ohkay…. Gum… ( roger )

 

Declan : Seven… ? Jackson… ?

 

I nodded and so did Seven.

 

Declan looked to Kamal and Aaron who both gave their agreement.

Declan : Let’s see how things develop over the next few days….

 

I went back to the farmhouse, took off my top intending to take a shower.

Walking by the fridge I stopped myself and I opened a beer instead, sitting down at the table.

 

I was almost done with my drink when there was a knock on the door.

 

I let Yiling in and she remained standing with her arms folded.

 

Yiling : Is it so hard for you to listen…. ?  to follow instructions… ?

 

Jackson : I’m sorry…. I tend to make hasty decisions when I’m…. emotional…

 

Yiling : Then don’t….

 

Jackson : you mean don’t get emotional or don’t make decisions….

 

Yiling : Tsk…

 

She shot me a look which pretty much says it’s time to stop talking.

 

I offered her a drink but she declined.

 

Yiling : I have a lot to do…… don’t make me treat you like a kid….

 

Jackson : I’m not a kid…. I’ll stay in the castle…

 

Yiling looked at me and shook her head slightly.

 

Yiling : Sometimes I wished you were a kid…. So I can give you a piece of my mind…. Knock some sense into you….

 

I shrugged my shoulders, not sure what to say to her in return.

 

Just as Yiling was about to leave, I told her what I saw in the lion’s den.

 

Jackson : I saw….. I saw what happened…..

 

Yiling stopped by the door but she did not turn around.

 

Yiling : No… your eyes were playing tricks on you…. You saw nothing….

 

 

……………………………………………………………………

 

 

31st March 2017

 

I took a few days to rest my body before I started work on the garden again.

Gardening is a good way to take my mind off things.

 

Not only are there now guards around the castle ground, there are guards everywhere.

In pairs.

 

The prowled the ground in 8 hour shifts and the cookhouse has never been that busy before.

 

It began serving food well into the night and I don’t just mean supper till 11pm.

 

You could walk in there at 2am in the morning and still get piping hot food like Laksa and Mee siam.

It’s like a 24 hour hawker centre.

 

I have my gardening to do but what about the rest ?

 

Kamal went to the medical centre, Aaron spent most of the time in the castle with Yiling in the study. Declan and him are helping Yiling with a lot of the administrative matters.

 

Only the girls are allowed to leave the castle ground.

 

Seven and Hong, well, they were so bored that they started to cook after a week or two.

 

I walked into the cookhouse one evening to see Hong frying carrot cake. He kept jabbing the flat wok with the spatula, filling the cookhouse with that metallic clanking sound.

 

Hong : lai lai lai !!!… black or white…. Or mix… ??

 

Seven looked ridiculous with an apron as he tried to make a popiah ( springroll ) for me.

 

Jackson  : What is this Seven…. ?

 

Hong looked over and exclaimed loudly.

 

Hong : Popiah…. Extra large la…. upsize….

 

I looked at the giant popiah roll on my plate and replied;

 

Jackson  : This is popiah… ? this is a 6 inch subway sandwich….

 

Seven chucked as he gestured, he had used 4 pieces of popiah skin before doing a vigorous action of stuffing it full of ingredients.

 

I moved my tray along the line to Hong’s carrot cake section.

 

Hong : Yin and Yang…. The delicate balance of carrot cake…..

 

I looked at the carrot cake arranged in a round dish in the black and white Yin Yang design.

 

Jackson : What the fuck….

 

Hong : your Qi…. Is off balance Jackson….your chakra…. Is messy…. Ohmmmmm……

 

I exhaled and shook my head as he shoved me along.

 

Hong : don’t block don’t block….. others waiting for their turn….

 

I would hit the gym or go for a run every night before catching up on the news.

 

For 2 weeks, the mainstream channels covered the attack closely.

They pieced together timelines, theories and the authorities made a lot of arrest.

 

The arrests include several mid-level civil servants in various departments.

 

While Teng , the defence minister was the one hosting press conference for the 1st few days, he stopped appearing after that.

 

Welly Chin started to helm all the press conference.

 

Aside from rumours of explosions and a mini civil war breaking out in Pengarang, Malaysia, there were not much news.

Foreign media claimed a Singapore Apache helicopter accidentally entered Malaysian airspace but there were no official media release about the incident.

 

Both countries have more pressing issues to deal with.

 

LFO not only hit Singapore. They hit Malaysia too.

Schools, childcares and even a market.

A lot of school going kids died in the explosion as the LFO managed to procure military grade explosives for that attack.

 

With the country busy with the attacks and subsequent rescues operations, LFO raided a military camp by pretending to be army officials, making off with truckloads of weapons, ammunitions and even armoured vehicles.

 

All of them disappeared into the dense jungle and no one has reported sighting of them again.

 

Not contended with just waking a sleeping lion, LFO had to step on the tail of the Malayan Tiger.

 

 

May 2017

 

It did not take long for details of the LFO organisation to be released to the public.

 

The man in charge of LFO is Edward Fernando Chan. The name is thrown around so many times that almost every school kid associates it with pure evil.

 

LFO controls multiple terrorist cells in the region and are particularly active in Singapore and Malaysia. Analysts estimates that they have between 5-900 members with more joining them. The head of the organisation is made up of former military and senior civil servants with knowledge of how both government operates.

They are well connected, well funded and very discipline.

 

A special joint task force has been formed with Malaysia to tackle this threat.

 

“ The people responsible, will be prosecuted to fullest extent of the law “

 

This is the promise delivered by Welly Chin to Singapore.

 

I followed the news closely and I read newspaper from cover to cover.

That’s how much time I had and I slowly began to realise something interesting.

 

A series of absurd accidents.

People are dying.

 

A car crash in an industrial area, steel pipe perforated the driver’s chin and into his neck.

 

Another incident, a falling tree, branches perforated the victims neck.

One more died while sunbathing on the beach. Hit by a falling coconut and suffered a stroke at the same time while he choked and drown in his own blood. Several of his teeth were found in his stomach.

 

 

These were all small columns, appearing on different days. I checked the obituaries, several were former top civil servants.

 

 

One killed by the wife who accused him of adultery, she drove a steak knife into his chin before slicing his neck open. Then she committed suicide.

 

One drowned in his own poo.

 

 

Yeah, poo, without a L behind.

 

Poo, not pool.

 

 

How do you drown in your own shit ?

 

Well, article says he was trying to clear a choke in the inspection chamber within his own estate grounds when he fell, hit his head and drowned.

 

 

Perhaps on a normal day, news like this would be sensational, but it was not. They were all tucked away on small columns with hardly a picture. The front pages were all about the aftermath of the attack and it’s impact on the country.

 

 

Marathon runner slips and fall while taking a short cut, impales his chin upon a fence, suffered in agony for an hour before choking and drowning in his own blood.

 

 

I actually laughed as I read that article.

 

This must be one hell of a freak accident.

 

One particular death made the news though.

 

The owner of a leading defence contractor that supplies to our armed forces choked and died while eating fishball noodles.

 

 

I looked at his smiling picture on TV. Fit as a fiddle, and choked on a fishball.

It happened while he was having supper at a famous joint, that place was usually crowded. The newscaster expressed surprise that no one had offered help.

 

 

The reporter went on to interview a smiling springroll seller.

 

I almost dropped my coffee as I looked at that man on screen. I cycled through my memory and I remembered seeing that man. He’s that fucking giant that works with Welly Chin and James.

 

I laughed as I watched him give an interview that he has given up a career in banking to sell spring roll, and now there is a death at the coffee shop, he’s worried that business might be affected.

 

As the reporter wrapped up the interview, I wondered who the fuck would believe someone of his size, his bulk and his built with bulging muscles would be selling spring roll.

 

July 2017

 

There was an unfortunate accident in a private swimming pool.

 

Our defence minister, Teng, has drowned. In his own pool at home.

 

I slammed my fist on the table in the farmhouse as I stood up and shouted.

 

Jackson : aRGHH!!!!!

 

It was a shout of joy as I watch the reporters at the scene.

 

They attributed the accident to a stressful tenure as the defence minister during such a challenging time in Singapore.

It was front page news.

 

All signs point to an accident, too much to drink, he slipped and fell in the wee hours of the morning. His helpers only discovered him floating in the pool when they were cleaning the porch.

 

By then it was too late.

 

This is not that simple. Things are seldom that simple than what it seems on the surface.

 

Our prime minster gave another press conference, his expression is calm, he’s unfazed and if he were a poker player, he will be a fucking good one.

 

Welly Chin : It’s unfortunate that such an incident has to befall the country during such difficult times…. But I assure all citizens that everything is under control….. the men and the women in our armed forces will continue to perform their duties to the country and to her people….….. the defence portfolio will be handled by me personally for the time being…..

 

I sucked in a deep breath of air and exhale, feeling more rejuvenated than ever.

 

Teng didn’t die in an accident.

 

Welly Chin killed him, or rather, Welly Chin, had him killed.

 

He’s cleaning house. Not only is he doubling down on housekeeping, he’s sending a message at the same time to LFO.

 

It doesn’t matter if you are a small fry or a big wig. He will get you, one way or the other.

 

 

September 2017

 

Freedom at last.

The lot of us has been stuck in the castle ground for 6 months.

 

With Welly Chin taking charge of the defence portfolio, it took him only a couple of months to redirect resources from the authorities that were looking into the ‘uncles’ at the childcare centre.

 

It’s all being swept under the carpet.

 

Yiling has been gathering information about the Malus the past 6 months. Sightings, rumours, information, locations and buildings which they own.

 

Information did not just come from La Bella Vita’s men and network.

 

I was at standing by the castle perimeter one evening with Declan smoking a cigar when I saw a black SUV pull into the estate.

 

I recognise him the moment he left the vehicle.

 

James. One of Welly Chin’s right hand man.

 

Yiling came out of the castle to meet him. They spoke for a few minutes, before I saw him handing a small envelope over to Yiling.

 

Then he got back in his car and left.

 

…………………………………………………………..

 

November 2017

 

From July to November, we hunted the Malus.

And where the Malus go, the crazed foreigners went.

We would round them up and Yiling would as for them to be sent to Little india. The building she brought me to before.

 

Drive the van to the basement carpark , leave the key in the vehicle and walk away.

 

No questions asked. The empty van would be delivered back via a tow truck the next day to the castle.

 

Yiling never offered to share where the men were brought to, and I knew better than to ask.

 

We followed every lead and we tracked down every clue.

 

We were not the only ones out for blood.

 

The Rajahs were out on the hunt too.

 

I bumped into Henry one day when we came to a old shophouse. We were one step behind the Rajahs.

 

Henry and his men stared at us as Seven and I looked at the 3 Malus they had on their knees.

 

I backed away slowly and told Seven we’ll hit another spot.

 

Jackson : Let’s go Seven…. This place is done…

 

Everyday new information and leads would come in. Hunting the Malus and the CFs became my full time job in a way.

No matter how many we hunted, there always seem to be more.

 

It’s ok. I don’t care how many of them there are, or how many more are being sneaked into the country.

 

We will never stop.

 

20th December 2017

Wednesday

 

12pm

 

Yiling called for an urgent meeting.

 

Hong , Seven and i met Yiling in the pantry and she told us she has credible source where Russell and his men are.

 

Jackson : Where… ?

 

Yiling : they are hold up in Jurong…. Near the birdpark… there’s an abandoned restaurant on Jurong hilltop….

 

Jackson  : what are we waiting for… ? let’s go get them….

 

Yiling : I don’t want them to escape …. We need to get Russell…. and all his godsons ….my source tells me there’s not a lot of men there…. Russell only keeps a small core team with him…. So about a dozen max….

 

Jackson : just send everyone we can manage to spare…

 

Yiling : No… I don’t know who to trust…. Our main aim is Russell… we get him… the rest would just crumble…. No paymaster…. No Malus….

 

Yiling wants to do this on her own.

 

Yiling : We’ll go get him personally….. us, Kamal, Declan and Aaron….

 

Jackson : Yiling… I don’t think…you should…

 

Yiling : Russell has a direct line of communication to LFO…. This is big….

 

Kamal , Declan and Aaron joined us in the pantry shortly after than and Yiling outlined the plan.

 

Russell will have lookouts all over the place and if he see us approaching, he will bolt. He has the high ground and since the bird park is at the foot of the hill, we will use that as our staging area.

 

We will head to the bird park separately and wait.

 

Yiling will be bringing 40 men in a coach but she will not be telling them were they are going.

Yiling : It will be under the guise of a company treat to the birdpark… they will not know about the mission to grab Russell until the last moment.

 

The coach, will be driven by Declan.

Declan raised his fingers as Yiling outlined Declan’s numerous classes of licences with different vehicles.

 

Yiling : When it begins, he will block off the road with the bus on pretext of a breakdown.

 

The 40 men at the foot of the hill will serve as a backup net.

 

Yiling : The rest of us will head up in 2 cars…. We are only interested in Russell…. he must be captured alive… at all cost… Questions… ?

 

Everyone shook their head and Yiling asked us to grab some rest.

 

Yiling : we move out at 6am tomorrow morning…. Declan…. Get the 40 men and the bus ready….

 

 

8pm

 

The group of us finished dinner in the pantry and Yiling was staring at the TV with a glass of whisky in hand.

I went over to see what she was drinking and I poured myself a glass of the 12 year old Hibiki before joining Yiling by the sofa.

 

Jackson  : you ok… ?

 

Yiling : yes…

 

I noticed she’s smiling a little and it’s not hard to tell her mood had improved recently.

I attributed it to the success we had the past few months with the Malus and the CFs. At this rate, we will get them all.

 

Jackson : shouldn’t we bring more men…. Just in case….Russell is a snake….the last time…..he made fool out of us….he might give us the slip again….

 

Yiling sipped her whisky and I watched her fiddled with her old nokia phone.

 

She smiled and shook her head slowly.

 

Yiling : Not this time…… Not this time….

 

………………………….

 

21th December 2017

Thursday

4am

 

My eyes opened when I heard the door open.

 

I saw Declan and Hong walking out of the pantry. I could hear Yiling voice as well.

 

I got up and stretched myself a little before walking over to the exit.

 

I could smell cigarette smoke and as I opened the door, Yiling told Declan that the bus is ready by the cookhouse. He will go get the men he chose personally for this and get them ready.

The men will load up after breakfast at 6.30am.

The bus will leave the castle at 6.40am

 

Declan nodded and say he will handle it.

 

The skies look red and angry and I could feel a strong breeze trying to force itself into the pantry.

 

Leaves rustled and I could see lightning in the horizon.

 

A storm is coming but not so soon.

 

It’s one of those days when you know it’s going to rain cats and dogs just when you least expect it to.

 

Yiling looked like she didn’t get much sleep the whole night. She’s still in her pyjamas I think, a pair of cotton grey shorts and a white tank top.

 

Yiling : Jackson … wake the rest… grab some food and get ready…

 

The rest of us are to gather at the garage in the castle by 6.15am

 

Seven heard the commotion by the door and I watched him turn to his side and falling flat to the floor in push up position. He started his morning workout to wake his body.

 

He effortlessly did 50 before switching over on his back for a round of crunches.

 

I shook Kamal who woke up after a groan before waking Aaron.

 

We washed up us and made our way to the cookhouse together.

 

I could smell croissants and fresh bread as I got nearer.

The sound of plates leaving the buffet line and the smell of fresh coffee filled the air. It’s getting crowded at the cookhouse with everyone coming to grab a bite but there’s still plenty of seats.

 

Guys don’t linger longer than necessary for their meals.

 

Eat and go. It’s in our blood.

 

Some guys just grabbed a coffee and head out for a smoke.

 

Aaron buttered up some freshly baked bread rolls, taking effort to arrange his plate nicely with scrambled eggs and sausages while I looked at the mess on my bowl.

 

I chugged bake beans and eggs together and used it as a dip as I drowned the bread in it before taking a bite.

 

Hong probably did not get the memo about the amount of butter there already is in the croissant, he split it apart, and stuff in 2 chunks of butter before taking a big bite.

Seven had 4 hard boil eggs in front of him and he slowly peeled each other.

 

Kamal dissected his bread and ham with surgical precision. His blonde hair and his hokkien greeting to the men looked out of place against the refined manner in which he eats.

 

All of us are so different. We come from different backgrounds, we have different up bringing, it makes me wonder how did we all end up together here in La Bella Vita.

 

Is this what they call fate ?

 

We finished up our food and made our way back to the castle.

I dropped by the farmhouse and pulled 1 of my axe out from under the bed.

 

I wrapped it with a spare long sleeve t-shirt and I tied the sleeves together to make a carrying handle before putting it around my body.

 

Hong : You look like those people about to go on a long journey in old Chinese movies Jackson….

 

Jackson : Haha… I hope it’s a short day today….

 

Kamal chipped in.

 

Kamal : It will be…. Our winning streak is not over yet….

Hong : very long never do steamboat already Jackson…. Tonight ai mai ( shall e do it tonight ? )

 

Jackson : ok … ! After we get Russell….

 

When we arrived at the castle we saw Yiling waiting for us by the black SUVs.

 

Dressed totally in black, both Yiling’s long sleeve and top hugged her body so tightly that it left nothing to imagination.

Not even the racer back sports bra she was wearing underneath.

 

She would have fit right in with a gym going crowd or perhaps a hot office lady on her way to Pilates class after work if not for the pair of high heels she wore.

 

If anyone can walk and run in heels, it would be her.

 

Yiling : All ready… ?

 

We nodded and Candy appeared from behind one of the vehicle.

 

She handed out walkie talkies and we did a quick comms check.

 

Declan : read you loud and clear…….

 

We’re taking 3 cars and Declan will follow shortly after in the bus.

 

The prevailing wind never stopped blowing the entire morning.

The red skies cleared slightly only to reveal a dull morning sky overcast of storm clouds.

 

You could practically smell the rain in the air as birds chirped noisily in the trees around us.

 

Dead and dried leaves kept falling around us and I thought I felt the temperature dropped a notch.

This is the kind of weather to cuddle up at home with a hot cup of tea with your love ones, and not out hunting for a terrorist.

 

I brushed off the weather, refusing to lend legitimacy to superstitions that this is a bad sign.

 

 

6.30am

 

The 3 car convoy pulled slowly out of the castle and onto the main road as we made our way over to Jurong.

 

6.40am

 

Declan’s voice sounded out over the walkie talkie.

Declan : bus moving out now….

 

The traffic is not heavy at that time but there are still plenty of vehicles on route to Jurong on the expressway.

 

The lightning seemed to flash more frequently as we made our way further west of the island.

Right before we exit the expressway, the low rumble of thunder finally reached my ears.

 

7am

 

We pulled into the open air carpark by Jurong birdpark and switched off the engine.

 

About 15 minutes later, we saw the bus Declan drove pulled into the carpark as well.

 

Yiling rode in the same car as Aaron while I took mine with Kamal.

 

She fiddled with her phone and signalled to us to hold.

 

The lights in the carpark were still on but I knew they would be switched off soon.

The thick angry clouds rolled over us, blocking out the sun.

 

Still, there were no rain.

 

The wind gathered speed, sweeping up more leaves and I could hear the squawks and cries of the birds in the aviary just beside the carpark.

Another low rumble of distant thunder reached us and I looked at Kamal who shook his head at me.

 

Kamal : don’t say it Jackson …. Don’t say it… it’s bad luck….

 

I turned and I looked at Hong staring up at the skies.

 

I just can’t shake the foreboding feeling in my stomach.

 

 

7.10am

 

The lights in the carpark and all the street lamps go out within seconds of each other. Nobody cut the power to anything, it’s just the way things are in the country.

 

Around 7am, the lights will go off before coming on again at 7pm.

 

It’s just that nobody expected it to be that dark that morning. Although not pitch dark and you could still pretty much see everything around you, the gloom that day is not one you will forget anytime soon.

 

Yiling : ok… go… now…

 

Yiling gestured for us to move and she told Declan to block off the road with the bus. The men are to spread out at the base of the hill in case Russell and his men tried to make a run for it.

 

Kamal and I were in the first car up, followed by Yiling & Aaron, then Hong and Seven.

 

Our headlights may be off but to the lookouts posted at the top, they would surely still see us coming.

 

The incline climb barely levelled off to the open air carpark when a car rammed head on into us.

 

Kamal : FUCK!

 

I held onto the handle as the grind of tyres against tar road screeched angrily. Kamal floor the accelerator and swerved the steering wheel, pushing back the smaller sedan and clearing the way for the rest to come up.

 

Kamal forced the sedan against another parked car and upon realising they had already lost the horsepower game, the Malus in the car got out of the car and started to run.

 

Kamal and I got out of the car and I could hear them shouting and warning their friends.

 

Hong and Aaron blocked the carpark exit with their vehicle, there’s no way Russell will be able to leave in his car.

 

Yiling walked out and looked towards the abandoned restaurant located on top of the hill.

 

4 Malus came out with machetes in their hand.

 

I removed the axe from my makeshift carrier, while Kamal pulled a metal rod out from a cue carrier.

 

Aaron remained in the car and Yiling shouted to Seven and Hong to deal with the 4 Malus while the rest of us go get Russell.

 

Seven was unarmed because his body is his weapon of choice.

He streaked across the carpark like a wolf zeroing down his prey, leaving the beefier Hong trying to catch up.

Leveraging off a parked Toyota, Seven practically propelled himself off the ground and ejected a Malu from the ground with a spinning hook kick.

 

Like a tightly coiled spring releasing it’s pent up energy, Seven sprung forward and got the next guy on his chest with his knee.

 

That was all he could manage before a shove and kick from the 3rd and 4th Malu sent him off balance and scraping his elbow against the hard ground.

 

Hong had arrived by then and the 2 of them were more than enough to handle the Malus.

 

I saw Seven swept a Malu off his feet with a powerful swipe of his legs and Hong finishing the Malu off with a heavy punch to his face.

 

Yiling : hurry…. Before Russell get away… !

 

We quickened our pace and a lone Malu ran out with a long wooden pole, it’s as if he stripped a broom of it’s handle.

 

Malu : ARHGHHH!!!

 

I rotated the axe in my grip and parried off the wooden pole with the blunt end while Kamal formed a protective line in front of Yiling as he guided her away from me and the Malu.

 

The Malu tried striking me again but I blocked him easily, before he could use the length of his weapon to his advantage, I went in close and I gripped the axe with both hands before thrusting it upwards under his chin like a devotee holding up a bunch of lit incense.

 

He staggered backwards as blood poured from his mouth, he must have bit off a chunk of his own tongue. I swung the blunt end of the axe against the back of his right knee, reducing his height by half as he fell on one knee.

Before he could cup his hands over his bleeding mouth, I shoved the handle end of my axe against his temple and he fell over in an awkward angle.

 

I ran to catch up with Kamal and Yiling as they searched the compound for signs of Russell.

 

I turned behind me and I could see Hong and Seven catching up as well.

 

Ok, so far so good.

 

I heard some shouts behind me and I turned around.

 

Another 2 Malu and 1 crazed and laughing foreigner came rushing out, cutting Seven and Hong off from me.

 

I was about to head back to help then Hong shouted for me to go.

 

Hong : JACKSON!!!.. GO!!!…. Go to boss!…

 

Seven’s kick was block by the CF who was a lot bigger in bulk. He literally carried Seven off the ground before throwing him against a fire hydrant.

Hong shouted for me to go again as he used the Malu he just punched as a human shield from the rest while Seven picked himself off the ground.

 

I ran towards Yiling and Kamal and I saw 2 CFs running towards them.

 

Kamal swung his metal rod in an arc and the 2 CFs jumped back laughing and taunting him. Both of them jumped him at the same time a Malu appeared out of nowhere for Yiling.

 

Kamal grabbed the hair of a CF, yanking his head back like an angry chef opening the cover of a wok to reveal overcooked food by his staff, his rod was kicked off and he used the guy he grabbed as a barrier between him and the other CF.

I got into range by then I immediately sent the CF into the abyss as I swung my axe into his face.

 

Kamal cursed loudly in hokkien and throat punch the CF he was holding into the ground.

 

Yiling handled the Malu on her own, looking impeccably good as she sent her knee against the cheekbone of the dazed Malu.

 

2 more guys approached us.

 

I narrowed my eyes and tightened the grip on my axe.

 

These are not your usual foot soldiers.

 

They are Russell’s godson.

 

Elmo and Ernie, or rather, Edwin & Eng.

 

Russell must be running out of men.

 

They held a large modified blade which reminded me of old Hong Kong triad shows. A modified cutting blade from an industrial print shop, one that is capable of slicing through hundreds of pieces of cardboards at one go.

 

Hong and Seven arrived just about then, both of them suffered light injuries but other than that, they are fine.

 

I thought we had the upper hand in terms of numbers but my heart skipped several beats when I heard screams and cries.

 

Cries and screams of kids running out of the abandoned restaurant.

 

Their clothes looked stained and dirty, some of them looked like they haven showered in weeks. I reckon they are all between 4-7 years old.

 

More than a dozen of them ran out in different directions catching us off guard.

 

Jackson : NO!!!!!!

 

I watched in horror as Edwin lifted his blade and he swung it at a little boy running past him.

The blade lodged itself into her boy’s face and his little body went into spasm as his fingers and limbs twitched uncontrollably.

 

Eng started swinging his blade as well, and he caught a lost little girl on her chest. It may not have severed her in half but the force of the swing looked like it caused massive internal bleeding and injuries.

 

I literally watch the girls’ eyes turn bloodshot before blood started spurting out of her mouth as she fell forward.

 

Kamal : you BASTARDS !!!!!!

 

Several CFs came out of the same room the kids ran out of, laughing and chasing the kids. One of them caught one and he bit onto his ear with his mouth before chewing and ripping it off.

 

Hong : aRGHHH!!!!!

 

I ran over to the CF and tried to pull the boy away from him, once there was enough room for me to use my axe, I slid the cutting end in between the CF and the boy.

 

Jackson : aRGHH!!!

 

I pulled the boy away from the CF the saw time I drew the axe across his neck.

He let go but the boy was no longer breathing.

 

It was then I realised the CF had bitten him on the neck for no apparent reason at all.

 

Hong, Seven and Kamal all charged at Edwin and Eng who were felling kids like lumberjacks falling trees for timber. I saw Yiling carrying a little girl after she kicked a CF down a slope. The little girl was bleeding on her head while another younger boy clung onto Yiling’s pants for help.

 

Some of the kids just cried and ran aimlessly. It was utter chaos as I swung my axe at a CF who grabbed the hair of a girl suffering from a bruised eye.

 

Jackson : RAGHHH!!!!!

 

I sent my axe several times into his face, spilling blood and bits of mangled flesh all over the ground.

 

Aaron shouted from behind us and he was carrying 2 kids.

 

Aaron : follow me !!! CHILDREN !!! KIDS!!! HERE!!! HERE!!! Follow me !!!

 

Aaron put one of the kid over his shoulder and grabbed onto his legs and he pulled one more by her dress as he struggled with a screaming boy in his other hand.

 

Several older ones followed him as he led them back to the cars.

 

I shouted at Yiling to get the kids away and I felt a heavy blow to the side of my head.

I was disorientated for a moment and the next thing I knew, Seven was kicking a CF away from me.

 

A flurry of kicks bought me precious seconds to recover my bearings and I felt sick when I watch a little girl no more than the age of 5 run and fell off the side of a steep drop.

 

The sickening thud caused me to jump in my skin.

 

I grabbed 2 screaming kid and started to run towards the carpark.

 

I barely got a few steps when I saw Aaron sprinting back towards us. I put the kids down immediately, knowing full well that Aaron will handle the rest.

 

Yiling too dropped off 2 crying girls.

 

We ran back and gathered the remaining kids, sending them all towards Aaron.

 

Yiling : KAMAL!!!!

 

Several kids laid bleeding and injured on the floor.

 

I don’t know if we should move them or not. Some of them were no longer moving.

I ran over to the guys who were engaged with Edwin and Eng.

 

Kamal was striking repeatly at Edwin with his metal rod and I could see sparks when the metal greeted each other.

 

I went perpendicularly at Edwin, my eyes were on his wrist as I raised my axe.

 

Jackson : arGHHH!!!

 

Edwin saw me but he could not avoid the strike in time.

I lobbed his wrist partially off his hand and he backed away screaming and waving his wrist that was hanging off fleshing and tendons in the air.

 

Kamal wanted to finish him off but I told him the kids need him. Some of them can still be saved.

 

Kamal shouted in frustration as he picked himself up and started running back towards Yiling.

I wanted to end Edwin right there and then but Yiling asked me to keep him alive.

He could also be a valuable source of information.

 

Edwin tripped over a tree root and fell, screaming and moaning in pain from his nearly severed wrist.

Edwin writhed on the grass turfing, grabbing his dangling wrist as blood pained the green grass a deep shade of red.

 

The approaching storm gathered speed and the wind swept the crown of the matured trees on the hill. Branches fell and leaves whipped the walls and windows of the abandoned restaurant as if they too were enraged by the atrocities they witness.

 

Eng was disarmed by Hong and he suffered a bout of relentless kicks and punches back to back by Seven.

 

Eng staggered and fell backwards onto a lone crying boy.

He pulled a knife and tried to stab the little boy but Seven managed to kick him away in time.

 

Seven : aRGHHHH!!! aRGHH!!!

I’ve never seen Seven so enraged as he grabbed onto Eng and he kept shouting and punching him.

 

Yiling came running over and that’s when we saw Russell and Brad.

Russell saw us and I could see him smirk from a distance away.

 

It’s as if he thinks this is a joke.

 

Brad escorted Russell back into the abandoned restaurant and I picked up my axe and went after them.

 

Yiling shouted to Hong and Seven to grab Edwin and Eng as well after they’re done.

My eyes scanned the surroundings for signs of more men but there are none.

 

If it’s just Russell and Brad, I’m sure Yiling and I can handle them on our own.

 

I kicked open the door and revealed a long service corridor.

 

I could see Russell and Brad turning the corner.

 

Yiling : RUSSELL!!!!! you COWARD !!!….

 

We took off running towards them.

 

Yiling was barely 2 steps behind me.

 

My eyes caught a flash and I was bulldozed against a notice board on my left from what felt like a uncontrolled freight train from the right.

 

My arms were immediately up as I blocked a series of hits from a laughing CF.

 

I manage to shove him back into the room he came from. I looked inside the room and I froze.

 

It’s not an empty room.

 

Shelves that would have been filled with food supplies were empty but the room smelled like shit as I watched the group of 5 CFs sniffing on some powdery substance slowly got up on their feet.

 

At the end of the corridor we just entered, 4 Malus entered, shouting for Brad and Russell.

 

I grabbed Yiling and we moved further down the corridor, deeper into the abandoned restaurant.

 

I could see another door to my right and I was cautious this time in case someone came rushing out.

 

Jackson  : oh my god…

 

I saw 2 little girls in dirty clothes eating biscuits off the floor.

 

Yiling : come here girl…come here…. I’ll take you home…. Follow zeh zeh… ( elder sister )

 

Both girls picked up what they could from the dirty floor and went over to what I assume was the first women they have seen in weeks.

 

The CFs laughed, they mumbled something in their native tongue.

 

We came to a large open area, what would have been the main seating hall of the abandoned restaurant.

 

Russell : you overestimate yourself Yiling …..

 

Looking up we saw Russell and Brad standing on level 2 of the hall looking down at us.

 

Yiling : Karma …. Is coming for you Russell…. Mark my words… Karma will get you….

 

Russell : hahahaha….. you want me ??  you want to kill me ??  come !! come ahead… !!! hahaha!!! Hhahah !!! come…!

 

Russell’s taunt was accompanied by some movements behind him.

 

Another 6 Malus flanked his rear and I could hear more weird laughter coming from level 2. 3 CF ran into view and as the 1st one tripped and fall, the other 2 behind fell as well, laughing at their own stupidity.

 

4 more malus appeared from around the corridor and a lone half asleep CF shuffled into view.

 

There’s more than 20 of them in the large dining hall with Yiling and me.

 

The 2 little girls were done with their biscuit crumbs and they were clinging onto Yiling’s pants while she had her hands around their head.

 

Russell : You think today is about getting me…. ? ….. I’ll tell you the truth……

 

Russell gestured to his men on the ground floor, asking them to make sure the rest of Yiling’s men are kept busy.

 

Russell : Today is not about getting me Yiling…. today is about getting you….

 

The main door is behind us and I could see it was padlocked.

 

Brad and the rest of Russell’s men started to come down the steps and I grabbed Yiling’s hand and we started running towards the half asleep CF.

 

I shoved him aside easily and after a short sprint down a dark corridor, entered a disused commercial kitchen.

 

With the kids in tow, we could not move fast and even if we did, there was no place for us to go. I tried the exit door and it was locked.

 

We had gone the length of the restaurant on the outside when we came, and now in it’s interior, Yiling and I backtracked the distance travelled. I could see through the louvred glass windows by the door.

 

I could see Aaron by the carpark. He was kicking a Malu that was trying to get up while carrying a bag of sweets in his hand.

After kicking the guy down, he rushed back to the SUV where waving hands of kids gestured and asked for the candy he was giving to keep them calm.

 

Turning my attention back to the kitchen we were in, 6 men filed into the room and they spread out.

 

Brad was among them.

 

Brad : Take the girl…. Kill the rest….

 

I dragged Yiling behind me and I relaxed the grip on my axe. My eyes saw a rusty saucepan I could use that is within reach slightly behind me.

 

We backed slowly towards the closed door and we hear Aaron called out in pain.

 

Aaron : arghhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! Fuck you !!!! argnhhh!!!

 

A quick glance saw Aaron bleeding across his back as he tussled with a CF.

 

A Malu ran at him with a dagger in his hand and Aaron barely managed to shift his body away before that dagger slammed against the body of the car.

 

The men in the kitchen got nearer as they closed the loop around their trapped prey.

 

Jackson : Yiling…. I’ll distract them…. Get the kids out….

 

Honestly I have no idea how the fuck am I going to distract the 6 men in front of me. One Malu tried to advance and I swung my axe in a wide arc, sending all of them back one step.

 

I must break this line somehow.

 

Just enough for Yiling to bring the kids out at least.

 

Right about then, a CF flew into the kitchen.

 

He landed on a countertop before bouncing off and landing on the floor like a sack of rice being thrown.

 

The commotion drew the attention of the men surrounding us.

 

CF 2 : arGHHHH!!!

 

Another cry of pain reached our ears from outside the kitchen.

 

The sound of loud slamming, bodies being reminded that gravity exists barely moments after being lifted off the floor.

 

The cries got louder and nearer.

 

A Malu that was just standing beside Russell a few minutes ago fell into the kitchen head first, he knocked his already bleeding face against the edge of the stainless steel counter before joining the earlier CF on the floor.

4 of the 6 men surrounding us turned and face the entrance of the kitchen, equally puzzled as to what is happening.

 

There were shouts coming from the carpark outside as well.

 

I turned to see Aaron getting into the car.

 

Somehow he manage to get rid of the 2 men that were trying to kill him.

 

I jumped and the kids screamed as I pulled them away from the window. The Malu that tried to stab Aaron earlier slammed against the old glass louvres, dislodging several of the panels from it’s rusty C-channel.

 

His head looked like he whiplashed himself onto the remaining glass panels before his entire body felt as if he was sucked into the kitchen by vacuum, only there was no magical force pulling him in.

 

Only a powerful and rib fracturing kick from the outside.

 

The kids screamed as the blood spilled from the side of the Malu that landed beside our feet.

 

I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand as I looked at the person left standing outside the window.

 

It’s a woman. You could fell from her figure. Slim, toned and well built. She would have looked stunning in a dress but she is not.

 

She’s unarmed and dressed entirely in black like those I’ve seen before.

 

Her full-face mask looked different from the rest.

 

It’s old, rugged and if death has a smell, that was exactly what is going through my nostril. That mask has seen some mileage in life. The scratches, the peeling paint and the damage to the mask projected an image similar to you seeing a heavily scarred face of a human.

 

A Malu appeared with a machete to her rear, she ducked his strike effortlessly before grabbing to his wrist first with one hand. Rearing back, she angled the Malu’s wrist back and he screamed in pain but the scream is premature.

 

Pulling his arm low, the woman straddled his arm and turned her body around, twisting and dislocated his arm before side punching the Malu in his face.

 

Everything happened in such a blur, she’s fast. She’s fucking fast, even faster than what I’ve seen Candy and Xiaoyu pull off.

Another man dressed in black appeared at the entrance of the kitchen.

 

His mask looked different too.

 

Also unarmed, he looked relaxed as he strolled into the kitchen like a boss.

 

Brad : Get him !!!

 

2 men charged him at the same time I heard Yiling say the same thing I just said earlier to her.

 

Yiling : Jackson ….. we’ll distract them…… get the kids out….

 

I turned and watched in disbelief as Yiling reached for her heels and detached the heel part from her footwear. She snapped both outwards at the same time extending a small telescopic baton with a pointed tip on each hand. It’s less than 30cm long by my estimate but I have no doubt the amount of damage it will inflict if used properly.

 

The woman on the outside started pulling out the remaining louvred glass panels to create an opening wide enough.

 

Yiling charged past me to help the masked men who just slammed the head of a Malu into a disused oven.

 

I carried one of the girl up and handed her to the lady outside the window.

 

Her gloved hands stained the girl’s already dirty top with fresh blood as she took over her from me.

 

I quickly sent the other one out the window before diving in to help Yiling and the mysterious masked man.

It was too chaotic to see what is happening.

 

Things were being thrown about.

 

I felt soup pot hit me on my head as I blocked a left hook by Brad with my right arm.

I swung my axe upwards, putting a metre of space in between Brad and me. I kept my movements small, striking multiple times at Brad with my weapon as he kept avoiding my attack.

 

I saw an opening and I swung my axe for his head. I would have hit him if not for the frayed wires that were hanging over my head from the ceiling. I yanked and pulled ceiling boards and metal grid frames onto the floor.

 

I felt the casing of a downlight hit me as well as I backed up.

 

Brad took the opportunity to strike and he open up a 10cm slash on my forearm, causing me to drop my axe.

 

A punch came out of nowhere and my head struck a sharp handle of a commercial freezer.

I could feel the warmth of blood sliding down my face.

 

Another hit came at my face and I literally felt my skull tremble as my mouth filled with blood. I didn’t know what hit me but I knew it loosened a tooth.

 

I was lying down on my back by then from the hit when I saw the women outside the kitchen swinging herself into the party.

 

I got out of her way as she engaged Brad the moment she entered.

Yiling and her mysterious guest barely took care of the men in the kitchen when Yiling shouted a warning to the man by the door.

 

Yiling : Hibiki !! duck !!

 

The man dropped to the floor, avoiding a metal stake that would have struck him on his temple without the warning, at the same time the lady who was tangled with Brad kicked him back as he swung 2 knives wildly in front of him. Crisscrossing the blades in front of him, he pushed the unarmed women back closer to me.

 

Hibiki bounced off the floor his elbow connecting with the throat of the man that tried to get him from behind.

Yiling whipped one of the Malu across the face with her weapon before stabbing him at the waist.

 

She disarmed the Malu of his knife and threw it over to the woman in front of me.

 

Yiling : Jane !

 

Jane caught onto knife effortlessly and I saw her twirl 720 degree it in her fingers like a student who is apt at playing with a pen in lecture.

No amount of crisscrossing helped Brad as Jane parried his random strike like a boxer dancing around a weaker opponent.

 

Brad : ARGHHH!!!

 

A cry of pain from a slash across the wrist is immediately followed by a louder shriek of pure agony as Jane drone the blade into Brad’s palm against a sack of concrete mix that had no business of any kind being in the kitchen.

She kicked his other knife off his grip, slid under his armpit and struck him so hard in his temple that Brad vomitted and slid to the floor while his bloodied hand remained nailed above his head.

 

Brad, disorientated and screaming, pulled another knife from his belt and tried to slash Jane.

 

She twisted his wrist inwards and directed the pointed tip at his eye.

 

Brad : aRGHHHHH

 

Jane balled up a fist and hammered it home, lodging into Brad’s eye socket and he stopped moving.

 

It’s like watching craftsmen at work doing what they do best watching the scene unfolding in front of me.

 

A Malu can punch Hibiki and you can’t help but felt that the hit is too light compared to the returning blow he suffered.

Wall tiles cracked as Hibiki smashed the head of a CF against it, the spiderweb crack lines spread to the surrounding tiles as he followed up with a harder blow with his knee.

 

Not missing a beat, Hibiki grabbed another Malu and sent him into an opened combi oven. He slammed the door against the body twice and the Malu stopped moving.

 

Ripping a Salamander grill off the wall, Hibiki threw it at a CF that was trying to get back on his feet.

 

That’s it, everyone on the kitchen is done for except us.

 

We barely had 3 seconds of breathing time when we heard more men arriving.

 

Rapid running footsteps and shouts approached the kitchen and Jane slid through the door under Hibiki and shortly after that, he followed as well.

 

I could not see what is happening beyond the kitchen but the cries and shouts of Russell’s man gave a pretty good idea.

 

Aaron : Jackson !!! come out… BOSS!! Boss…. Come on out !!!

 

Yiling : Jackson….  You’re hurt…!

 

Jackson : I’m ok… go…

 

We helped Yiling through the broken window to see Seven by the SUVs.

 

He had dragged Edwin and Eng over. Kamal was tending to a little girl by one of the vehicle.

 

Hong : I got him…. I got him !!!… go ! go ! go!!

 

I jumped out the window and fell on my side.

 

I was surprised to see Hong with a badly beaten Russell under his arm.

 

I was about to ask when did they get him when Hong said some lady and guy in black appeared just when Russell was about to escaped.

 

Hong : They fucking dropped the men he is with like flies !!….who are they… ??

 

Jackson : Friends of Yiling I think….

 

There was no time to waste and Yiling shouted for everyone to load up the vehicle. Hong literally threw Russell into the backseat. The moment the car is loaded, Aaron started the engine with Seven in the passenger seat and started racing down the hill.

 

Yiling : Kamal !!… take the car with the kids and go !!

 

Kamal will be driving the vehicle with the injured kids straight to the medical centre at the castle.

 

Yiling shouted into the walkie talkie to Declan to get ready the bus and load the men.

 

We will be delivering Edwin, Eng and Russell to the bus. There’s no way they can get away with 40 pairs of eyes on them.

 

I got into the car and there were 4 kids in the backseat with Yiling while Hong and I sat up front. Hong wiped sweat from his brows and started the engine.

 

We raced downhill and the skies opened up.

 

It started to rain.

 

Jackson : What about your friends Yiling ?!

 

Yiling : They’ll clean up… they can take care of themselves….

 

We arrived at the foot of the hill and I could see Aaron and Seven dragging our prisoners up the bus.

 

Kamal has driven on ahead.

 

Yiling spoke into the walkie talkie, she gave the address of a residential bungalow a short distance away from the castle.

 

That’s where we will deliver the prisoners.

Yiling : Hong….!…. get the kids back to the castle…. I’ll have Cindy and Candy standby to take care of them….Jackson !… we’ll take the other car and follow the bus….

 

Hong : Ok…. I’ll go look for you guys after I’m done… !

 

Yiling and I ran in the rain over to Aaron’s vehicle and 5 minutes later, we were on the expressway.

 

No one say a word for the first few minutes until I broke the silence.

 

Jackson : We got those fuckers ….hahaha… we fucking got those fuckers…. !

 

Aaron :  WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

 

Seven tapped the dashboard several times in agreement and I noticed Yiling finally smiled. There was a visible look of relief on her face as well as we looked at the taillights of the bus in front of us.

 

Jackson : What now… ?

 

Yiling : We deliver them to the holding facility…. And others will come and pick them up from us….

 

Jackson : others as in who… ?

 

Yiling : There’s no need to know that….

 

The rain got heavier as we pulled out of the expressway.

 

Jackson : Hibiki and Jane….. who are they… ?

 

Yiling : friends…. From what feels like a lifetime ago….

 

Jackson : I’m heard that name before…. Hibiki…. The men at the Rajah rooftop…they mentioned that name…

 

Yiling smiled but she said nothing.

 

Her eyes closed and I could see her relaxed significantly now that we have Russell.

 

We arrived at the 4 storey residential house shortly. It had a compound large enough to fit the whole bus with plenty of room to spare. Built in the 1950s, it resembled the old black and white colonial bungalows. Plenty of concrete with large openings

I could see Xiaoyu standing by the sheltered porch tall enough to fit the bus.

 

Declan’s bus took up all the sheltered area and the rest of us had to wait a little.

 

It’s literally pouring cats and dogs out there.

 

About a dozen of La Bella Vita’s men unloaded Russell and his godsons and Xiaoyu was gesturing to the insides of the house.

 

After our prisoners were unloaded, Declan pulled the bus out of the sheltered porch to make way for the rest of the vehicles.

 

Yiling looked at her watch and commented that we’re ahead of schedule.

 

Yiling : They will be picked up in less than an hour from now…. we just need to wait a bit till then…..

 

All of us exited the vehicle and I saw Declan running towards us as well.

 

The place is clean but just empty. Devoid of any furniture, the echoes of our footsteps rang loud and clear throughout the structure.

 

Xiaoyu is dressing up the wounds of our prisoners while they were surrounded by 10 of our men. Almost all of their tops had stains of blood from handling the prisoners.

Edwin’s severed wrist is still bleeding and he looked pale, Russell looked unkempt and he kept his eyes down. He suffered cuts and bruises but otherwise unharmed. I would have loved to see his earlier arrogance again.

 

I looked up the large hall and I could see where they prisoners will be kept.

Vertical bars rising high above the parapet walls indicated that there’s a makeshift cage on level 3.

What would have been a mix of bedrooms and perhaps a family hall is now converted into a makeshift prison.

 

In the centre of level 3 stood a cage about half the size of a badminton court.

 

It’s huge, taking up the width of the floorplate leaving only narrow walkway on both sides.

I saw Seven up on level 3 checking out the cage, he gave Yiling a thumbs up as he leaned over the concrete railing, that structure is the only thing stopping you from plunging 3 storey down to the living room below.

 

After Xiaoyu is done dressing the wounds, our captives were dragged up on their feet.

 

Yiling sent a few messages on her phone before telling me to go to the bus and get the rest of the men out.

 

Yiling : we’ll have to wait a bit…

 

Jackson : ok…

 

As the rest started to make their way up to the cage, I left the house and scouted for the shortest route to the bus.

I ran in the rain over to the bus. I rapped on the door and waited for it to open.

 

There was no response. Maybe the rain was too heavy.

 

I knocked harder and I even rapped my knuckles on the windows but no one responded.

 

I went over to the driver side and the door is locked too.

 

The small window is slightly opened and I forced it apart.

 

Jackson : Hey guys….Boss wants you guys to unload…and….

 

I was getting drenched and I paused in the middle of my shout.

I felt my heart sink as I wiped my eyes to make sure I was not seeing things.

 

They were dead.

The men in the bus were all dead.

 

I felt my legs go weak as I looked at the large mirror above the driver seat. It gave a clear view of the rest of the men slumped in their seats, many with visible slits on their throat.

 

Jackson : aRGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

 

I left the bus and I sprinted for the house.

 

I pushed the door open and I could hear the echoes of shouts and fights breaking out on the 3rd floor. Every single hair on my pore stood on it’s send as I felt the burn in my calves as I ran up the stairs.

 

Jackson : NO!!!!!

 

Inside the cage with the prisoners were 8 of our men together with Xiaoyu and Seven.

 

I screamed in anguished as I bulldozed and charge one of our men who was trying to stab Aaron over the parapet.

 

I heard a shriek of horror before the slam of body against concrete floor echoed loudly in the house.

 

Yiling and Aaron were tussling with another while I ran over to the cage.

 

Xiaoyu and Seven are inside trying to fend off the men who betrayed us.

 

I wanted to open the door but I can’t.

 

It was padlocked from the outside.

 

I rattled the chain and shouted as Xiaoyu was stabbed in her shoulder. She disarmed him the moment he pulled it out but was immediately punched in the face by another.

 

Seven shoved the betrayers back before kicking one in the face.

 

Jackson : aRGHHH!!!!!!! NO!!!! NO!!!! aRHGH!!!

 

Russell : aHHWHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! WHWHHWHAHAHAHAH!!!

 

Russell, sitting on the far end of the cage was laughing with his eyes bulging wide as I watched our own men that betrayed us brandished knives from their pocket.

 

The close range attacked left Xiaoyu and Seven with no room to maneuver at all.

There was no time even for Seven and Xiaoyu to scream as the men stabbed them.

 

They stabbed them over and over again in their body, their stomach, their faces, their hands.

I kicked the gate and rattled the iron bars that formed the makeshift prison.

 

It would not budge and all I could see in my eyes were the repetitive stabbing motion. Hands coming in, rearing back, coming in, rearing back, each time drawing more blood from the bodies of my friends and spilling them onto the concrete floor.

 

Yiling screamed when she saw what was happening as Aaron, bleeding from his eye shove the man they were fighting with down the flight of stairs.

 

I grabbed a nearby fire extinguisher and tried to break the padlock. I hammered it several times and it punctured the body of the extinguisher, causing the compressed gas to whistle as it escaped from the cylinder.

 

Yiling broke down and she could hardly stand as the bodies of Xiaoyu and Seven laid lifeless in front of her eyes.

 

Right about then Declan appeared out of nowhere. He had a gun in his hand  and he went straight for Yiling.

 

Aaron : NO!!!..

 

I had no time to react.

 

The hammer slammed into the firing pin and I watched helplessly as Yiling who was on her knees slammed back onto the floor.

Jackson : ARGHHH!!!!!

 

I lifted and I wanted to throw the extinguisher at Declan but his weapon was already pointed at me.

 

Aaron charged him at the same time, the gun missed it’s shot but it still hit me.

 

The projectile sliced opened my left cheek, shooting upwards and removing the top half of my left earlobe.

 

I staggered sideways and leaned on the cage. Immediately I was stabbed by the men inside. Once on my right arm and once on my right thigh.

 

The pain shot through my body as I instinctively propelled myself away from the cage and landed beside Yiling.

 

I could not believe what was happening.

 

This is a nightmare.

This must be a bad dream.

 

It must be.

 

Aaron : aRGHH!!! WHY!!! WHY!!!!

 

The weapon fired again, the bullet went cleanly through Aaron’s and lodged itself in the concrete wall beside my face barely inches away.

 

Aaron fell and Declan pushed him away and stepped back.

 

I crawled over to Yiling and it took everything I had to hold her up.

 

Blood poured from her stomach and her delicate fingers could not stop the bleeding no matter how hard she tried.

 

I applied pressure on her wound and I was on the verge of breaking down.

 

Jackson : NO… no… no… !!! NO!!!…. not like this…. NOT like this !!!

 

I glared at Declan who looked unstable and on the verge of a mental breakdown as well.

 

Jackson : WHY!!!!! WHY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

I shouted at Declan who looked like he was on the verge of tears as well.

 

Declan : I’m sorry….. I’m sorry…. I wish it didn’t have to come to this….

 

Yiling looked at Declan I could see how disappointed she was as she looked at him.

 

Declan apologised again and said we all serve different masters.

 

Declan : We don’t serve the same master….. I’m sorry…. Owen will come for the castle….the vault is his…. It has always been his since the day he handed over to you for safekeeping Yiling….. it’s his…….

 

I could hear the door to the large empty house open.

 

I could hear Hong’s voice.

 

The men in the cage are searching Seven and Xiaoyu’s body for the key to open the padlock.

 

Hong : Boss!!! Jackson !!!…

 

He ran up the stairs shouting to us that the men in the bus are dead.

 

Jackson : HONG!!!! RUNN!!

 

I barely shouted my warning when Declan pointed his gun down towards the stairs and he started shooting.

 

Hong : FUCK!!!

 

The loud report of gunfire was amplified several times in the empty house and I could hear Russell’s eerie low laugh as he looked at the state of his captors.

 

Hong must have manage to find cover because I could hear him shout.

 

Hong : WHAT THE FUCK!!!! DECLAN!!!! WHAT  THE FUCK!!!!

 

Declan turned towards us and he was trembling as he orientated his attention between Hong at the bottom of the stairs and us on level 3.

 

Declan : I’m sorry Yiling…. I’m sorry… I can’t let you take the prisoners….

 

He closed his eyes for barely half a second before pointing his weapon back at us, but before he could shoot again, Aaron, clutching onto the wound on his stomach shot towards Declan.

 

He grabbed the gun with his left hand and Declan squeeze the trigger, the bullet ripped Aaron’s hands to shreds and several of his fingers fell onto the floor but that did not stop him.

 

It did not stop him.

 

Aaron charged and using his body weight, shove Declan and himself over the ledge at the same time.

 

Aaron : aRGHHH!!! FUCK YOU!!!..

 

Declan : ARGHHHHHHHH!!

 

The loud slam caused me to tremble as tears streak down my cheeks.

 

Hong’s anguish shout echoed throughout the house as I held onto Yiling.

 

I could see it in her face.

 

Life is slipping away from her. She looked so pale.

 

Jackson : Hong… !! HONG!!!….I’m sorry Yiling… I’m sorry….. arghhh!!

 

Hong ran up the stairs with Declan’s gun and a leather holster with spare magazines.

 

He saw Yiling in my arms before his eyes settled on the bodies of Xiaoyu and Seven in the cage.

 

Russell : Hurry !!! get out and kill Hong !!! ahahhahaha….. kill them all!!!

 

The padlock came undone and the men were removing the chain around the iron bars.

 

Hong : ERGHHH!!a rarggghhhhhhh!!!!!

 

He pointed the gun at the men who betrayed us and he emptied the clip.

 

Empty gun shells flew, clattering onto the floor in front of me and Yiling.

 

Hong emptied the clip, reloaded with the spare magazine and he kept shooting.

 

He screamed and the emptied the weapon, scattering bodies around Seven and Xiaoyu.

 

Edwin was hit by a stray bullet and he collapsed in front of Russell.

 

By the time Hong was done, he collapsed on his knees and wept.

 

I looked at Yiling and I didn’t know what to do.

 

I don’t know what to do.

 

Yiling smiled and shook her head at me, it’s as if she knew her time is up.

 

Jackson : I’ll kill him…. I’ll fucking kill Owen if it’s the last thing I do…. I’ll fucking kill him…… I swear to you I’ll kill him !!!

 

Yiling : i….. I wish I could ……. watch you do it…..

 

I cradled Yiling in my arms as Hong crawled over to us. He could not even manage to get up on his feet.

 

Hong : Boss…. Boss… no… no…. No please… no…. !! no!!!

 

Yiling : take…. Take care of yourselves…. Take care of each other…..

 

Yiling’s blood stained hands wiped tears from my face as Hong fumbled for his phone with his trembling hands to call for help,

 

Hong : Boss…. Don’t… don’t…..

Hong cursed loudly for the lack of a phone signal as the storm outside got heavier.

Yiling held Hong’s hand for barely 2 seconds before it gave way and her who body went limp.

 

Hong : aRGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

 

Hong shouted and slammed the floor with his fist so hard that I could feel the floor plate vibrate.

 

I closed my eyes and I hugged Yiling’s body against mine and I exhaled as tears fell onto her lifeless face.

 

I didn’t know how much time past but the next thing we know, armed men with full tactical gear burst into the house.

 

I could see the red dots of the laser pointers as they cleared the house and came up the stairs.

 

I saw James with his weapon raised and he froze at the sight that greeted him.

 

He looked at the dead on the floor.

 

He looked at prisoners in the cage.

 

And he looked at Yiling in my arms.

 

His men proceeded to clear the rest of the house before taking over the prisoners.

 

James knelt down on one knee and he holstered his weapon. Removing his gloves, he reached for Yiling’s face and he wiped dried blood off her cheek.

 

James : Goodbye Bella…

 


*gentle reminder, please refrain from commenting on the plot under comments section*


 

A paramedic came to attend to my wound while several other came to deal with the bodies.

I remembered the guy kept asking me to let go of Yiling but I can’t.

 

I don’t know if my fingers and muscles were cramped or what’s wrong with me. I can’t let go.

I just can’t.

 

More people flooded into the house. Some documented the scene, after which the rest started to clean up.

They worked methodically and quietly.

 

I don’t know who they all are, but one thing for sure, they are organised, discipline and from the looks of it, related to the government.

 

James juggled 3 phones and he rest his forehead in his thumb and index finger while leaning on the parapet as he made calls after calls.

 

Yiling is gone and whoever she worked for needed to know.

 

Billy : Hi….. my name is Billy….

 

I looked up at him and again, I was struck with a sense of familiarity. I have seen him somewhere. This face, this voice.

 

I suddenly remembered our meeting in Little india. The commercial building Yiling brought me to. I’ve seen him there before.

 

Billy : Bro… we’re friends…. With Yiling….. we’ll take care of her now….

 

I looked at him and somehow he convinced me to release my grip on Yiling’s body while the others couldn’t.

 

Billy : We’ll take care of her…. I promise……

 

I watched Yiling being carried carefully into a body bag before being put on a stretcher and I broke down while the paramedic tended to my wounds.

I failed to protect her.

I could not protect my employer, and the woman that I love.

 

Billy : we’ll clean her up…. And….we’ll send her body back to the castle….you will need to take care of the wake….. can you do that bro… ?

 

I nodded.

 

I heard screams and shout on the ground floor.

 

Cindy, Candy and Kamal had arrived.

 

Hong wept on the floor like a wreck mess and I saw Candy sank onto her knees.

 

Cindy, no matter how well built and tough she may be on the outside, she broke too and she hugged onto Candy.

 

Cindy : no…. no…. please… no…

 

Kamal : arghh!… arghhhhh!!…

Kamal walked unsteadily towards the stretcher the guys were bringing down groaning like an injured animal.

 

Kamal : Is this her…. is this…

 

I hopped down a few step while being supported by 2 paramedic and the water works flowed freely when I saw Kamal scream in anguish before he turned and started to kick a wall before punching it so hard I could see blood on his knuckles after the 1st hit.

 

He kept punching before he fell, tripping on his own foot. And he too laid on the floor and wept.

 

I could see more of La Bella Vita’s men arriving at the compound.

 

Many of them unable to believe what has happened.

 

The queen is dead.

 

And then there’s Seven, there’s Xiaoyu, and there’s Aaron. Not to forget the men in the bus who were taken by surprise.

 

Billy was the one in charge on the ground that day.

He directed the clean up, he sent people away, he brought more people in.

It was a massive project and he handled it with east.

 

Everyone knew who he is. Even James went to him when he needed something.

 

Billy sent us back to the castle and say he will be in touch.

 

I went straight to the medical centre.

Kamal came and gave me a shot to help me calm down before he rushed to the security centre.

He wanted to see what happen with his own eyes on the cameras above the makeshift prison.

 

My world went dark shortly after that and in between dreams, I actually thought I was dead.

 

 

22nd December 2017

Friday

4pm

 

 

I drifted in and out of consciousness, by the time I was fully awake, I saw Rachel and Henry walking in through the door accompanied by Hong.

 

They brought a hamper and Rachel took the seat beside me.

 

Jackson : How…. How long have I been out… ?

 

Rachel : A little more than a day….

 

Henry : we heard what happened…. We’re sorry for your lost….

 

Rachel : Uncle Ben dropped by earlier too…. But you were asleep….

 

I could feel the pain from my wounds but it’s not that bad that I can’t move.

 

Jackson : Hong…. Are the rest ok… ?

 

Hong nodded.

 

Hong : Kamal’s drunk…. Cindy and Candy…. They’re….. they’re picking some…. Some….. nice clothes for… for….

 

Hong tried hard to control his emotion as he leaned against the wall of the ward I was in. He covered his face and his heavy body began to slide down until he was sitting on the floor.

 

Rachel : Jackson ….. Let us handle the wake….

 

I turned and looked at Rachel.

 

Rachel : The Rajahs…. Will make sure it’s fit for a queen…. It’s the least we could do….

 

I wanted to ask the rest for their opinion, or perhaps someone I can consult this decision with, then I realised that, there is no one left to ask.

No one left to give instructions.

 

Hong has snot coming out of his nose. Kamal is dead drunk.

 

The girls are not around either and even if they are, I doubt they would be able to make a decision, not in their current state at least.

 

I nodded as I looked at Henry and Rachel.

Jackson : ok…. Ok….. Please do your best….

 

Henry : we will…. get some rest….

 

Rachel told me that Yiling had dealings with the lawyers at Rajah Holdings.

 

Rachel : A… couple of months ago…. Yiling came to us…. She left something for you guys….. our lawyers will be in touch…

 

Jackson : Why…. ? what is it…

 

Rachel : I guess…. She’s starting to have doubts as to who to trust towards the end….

 

I exhaled and I could feel the stabbing pain of grief creeping up my heart again.

 

Rachel  : get some rest…. We’ll make sure the wake is done properly…. Not just for Yiling…. but for the rest as well….

 

 

 

23rd December 2017

Saturday

 

11am

 

I walked out of the medical centre with the help of a crutch and I could see the large tent being erected in front of the castle ground.

What the Rajahs promised, they delivered.

 

Hong lit a cigarette beside me and told me they worked through the night.

 

Hong : They never stopped….. not even to take a break… they never stopped….. the guys erecting the tents….laying the cables…the portable toilets…. They just kept going….

 

The area which the tent covered is huge.

 

Almost a football field in length. Flowers and wreaths lined the sides of the tent and I could hear the Rajahs shouting at the electrical guys to start the generators for the aircon.

 

12pm

 

The cookhouse is running full steam ahead.

All 3 chefs plus their helpers are present to make sure everyone gets fed, from ad hoc workers to the Rajahs who worked through the night.

 

Trucks lined up 3 deep in the narrow driveway as they unloaded food and drinks.

 

 

2pm

 

I stood in the makeshift funeral hall, looking at the bodies of my friends.

Xiaoyu and Seven laid side by side in coffins. Aaron’s body has been retrieved by his remaining family, a younger sister.

The coffins are covered up.

 

A table filled with offerings, flowers and food is set in front of the 2 coffins.

 

Billy arrived with Yiling’s coffin shortly after 2.30pm.

 

She has her own corner in the funeral hall. Candy and Cindy oversaw the arrangement, from where to put the chairs and tables to Yiling’s favourite flowers.

The picture they chose for Yiling is one of her smiling radiantly.

 

I walked over to Yiling. It felt unreal, like a bad dream. Seeing her with her eyes closed and not moving under a glass panel.

She looked beautiful, she always has.

 

Billy came over to me and introduced himself properly this time round.

 

Billy : You must be Jackson…. I work with Yiling frequently… on a lot of matters…

I shook his hand and he told me to expect a crowd.

 

Billy : Yiling has made many enemies …..but she made a lot of friends as well…. I expect most of them to come…….

 

Jackson : ok… thank you…

 

Billy : please try to make sure all guest leave by 12 midnight….

 

Jackson : Why… ?

 

Billy : Yiling’s family will be coming….…….they need the privacy….

 

I nodded.

 

It’s been more than a year since I last saw Yvonne. I wonder how she is doing.

 

Kamal hasn’t shaved for a couple of days. He was holding onto a cup of coffee as he sat at a table alone.

Hong bit onto a unlit cigarette and stared blankly into space.

 

I left them alone and I went back to my farmhouse.

 

I took a shower with much difficulty before changing and grabbing my jacket.

Slipping on my jacket, I looked at my bandaged ear. Right by the mirror there’s a few photos taken by Seven with his polaroid camera of us having steamboat during my first few months at La Bella Vita.

Declan was in them too.

 

I pulled the photos out and put them under a book.

 

When I returned to the hall, guests started arriving. Hong and Kamal went to wash up and get changed.

The least we could do is look decent and dignified for the evening.

 

The Rajahs were among the first.

Rachel, Henry and their men arrived. They paid their respects but did not stay long.

 

Rachel : if you need anything Jackson…. You have our number…

 

Jackson : Thank you… for everything you’ve done….

 

Rachel : It’s not for free Jackson… we’ll send you the invoice later…. Don’t take it personally but this is business at the end of the day…. haha

I smiled and I shook Rachel and Henry’s hands.

Yes the Rajahs are all about doing business, but in that instance, they did more than just business, they built a relationship.

 

The white snakes came as well.

Not only uncle Ben.

 

I watched them from a distance away and Hong told me that all the elders of the White snakes are present. They kept to themselves mostly but when the Monks and the thieves arrived, they briefly interacted.

I was not in the mood for any small talk and I kept to myself.

 

Throughout the day, more and more guest came and went.

 

Businessmen, foreigners , even diplomats. Numerous charity organisations, even the abbot of a temple, the bishop of a church and nuns from a hospital.

Yiling is rich, she has money and from the people arriving for her final journey, you could clearly see where those money went to.

The guestbook was quickly filled up and a 2nd one was immediately made available.

 

A guy dressed in suit flanked by 2 Rajahs approached me. I did not see him earlier with Rachel.

 

Ruihao : Hi Jackson … my name is Ruihao…. I’m Yiling’s lawyer….

 

Jackson : hi…

 

Ruihao mentioned that she has left something for us and he would like to speak with the group in private.

I brought Ruihao to Yiling’s study and he waited for the rest to arrive.

 

Once Hong, Kamal , Candy and Cindy were gathered in the study, he unlocked his briefcase and produced a large sealed envelope.

 

Ruihao : This is a sealed envelope, and I am to unseal it in all your presence….upon Yiling’s departure….

 

He slid the wax seal with a letter opener and reached inside to pull out a series of thumb drives each clearly labelled with our names.

 

Ruihao called out each one of us and he kept the rest which were not present.

 

Ruihao explained that Yiling made and update her video message every year, this one was made 3 months ago.

There is one which all of us were to view together, and the other in the thumb drives, that was meant solely for our individual viewing.

 

Ruihao : The individual message contains further details of what financial arrangements Yiling has made for you after her departure…..she has a list of personal assets…. Some she donated… some she gifted to you guys…. I can’t reveal what she gave to who….. but I can assure you that she has been fair….. and that in the event that anyone of you…… no longer wants to be part of La Bella Vita…. You are all set for life….

 

Ruihao held up the rest of the thumb drive and added that what Yiling left to the rest, who are unfortunately not around anymore, will be given to their next of kin.

 

Ruihao paused to let that sink in before asking if we have any questions.

 

No one had any.

 

Ruihao : Please… may i… ?

 

He gestured to the large TV in Yiling’s study and I nodded.

 

Ruihao asked for the blinds in Yilings study to be drawn and the door to be locked.

I felt myself tremble and my legs went weak as I looked at Yiling on screen.

 

Dressed in a maroon dress complete with makeup and earrings, she looked like she was about to head out for a dinner function. Her hair is done up nicely and she did a really good job on her eyeshadows, giving herself a cheeky seductive look.

 

Several pairs of her heels were visible as well. I could see she has trouble making up her mind which one to wear that day.

 

The video was made in her room.

 

She adjusted the camera, walked to the seat she prepared earlier, before walking back to adjust the camera again.

 

Ruihao increased the volume and we waited for Yiling to begin.

Yiling cleared her throat and began while deciding where her eyes should look.

 

Yiling : so…. Ermmm… I make this video once a year…. And…..and…. it doesn’t get easier….but…but…. it’s something I have to do…. So everything doesn’t collapse like a house of cards…..hahah

 

She laughed at her own joke before composing herself.

 

Yiling : ok… jokes aside….If you are seeing this…. It means I’m dead….

 

She suddenly pointed a finger at the camera and issued a warning.

 

Yiling : And if I’m not dead !!! ….. you will be….. if I know you watched this… !!! YOU… !! YES… HONG!!!..and you JACKSON!! …. You better switch this off now and run !!!!

 

Hong jumped before breaking out into a laugh, silently acknowledging he’s one of the least obedient one. I smiled too at her sense of humour.

 

Yiling : Just kidding….haha… anyway…. I guess chances are….. I’m gone by now…

Yiling sucked on her teeth and click her tongue before taking a deep breath and exhaling.

She referred to a piece of paper she kept by her side, sat back on the chair and crossed her legs while resting both hands on her knee as she continued.

 

Yiling : I know the question on everyone’s mind right now would be who is going to be in charge of La Bella Vita……It’s a heavy burden….and it weighs heavily on me to decide who I am going to choose….. because …. This is not a position I want anyone of you to be in…… and I meant it from the bottom of my heart……

 

She adjusted her seating posture, obviously uncomfortable with making this video.

 

Yiling : girls….that includes you Xiaoyu…haha…i…I don’t think this is situable….for us girls….given a choice… I don’t want to be the queen of this castle…. It sucks….i’m serious…

 

Yiling laughed before saying that she would have loved to have a normal life.

 

Yiling : One where I can date…. Go holidays… enjoy myself….yada yada yada… blab la bla… ok…ok… cut.. enough about this…. I need to cut this part out….. girls….

 

She came over to the camera, and we could see the video jump forward and Yiling is back on the seat again.

 

Yiling: Ok girls….. ermm… the stuff I want to talk to you about…..is not meant for the boy’s ears… so…. Refer to your own private videos ya… muacks ! I love you all … don’t worry…. I’m not throwing this shit job on you… haha.

 

She stopped blabbering and let the mood settle before going on.

 

Yiling first talked about Kamal.

 

Yiling : Kamal….Dr Kamal…. Sighzz…. You don’t belong here… you belong in a hospital…. Saving lives….not in a shit hole like La Bella Vita….. I was hoping you would eventually walk out of the shadow…and go back to your old life….

Kamal’s eyes closed and I could see tears streaking down his cheeks as he kept his arms folded.

 

Yiling : I want to see you with your hair dyed black… I want to see you in a suit….. in your white coat… in your old sports car….wearing your expensive watch….looking confident and smug as you walk down the hospital corridor…I know you need time to heal wounds we cannot see…. And I hope that day will come for you soon……

 

Next she moved on to Seven.

 

Yiling : Seven I know you wouldn’t want this as well…. Networking and smiling in front of people you hate is the last thing you would do…..but smiling and dealing with people I hate is something I must do everyday…..and I know how much you enjoy fishing……there won’t be anytime for you to fish if you do this……..and Hong….

 

Hong started sobbing quietly as Yiling went on.

 

Yiling : Somewhere inside that big, vulgar….rough….techno loving…. and sometimes violent body….. is a very big heart…….you have a big heart Hong….. you don’t show it….but I know….

 

Hong slid onto the floor and covered his face with his hands as the video continued playing.

 

Lightening the mood suddenly, Yiling added that she has to deal with a lot of women as well.

 

Yiling : and … you need to deal with a lot of girls in my position… Hong !!!!! hot … beautiful and slut like women… !! they are all CHIO BU ( hot babes ) …

 

Yiling folded her arms and shook her head like a teacher disapproving something a naughty student has done.

 

Yiling : Tskt… tsk.. tsk…. Cannot… cannot… you cannot one…. Confirm you won’t be able to resist their charms !!!.. they will confirm gobble you up !! hahaha.. show a bit of leg you weak already… haha..

 

Yiling’s exaggerated expression is too funny to fight and everyone laughed.

Hong laughed in between sobs.

 

Yiling : Aaron…. i… I know your capability….you’re really good with administering day to day operations….very good organisational skills….and…to be honest…. It looks like you are the best person for the job…..but you are not a risk taker…. To run the castle… you must be willing to take risks…. Even if it means knowing that you might lose….Before I made this latest video….i actually chose you…. To take over La Bella Vita….but I’m afraid I changed my mind….sorry….

 

Yiling stopped talking for a few moments and checked her phone before rejecting the incoming call.

 

Yiling : Declan…. I worked with you for the longest time…. ever since the day this fell on my lap…..I’m thankful for the guidance along the way… all the help you have given me…. but you’ve always talked about spending your retirement in a remote island…..of peace and calm….. And you’ve expressed your opinion so many times to me before….. that this is a shit job…. A thankless one…. Besides… you’re going to retire in a couple of years…..

 

By then, I could see several pairs of eyes in the rooms looking at me.

 

Yiling finally came to me.

 

Yiling : and that leaves…. Jackson…. The…. Newest….member of the team….

 

There was a long pause before Yiling apologised.

 

Yiling : I’m sorry Jackson …. This is not a prize…. It’s a burden…. A curse..… and don’t worry… you have a choice… you can say no…

 

Yiling went on to say that the burden of keeping a couple of hundred men, women and their families fed will fall to me should I take this up. The numerous charities La Bella Vita supported, the warehouses , the properties , both local and overseas and a lot more.

 

Yiling : The castle is a massive place to upkeep…the headache you will get is unimaginable…. You need to worry about money….about people doing shit behind your back and you will never get a good night’s sleep….so… please consider it carefully….

 

Yiling looked at her phone again in the video before rejecting the call a 2nd time.

 

Yiling : Guys… I hope you give Jackson the same support you gave me if he agrees….it’s not an easy position to be in…. and Jackson….it’s ok to say no… Don’t be afraid to say it…. I’ll say no if I were you….

 

Yiling wrapped up the video asking us not to worry if no one takes up the post.

 

Someone will come.

 

Yiling : ok… that’s all I have for you all…. Remember to watch my private message to you alone ya… ?

 

She made 2 cute Korean style heart with both thumbs and index finger before saying she loves us all.

 

Yiling : I love you guys…..don’t be sad….ok.. ?

 

Yiling got up off the chair and walked over, angled her head in an adorable manner and waved at the camera with a smile before switching it off.

 

The video ended after that and the room remained quiet until Ruihao broke the silence.

 

Ruihao : Yiling gave specific instructions to check with each member if there are any objections to her choice of candidate…. Please raise them now if you are not agreeable to Jackson taking over the reins….

 

Kamal looked at me before nodding his head slowly and so did Hong.

 

Candy and Cindy nodded their head as well.

 

Jackson : What about me… do I get a say in this…. ?

 

Ruihao looked at his watch and told me I have time to consider the decision.

 

Ruihao : You have a few hours to consider….

 

Jackson : and then what… ?

 

Ruihao : Someone will come for your decision…

 

Jackson : Who…

 

Ruihao : I don’t know…Yiling did not share that with me….

 

Jackson : what will happen if someone objected… ?

 

Ruihao lifted another sealed envelope.

 

Ruihao : But no one objected… so this will remain sealed…. I want to remind all that Jackson’s acceptance does not mean he automatically gets the job. ….. Yiling mentioned that she only makes the recommendation…. Someone else will come and decide if Jackson is situable….

 

Ruihao added that if there are no other matters, he will take his leave.

 

 

The 5 of us remained in the study after Ruihao left.

 

Jackson : I don’t know what to do guys….

 

I looked at each of them and I told them honestly what I felt.

 

Jackson : I’m not doing this…. Unless I know I have all of you with me to do it together…..i can’t do this alone….The only thing on my mind now is to find Owen and kill him…. I don’t know anything about running a company…. Much less an organisation like this..

 

Kamal : Yiling must have her reasons for choosing you Jackson….don’t let her down… I’m in if you are…. And I’m not leaving until that fucker is dead….

 

Hong spoke in between sobs that Yiling put a lot of effort into La Bella Vita.

Hong : It’s her legacy…… I don’t want to see it gone…

 

Candy : sniff…. I’m in all the way if you are….

 

Cindy : do it Jackson …take it…. You want Owen…. You will need all the resources La Bella vita has…..

 

I suddenly realised that the people in that study are the ones left closest to me in the world.

I have no one else.

They are not only my friends, they are my family too.

 

It suddenly dawned on me what Yiling meant by this being a burden.

 

I looked at each of their faces and I felt fear like never before.

Fear of knowing that they might die on my watch.

 

Jackson : I’ll do it…..on the condition …. That all of you….. will not hesitate to tell me if I’m doing something wrong….

 

Everyone nodded and Hong threw a crumpled piece of napkin at me.

 

Hong : sobzz.. sobz… don’t fucking remove the staff benefits of the girls coming once a month….or I’ll quit…

 

Candy kicked Hong in his side and we all laughed.

Candy : tsk…..

Kamal : Alright… let’s go out…. We need to greet Yiling’s guest….

 

I stuffed the thumb drive in my pocket.

I’ll look at it after everything is over.

 

7pm

 

I’m not sure how but by early evening, news has begun to spread.

News that I will be taking over.

 

I greeted countless guest and business owners who all had prior dealings with Yiling.

With so much going on in my mind, I tried my best to remember who’s who.

 

At 9pm, I met the one guy which made me smile before I laughed.

 

This man call Paul.

 

Paul : hi Jackson …. I hear you are taking over from Yiling….

 

Jackson  : Hi Paul…. Yes I am….

 

Paul smiled and told me he is my liaison from Singapore pools, the only legalised betting organisation for sports, lottery and horse racing bets in the country.

 

I smiled and I broke into a laugh as I recalled the stunt Yiling pulled on me when I first joined La Bella Vita.

 

Jackson : are you….. who I think you are….

 

Paul smiled but said nothing.

 

Paul : Yiling would have left detailed instructions to you…. Look forward to work with you Jackson….i’m sorry for your lost…. Yiling is one of the nicest person I’ve ever worked with….

 

Jackson : Thank you…

 

Guest continued coming. Even at 10pm, more streamed in, and the men have trouble trying to manage the limited parking spaces.

 

Most didn’t stay long, some stayed a while.

At 11pm, one of our guys came running into the hall, saying that 4 traffic police bikes just pulled into Binjai Hill road.

 

Jackson : why… ?

 

Hong : I’ll go find out….

 

Kamal ended a call on his phone and told me that Binjai Road has been sealed.

A 4 SUV convoy is approaching us.

I walked to the entrance of the makeshift funeral hall and waited.

 

When I saw James and his men spreading out on the castle ground while approaching us, I could pretty much guess who is coming.

 

Sporting a cap and a black jacket, I saw Welly Chin walking over.

 

Kamal : my god… the Prime minister is here…..

 

Welly chin walked briskly over and slowed down when he reached the entrance.

He removed his cap and I could see the fatigue on his face. A far cry from the vigour matured gentlemen I saw a year ago at the auction.

 

 

Jackson : Good evening Sir…

 

I shook the PM’s hand and he took a look at the setup.

 

Welly : I never expect….to meet again under such circumstances….

 

Jackson : Neither did i….

 

Welly laid a flower for Yiling and it made me wonder how much is Yiling doing and who she does it for.

 

Perhaps she works for Welly, perhaps Welly is here to hear my decision.

 

James and his men too, all of them paid their last respect to Yiling and they too, laid a flower for her.

 

Billy went over and said something to James and he looked at me.

 

Shortly after that, Welly came over.

 

He didn’t say much, he didn’t congratulate me or anything.

 

Welly : I can’t stay long…. But I trust Yiling made the right choice….

 

Jackson : Thank you…

 

Welly : It’s a terrible time for the country…. So much has happen….

 

Jackson : It’s a terrible time to be the Prime Minister Sir…

 

Welly : hahahha…. Politics….. don’t hate the players…. Hate game…

 

Jackson : I hate it very much yes…

 

Welly laughed and he looked at my injuries before looking at me in my eye.

 

Welly : Would you say…. You consider yourself a patriot Jackson …. ?

 

Jackson : I hate politics…. I have no love for political parties….but I love my country….

 

 

 

Welly : that’s good enough for me Jackson … ..that’s good enough for me….

 

He tapped me on my arm before nodding at James, signalling that it’s time to go.

I overheard James telling Billy that the road will be close till 4am.

 

Billy : thank you….

 

After Welly Chin’s entourage is gone, the funeral hall was empty by then.

 

Only the Billy and the 5 of us remained.

 

Billy : Yiling’s family is on the way…..

 

Jackson : ok… we’ll wait…. Shall I ask the cookhouse to prepare something for them…. ? what time are they landing… ?

 

Billy smiled and shook his head.

 

Billy : It’s ok…. No need….

 

Jackson : what about you… I haven seen you eat anything the whole day…. I’ll ask them to prepare something for you…

 

Billy declined my offer.

Billy : I appreciate it Jackson… I’m fine….

 

24th December 2017

Sunday

12.30am

 

I poured myself a cup of coffee as I looked the empty hall.

It’s so quiet that I could hear the hum of the air-conditioner.

 

Kamal came into the hall and commented that something is going on.

 

Kamal : The perimeter lights are gone…

 

Jackson  : what do you mean… ? it’s shut off… ?

 

Kamal nodded.

 

Billy : it’s ok… the street lights too…

 

Jackson  : what….? Why… ?

 

Billy’s phone vibrated and I saw him check his message.

 

Billy : Yiling’s family is coming….

 

I saw the double leaf door of the funeral hall opened and the girls gasped in shock as the person walking in.

 

I felt a shiver in my spine as I looked at that man. The almost 2m tall giant walked into the hall slowly.

 

First I was surprised, then I felt the anger, and my blood started to boil.

 

It’s the man at the Lion’s den. The butcher.

The man I saw that literally tore the terrorists to shreds.

 

A bloodied cleaver hung by the side of his waist as he walked slowly into the hall while looked at Yiling photo at the far end. He was wearing his mask but I could see the white of his eyes in the brightly lit hall.

 

While the rest took a step back at the abomination entering the hall, I was the only one that did the opposite.

 

I dropped my crutch and grabbed the closest thing I could find.

A plastic chair.

 

Jackson : arGHHH!!!

 

I grabbed it and I threw it at him, striking him on his head and shoulder.

 

Billy : Jackson  !!

 

The butcher did not block at all.

 

Jackson : WHERE WERE YOU !!!!! WHERE WERE YOU WHEN SHE NEEDED YOU….. !!! ARGHHHH

 

I grabbed another chair and I wanted to throw it at him but Billy stopped me.

 

Jackson : LET GO !!!!… LET GO OF ME….

 

The rest of the guys tried to hold onto me as I tried to charge at the butcher.

I shove them aside and threw a 2nd chair at him, hitting him on his back.

 

Jackson : WHERE WERE ALL OF YOU !!!! WHERE !!!!!

 

Billy held onto me, asking me to calm down.

 

I shove him aside and I walked over to the butcher who stood in front of Yiling’s photo.

 

It was then I realised his body had splatters of dried blood and bits of what looked like human hair and flesh.

 

I froze when I realised he was bleeding.

Blood dripped from his hand and onto the floor. He pulled a white rose from his pocket and he waited.

 

He stood there and waited.

He waited for us to compose ourselves.

 

I swallowed a gulp of saliva and stood by the rest of the guys.

 

I know I can’t blame them, nobody wanted this to happen but I can’t help but ask myself why are they not there that day ?

 

If they were there, this wouldn’t have happened.

 

If they were all there, Yiling would not have died.

 

They could have protected her.

 

When Billy said Yiling’s family was coming, he did not mean Yvonne.

 

He meant someone else altogether.

 

Billy shook me out of my stupor and I sucked in a deep breath of air and tried to get back my dignity.

I bit down on my teeth and stood upright as the guest paid his respect to Yiling.

 

Butcher : goodbye Bella….

 

His voice is low, it sounded almost like the growl of an animal as he laid the flower in front of Yiling. The rest of us bowed and the Butcher turned away.

 

He walked away, slowly and silently towards the exit and I saw the next one enter.

 

The guy with the Kwandao. He looked like someone who had travelled back in time, even his moves and the way he conduct himself.

 

Setting his weapon by the door, he walked forward like a general paying his last respect to a old friend with one hand in front of him and one hand on his back.

 

Billy : do you know why….. they call Yiling … Bella…. ?

 

I turned and looked at Billy.

 

Billy : She was once one of them….and she have to let it all go….

 

Jackson : Yiling…. was one of them… ?

 

Billy nodded.

 

Billy : All of them had callsigns…..Yiling gave up hers…. She gave up the anonymity …..everything… so she can be the face of La Bella Vita….

 

The guy with the kwandao bowed and laid his flower. He too had splatters of dried blood on his body.

 

Xia : Goodbye……… Bella…… you can finally rest now….

 

As he turned and left, more came.

 

Men, women, of all shape and sizes. They all came.

No one dressed up just for this occasion. No one dressed up and put on a mask just because they are coming to a wake.

 

The smell. The bloodied footprints, the stains of blood leading from the door to the table where they said their goodbyes, it tells me one thing.

 

They have been busy.

 

There’s so many of them.

 

A tall lanky man carried a scythe as if he was the god of death himself.

There’s one who carried a spike mace, another with nanchucks, one of them had 7 knives in various positions on his body. Forearm, his sides, his waist, his back, and there’s even one lady with only 1 arm.

 

There’s the 2 guys I saw at the Rajah rooftop. They carried their samurai swords.

 

Nikka and Tametsu.

 

It reminded me of a scene in predator 2, at the end when one of the aliens died and more of them appeared. Everyone took their time, laid their flower and said their goodbye.

 

Hong : …. There’s so many of them….

 

Everyone came alone, and they waited for each other to leave before entering.

 

The last 2 came together and I recognised them immediately.

 

Hong : That’s …. That’s the 2 that helped us at the hilltop that day….

Hibiki and Jane…

 

Hibiki’s body language is different from the rest.

 

The way he walked, the way he approached the altar.

 

The way his hand trembled when he offered the flower.

 

He knew Yiling on a personal level.

 

Hibiki and Jane went over to Yiling’s coffin and I saw Jane put her gloved hand on his shoulder.

 

Hibiki said his goodbye and he was the only one who didn’t call her Bella.

 

Hibiki : Goodbye Yiling…. I’ll get him…. I swear…. I’ll get him….

 

The first thing that hit me when Hibiki and Jane walked near me is the smell.

You know the smell when you sleep in the jungle for a few days without showering and you repeatly moisturise your body with your own perspiration over and over again.

That was the smell that hit me. The wounds on his body, the cuts, near his torso, they were still fresh.

 

Wherever they were earlier, they were working.

 

They were all working.

 

He lingered a little longer by the altar before holding Jane’s hand and they walked away together.

 

After Hibiki and Jane left, no more came.

 

I turned to look at Billy and he told me there’s someone else.

 

Billy : The last visitors…. They’re coming….

 

Billy told me these men and women, they use to work alone. A major reorganisation under a new command allowed many of them to work together, with greater efficiency.

 

Jackson : They use to work for Owen…. ?

 

Billy nodded.

 

Billy : Some of them…. Many are new…. We don’t work for Owen now…. not for a long time….

 

It was coming to 2.30am when the door to the hall opened.

 

2.30am.

 

I got a shock then I saw the man opening the door.

 

He’s heavily tattooed, in fact, his whole face and any exposed body part is covered with tattoos.

 

4 large dogs entered the same time as him and I tightened the grip on my crutch.

Hong grabbed a chair just in case and Kamal instinctively stood in front of the girls even though Cindy towered above him.

The man by the entrance is well built, you could tell he’s strong and he carried a large blade almost half a metre long by his side.

 

The dogs are not pure breed, they looked like wild dogs but they are well trained. There are no collars, no leash and they all had scars on their bodies and near their faces.

 

One would have thought theses dogs were made to fight in illegal dog fights.

 

The beasts settled by the door as the tattooed man looked around the funeral hall.

 

Satisfied that it was ok, he stepped back and an elderly man walked in with a limp.

His hair had streaks of black and grey and while you could tell he’s not exactly young, he still had that fire in his eyes.

 

The 2 more men whose face were all tattooed followed the one in charge into the hall.

 

Jackson : Billy…. Who is he… ?

 

Billy : He’s Ron…. Yiling works for him….

Ron’s men remained by the door and he approached alone.

 

Ron bowed and laid a flower for Yiling.

He walked over to the coffin and looked at her.

 

Ron : goodbye Bella….thank you….. for everything you’ve done…..

 

Ron looked at Billy and Billy knew what he wanted.

 

Billy : guys…. If would give Ron and Jackson some time alone….

 

Kamal, Hong and the girls walked away from the altar towards the exit. Their approached immediately got the dogs on alert. 2 of them got up and I could hear their growl from where I stood.

One of the tattooed man clicked his tongue twice and the dogs settled down by his legs and wagged their tail.

 

I offered Ron a drink and he asked for a coffee.

 

We sat at the table closest to Yiling’s altar and he looked at me for a while before speaking.

 

Ron : So you are the new King….

Jackson : what do you mean…. ?

 

Ron gestured around us.

 

Ron : The new owner of the castle….

 

Jackson : you tell me….

 

Ron nodded and asked.

 

Ron : do you know who I am….

 

Jackson : Billy says Yiling worked for you…

 

Ron nodded.

 

Jackson : and who do you work for… ? Welly… ?

 

Ron smiled.

 

Ron : I work for every man, woman and child that calls this country home….

 

I said nothing and I just looked at him.

 

Ron : There is no honour and glory in what we do Jackson…. There are no medals and badges…. No glorious ceremony and award presentation….the people you are going to sacrifice so much for…. Will never appreciate it…..

 

Ron took a sip of his coffee before going on.

 

Ron : They will not know your name……..the history books will not have a place for you…..

 

Jackson : My name is too tacky for the history books…

 

Ron : hahhaa…

Ron sat back in his chair and drummed his fingers on the table covered with white plastic sheets as he surveyed me from top to toe.

 

Ron told me there must be a reason why Yiling chose me.

 

Ron : she saw something in you Jackson….

 

Ron looked at his watch before going straight to the point.

 

Ron : La Bella Vita is our financial and logistics arm…… the funds we need to operate….is a huge burden that needs to be financed……and it cannot show on the books….so it needs to be financed…..

 

Ron spent 2 seconds trying to think of a creative word.

 

Ron : creatively…….

 

Jackson : I see…

 

Ron : Yiling has left detailed instructions and protocols for you…. Take some time to go through them….. do you have ….. any questions for me..…. ?

 

I have questions, of course I have questions.

And they came out of me fast, partly propelled by the anger seething inside me.

 

Ron answered them fast as well. It’s almost as if we’re having a debate and trying to see who can have the last word.

 

Jackson  : Where is Owen….?

 

Ron : and if I tell you where he is…. What would you do…. ?

 

Jackson : I’ll think about it after you tell me….

 

Ron : He’s not in the country at the moment but he will be.

 

Jackson : When… ?

 

Ron  : Within the next 3 months….

 

Jackson : why ?

 

Ron : He’s coming for the castle and the vault…

 

Jackson : What’s inside the vault… ?

 

Ron : Open it and see for yourself  …..

 

Jackson : I’m going to kill him….

 

Ron : I’m not stopping you….

 

My blood was boiling by then as I pictured my fingers closing around Owen’s neck. How could I harbour such hatred for a man I’ve never met ?

That is a difficult question to answer.

 

The 2 of us looked at each other and Ron smiled as he read me perfectly. He knows I’m angry.

 

Ron : I know what you’re thinking Jackson…..you’re thinking if I will offer my help…. If Yiling’s family…. Will offer their help….

 

Jackson : and will you… ?  will they ?

 

Ron : no…

 

Jackson  : Why… ?

 

Ron : Owen is but one threat…. Out of the many the country is facing….. you’re on your own….

 

From Ron’s expression, it doesn’t look like he is joking.

 

Ron : You have to defend the castle on your own Jackson…. Can you do it… ?

 

Jackson  : Yes.. I can…

 

Ron : And Owen… ?

 

Jackson : Yes….i’ll kill him….

 

Ron : How… ?

 

Jackson : I’ll do it and tell you after….

 

Ron laughed and nodded.

 

Ron : you’re going to be outnumbered….the odds are against you….

 

Jackson : the odds are against me only if I play by the rules…..

 

Ron : hahahah…. Hahaha

 

Ron nodded his head, he seemed to be amused by my answers while I failed to see the humour in them.

 

He turned and gestured to one of his men by the entrance. One of them came over with a black A3 size folder similar to what you would get when you receive your keys to a new property.

 

Ron opened it and I saw something familiar in it.

3 old Nokia phones, similar to the ones Yiling had.

Looking at them up close, I realised they each had engravings on them. Each carried a different emblem of a lion.

He checked that all the phones are working before closing it and asking me to walk with him.

 

Ron : walk with me Jackson….

 

I got up and we started to head towards the exit.

 

As we walked, Ron told me that he would give me a chance to proof I have what it takes to run the castle.

 

Ron : I’ll give you 6 months to proof your worth…. Or I will find someone better to take over….

I gestured to the folder and asked.

 

Jackson : Are those for me… ?

 

Ron : Yes….

 

Ron told me there are 3 phones inside that folder that I would need.

 

Ron : You can call…. But it doesn’t mean it will get answered…. Assume all messages will not be read….. calls only…. And only when necessary….this goes 2 ways…. We will only contact you through these phones….

 

He handed me the 1st one.

 

Ron : this one is a direct line to me……

We passed the resting dogs and Ron’s men eyed me cautiously

 

Ron : the 2nd… is a direct line…. To James….

 

Jackson : and the 3rd…. ?

 

We stepped out of the funeral hall and I froze.

For as far as my eyes could see, I saw shadows of Yiling’s family scattered throughout the estate. The moon in the cloudless sky provided the only illumination within the estate.

It’s dark but I could make out shadows. Shadows that don’t belong.

Especially the unmistakable shadow of the 2m tall butcher.

 

The shadow of a scythe, the shadow of someone half kneeling on the ground, the shadow of someone carrying a sword.

 

In the treelines, by the roads, near the farmhouse, in the garden.

 

They are all here. There are everywhere.

 

Every few metres apart, I could see one of them.

 

The dogs ran out of the funeral hall and surrounded Ron and me while facing outwards. They growled and bared their teeth but otherwise remained stationary.

Ron’s men came out as well.

I saw Hibiki and Jane walk towards Ron and the eye slits of their mask glowed a eerie shade of green as the entire castle ground started to light up.

Countless pairs of green slits glowed in the estate ground and Ron finally answered my question.

 

Ron : a direct line to them….

 

He gave me the folder and I took it with both hands.

Ron looked at his watch again before adding.

 

Ron : well I got to go…… do you celebrate Christmas by the way Jackson…. ?

 

Gripping onto the folder in hand, I replied.

 

Jackson : well…. I do now…. I do now….

 


*gentle reminder, please refrain from commenting on the plot under comments section*


 

There was no formal introduction by Ron to any of those mysterious men and women. No handshakes, no hi bye, nothing.

 

After Ron left, Yiling’s family started leaving too.

 

Not all at once.

 

Some left first, melting into the perimeter darkness around the estate.

 

Some lingered longer.

 

I saw Hibiki perched at the castle on the new wing at the same spot I saw Yiling for the very first time on my first day of work.

 

He was there for a few minutes and then he’s gone.

 

I told the guys what Ron told me. That I have a few months to proof we can run the castle.

With their help, things should pretty much be ok I hope.

 

The wake will last for another day, we decided to take turns to rest so one of us will always be around at the very least.

 

Cindy and Candy will keep Yiling company till day breaks.

 

They told me to get some rest first because I need to be there when the 1st guest arrives in the morning.

Everyone needs to know that La Bella Vita is not without a leader.

24th December 2017

Sunday

6am

 

I slept for barely an hour in the farmhouse.

 

I made myself a coffee and powered up my laptop.

 

When I opened the thumbdrive, I laughed when I saw a PDF file that says;

‘read this first stupid’.

 

I was expecting a video file. One where I can click and see what Yiling has to say to me but there’s a ton of documents inside there.

 

The 50 page PDF file contains a lot of information about the Castle and it’s finances. It’s like a customized operating manual Yiling prepared.

How much money does it cost to run the La Bella Vita, how much are the staff costs, food cost, suppliers that I can work with.

It’s all in there.

There’s even a table with a summary of ongoing arrangements with various companies supplying La Bella Vita.

Passwords, login IDs, everything.

Even a detailed floor plan of the Castle ground.

 

A list of assets, cars, and even a luxury yacht parked in a beachfront property in Sentosa.

 

A list of different bank accounts Yiling uses for day to day operations.

I’m getting a headache just by looking at the document.

 

Jackson : what the hell….

 

I looked at the amount of information to digest. There’s even a screenshot of the safe Yiling kept in the Study and her room with the respective passwords.

There’s a picture of 16 banking tokens from different banks clearly labelled as well and I groaned out loud.

 

Jackson : aegnnhhhhhh….

 

Pictures of Yiling’s numerous shelves and drawers that contained information about the men that work for La Bella Vita were clearly marked and labelled.

 

Then there’s a page dedicated just for the cars Yiling kept, and these are not even on Castle ground. They are parked all over the island in private properties. All these needs to be taken care off.

Let’s not forget the payroll list, taxes we need to pay. Stuff that were all taken care by Aaron before this.

 

Another page consists of businesses that we have a stake in, and the charities that she supported. There’s even a portfolio of stocks where I need to monitor the amount of dividend coming in.

 

It’s like a neverending book.

 

The more I scrolled, the more the document refreshed itself with more and more things for me to see.

 

I closed the file and I could not believe she left it all to me.

 

She’s right.

 

I chuckled softly in the farmhouse.

 

This is indeed a burden. Maybe a curse. I decided to open the video and see what Yiling has to say to me before I delve into the details.

There is only one video file inside the thumbdrive and I turned up the volume and opened it.

 

Yiling took that video on a selfie stick.

She’s in her room and I could see the bright sunlight spilling onto her unmade bed.

Her hair is frazzled, and she just woke up.

 

She’s wearing her gold rimmed glasses and brushing her hair behind her ears as she checked herself against the camera.

 

Dressed in a grey singlet and a short denim jumpsuit, Yiling looked for a suitable spot in her room before settling down in front of her dresser table .

 

Yiling : hey Jackson …. So….i guess… this is it…. Eh… ? haha

 

Yiling set the camera down and rest her chin on her arms in a similar manner as a listless student trying to steal a nap in class.

 

Yiling : I’m sorry I dumped it all on you……….. I knew you would say yes….even though you must be hating me now……. hahah…….. It’s a huge load of shit I just dumped on you Jackson…. So…. If you want to curse at me… now’s the time to do it…. I’ll give you 30 seconds…

 

She went on to put on a pout coupled with a sad doe-eyed expression and I laughed.

 

She’s being ridiculous.

 

Yiling : you done… ? ok… moving on….

 

She straightened herself and her expression changed so fast that you must give her credit for being able to do it.

 

Yiling : There’s a whole list of passwords and login IDs in the PDF I left for you….please take your time to go through it all and change them…. The vault and armoury password is not included….. they are locked away in a safe deposit box ….. the key is in my study…. 1st drawer on the left…. It’s filled with my sanitary pads and I have some spare undies in there….

 

I laughed as I listened to her.

 

Yiling : don’t laugh… it’s serious… sometimes I get these massive period…. And I spend so much time sitting down that things get messy you know…. anyway, that chair is dirty… so… replace it…. Hahaha…

 

I shook my head as Yiling told me the key is inside a black pouch.

 

The location of the safe deposit box will be sent to my place in Ang Mo Kio via a courier once her lawyer confirms my receipt of the thumbdrive.

Yiling : Now… I have to warn you about something Jackson … so pay attention….

 

Yiling shared with me that do not for a moment think anyone will come to our aid if things go wrong.

We operate independently.

 

Yiling : There is a list of people who can help, pull some strings with the various agencies and all but the law is the law….. you get caught red handed… you deal with it….. don’t expect Ron or anyone else to come running…. So…. Be careful… especially when you make deals with anyone…..

 

I did not realise it but I started to answer and reply Yiling.

 

Jackson : ok… … I will….

 

Yiling : Inside the vault , there is a list…. A book…. Of people on my payroll….bribes…. corrupted dicks that you need to continue cultivating relationships with……not because we like them or we are indebted to them…..you never know the day when they would become useful…..

 

It’s a double edge sword when dealing with these people.

 

Too soft, and they will climb onto your head.

 

Too hard, and they will make things difficult for you.

 

Yiling : play the game Jackson …. Play it well…. This is how the world works…

 

After a couple more minutes about work and the castle, Yiling took the selfie stick up and I could tell she’s moving on to something more personal.

 

She walked to a small fridge in her room and took out a packet of milk. She continued talking as she opened it for a sip, giving herself a milk moustache.

 

Yiling : I left something for you Jackson ….the apartment that Yvonne was staying in …. And the one beside…. The hole in the wall is still there by the way….hahaha…..it’s not a lot… but spend some money… fix it up… and the rent will keep you comfortable if you wish to retire one day…..

 

Aside from the 2 apartment, Yiling has made arrangements for all of us to receive $2500 a month, till the day we turn 65. Thereafter, the sum increases by $200 a year till we are 80. What’s left in the trust fund then will be released in 1 lump sum on our 81st birthday.

 

Yiling : It’s not a lot..…but it’s what I can do for you guys….i’m such a nice boss right….. sighz…. Where to find… hahaha…

 

Yiling could not help but chuckle at her own joke.

 

It’s really a sweet gesture, considering that we’re probably going to continue drawing our regular salary from La Bella Vita. Not that I need the money.

I don’t even know what to spend on.

 

Yiling looked around her room and suddenly decided to give me a impromptu tour of her bedroom.

 

Her bed, her bathroom, her dresser table, the massive walk in wardrobe.

 

Her lingerie drawer.

 

Yiling : errmm…. I don’t know… you can probably redo up this place…. Donate my clothes and all…. Then you can take over the room….. The Birkin bags are worth a fortune ok… !!! don’t donate them….maybe… maybe you use them la… haha

 

I laughed.

 

She angled the camera towards a display cabinet filled with jewelleries.

 

Yiling : ohhhh… all these…. My babies…. Sobzz… sobzz…I’m going to miss you…. Ohhh….

 

She deliberately held the selfie stick and wiped away a tear and I laughed at her exaggerated acting.

 

Yiling : and my heels….all my shoe collection….haizz…see… you can’t bring any of those when you die so……Jackson….. save money… don’t anyhow spend…. ! ermm…. Some of these…. Donate away… some… oh dear….

 

She directed the camera at a wall of heels inside her wardrobe.

 

Yiling : This row…. Can you keep… ? I really like them…ok ? haha …

 

She went on to comment on my dressing.

 

Yiling : dress up Jackson…. You need to dress up…. Stop walking around in polo Tees and pants….or your awful gardener get up. …. You’re the head of La Bella Vita now…..Ehhh..erghhh..erghhh..erghhh…. I know what you are going to say…. Tsk…tsk…tsk….

 

Yiling shook her head and folded her arms.

 

Yiling : Don’t say ‘that’s not you’…. Clothes make the man ….  So…. Dress up…. Hold your head high…. you’re the new King now…

 

Finishing up the tour of her bedroom, Yiling sat on her bed. She hugged onto her knees and she went quiet for a bit.

 

Yiling : Jackson…..

 

She paused on the video, as if she was waiting for my reply.

And I did reply.

 

Jackson : yes Yiling…. ?

 

Yiling : I wished….. we had met under a different set of circumstances….

 

She smiled wistfully and I replied her again.

 

Jackson : Me too Yiling…. me too….

 

Yiling exhaled and looked out her window. She looked like a goddess with the sun in her face. I could see the day curtains flying gently in the background, kicked up by the breeze.

 

She took her time before turning back to face the camera.

 

Yiling : Jackson….. I’m glad to have met you my life…….though the journey we walked together is rather short……..i’m glad you are by my side….

 

I blinked and a tear rolled down my cheek.

 

Yiling : it’s going to be a hell of a ride for you Jackson from this day forth…… so… hang on tight ya…. ? hahah… ….. and…maybe….. Tell me all about it ….when I see you again….

 

Yiling gave her signature death stare while adding;

 

Yiling : and don’t fuck it up…..i’m watching you….i’m always watching you…..  ok?? Hahah

 

I laughed as I replied her.

 

Jackson : haha… ok…. I won’t…

 

Yiling kissed her fingers and pressed it against the camera.

 

Yiling : goodbye Jackson…..

 

Jackson  : goodbye Yiling….

 

She brought the selfie stick closer and I saw her manicured fingers hover near the screen for a bit before it went dark.

 

I shut my laptop and buried my face in my hand for a while. No words could express how much I hoped this was all a bad dream.

 

I took a shower and I put on a set of pressed shirt and pants including my jacket.

 

24th December 2018

Sunday

8am

 

It’s Christmas Eve but the mood at the wake is far from festive.

 

I went over to relieve the girls and Kamal joined me shortly after.

 

Kamal : you watched the video Boss gave you… ?

 

Jackson  : yeah…. How about you…

 

Kamal nodded too.

 

He didn’t ask me about the content and neither did I asked his.

 

Yiling did say it was meant for our eyes only.

 

10am

 

Guests started arriving from 10am and by then, everyone who came knew who they were looking for right away.

 

Jackson.

 

I was busy talking and shaking hands when I heard the unmistakable voice of Uncle Ben.

 

Uncle Ben : Xiao Peng You !!!!….. ( My dear friend… ) hahaha

 

I turned and I smiled at Uncle Ben.

 

We exchanged a hug and he looked at me and nodded his head.

 

Uncle Ben : Yiling made a good choice….hahah… she made a good choice…

 

Jackson : Thank you for coming….

 

I made sure Uncle Ben and his men were settled down and someone was serving them drinks.

 

When it was close to lunch time, I saw Rachel and Henry. They came to make sure everything is running smoothly for the wake and also to congratulate me on taking over La Bella Vita.

 

Rachel : Looks like…. we’re going to be bidding against each other at the next Auction….

 

I laughed.

 

Jackson : I’ll let you win if you want me to…

 

Rachel : Really … ? what a gentlemen…. Hhaha

 

There was some commotion and loud shouts by the entrance of the funeral hall and all of us turned to see what is happening.

 

Rachel smirked when she saw the police officers entering.

 

Rachel : good luck Jackson …. You’re their new target now…. hahah

 

Jackson : What is that suppose to mean… ?

 

Rachel : Evil needs a face…. And you happen to be the new one… watch out for Lim…. He’s a fucker….

 

Rachel and Henry went to take a seat while keeping their attention on the approaching group of police officers.

The wore their department vest and the man in front is a cocky chap. He walked with a swagger and behaved like a gangster. That must be the one Rachel is warning me about.

He even challenged one of our men for staring at him.

 

Lim : Kuar simi Kuar….. ai Lim kopi si bo? ( what are you staring at ? you want to follow me back to the station ? )

 

The group of 5 officers walked in and they had their sights set on me.

 

Hong came over and mumbled for me to be careful of Lim as well.

 

Hong : He’s an asshole…

 

Hong walked away as I remained standing in the path of the 5 officers.

 

Lim : So… you are the new head ah…. Do you know who I am… ?

 

Jackson : no I don’t ….

 

Lim sniggered and looked around the hall where all eyes are on us.

 

Lim : I’m the one…. that has you by your balls… hahahah….

 

He laughed whereas most of his men remained quiet.

 

Lim put his face really close to me in a threatening manner. I could smell the coffee and stench of 2nd hand smoke on his breath as he spoke loud enough only for me to hear him.

 

Lim : My arrangement with Yiling… the payment… you better make sure it arrives on the dot….. and I would suggest you put in 30% more….i don’t mind giving Yiling a discount because she is hot…. Has a nice ass…. Perky tits too… hahaha….so…. you make yourself useful to me… you hear me….boss ? hahaha

 

Lim reared back and looked at me from top to toe before adjusting my shirt for me.

 

Lim : Understand or not ??? NEW BOSS ?? hahahaha…..

 

I exhaled slowly, trying to control my emotion.

I smiled and I extended my hand towards Yiling’s altar.

 

Jackson : You’re welcome to pay your last respect….

 

Lim walked and dragged his feet towards the altar.

He’s in his early forties, well built around the arms but he has a pot belly. He probably spent too much time at the desk.

The funeral hall is awfully quiet with all eyes on us.

 

It’s so quiet that I could only hear the sound of Uncle Ben splitting the shells of peanuts as he looked at us and shake his leg.

 

Lim : Haiiizzzz….. why all the sad face….. drug lord die only mah…. Need to be so sad or not….. hahaha…

 

Lim took a stalk of flower from the vase and instead of laying it on the table as a offering, he deliberately dropped it onto the floor.

 

Lim : aiyah… what a waste of her tight body….if only she…

 

I grabbed Lim by his hair and slammed his head against the offering table while tripping him at the same time.

The table vibrated violently as I held his head down. Before anyone could react, I grabbed the vase holding the flowers and I smashed it beside Lim’s head.

 

THUD!

The Porcelain vase is of decent quality, it did not shatter upon impact but the sound of it hitting the wooden table left everyone in the hall with no doubts the damage it would cause if it had landed on Lim.

 

Lim’s men shouted and their hands reached for their service pistol without pulling it out while all the guest in the hall stood up at once. The sound of chairs dragging along wooden floor reverberated within the airconditioned tent.

Some of our men had their hands behind their backs no doubt reaching for their weapon despite being told not to bring any, the Rajahs formed a protective circle around Rachel who was the only one remaining seated.

 

Lim was shaking but he tried to put on a brave front.

 

I bent low and I spoke softly to him in the same manner he did to me moments earlier.

 

Jackson : You talk about Yiling like this again….. I’ll bury you…

 

Lim : arghh YOU!!

 

I lifted his head and slammed it back against the table twice, and Lim started bleeding on the nose as I continued pressing his head down on the table.

 

Lim : arGNHH!!

 

Jackson : Your arrangement ….. was with Yiling… not with me…. now….. I’m all too happy…. to make a new one ….. provided you are of use to me…..

 

I let him go and Lim staggered back and fell onto the floor.

 

Lim got up and he pulled his weapon and pointed it at me.

 

Lim : You BITCH !!!! YOU!!! Who do you think you aRE!!!!! FUCK YOU!!!!

 

His men came over and tried to stop him but he pushed them away.

 

I looked at the end of his pistol and I spread my arms apart before gesturing to my chest.

Jackson : You point a weapon at me…. you better make sure you intent to use it…..

 

Uncle Ben added a sarcastic manner directed at Lim while popping peanuts into his mouth.

 

Uncle Ben : aiyoh….. small thing pull gun ar… hahaha…. Why like that…. ??

 

Lim’s men kept tugging and pulling him back, trying to dissuade him.

 

Someone shouted at Lim from the entrance.

Someone in charge obviously.

Lim quickly kept his side arm as the older gentlemen walked in with a few more officers.

The older gentlemen looked at Lim without a word and enough was communicated with that stare alone.

Lim grunted in frustration and stormed off the funeral hall while the older gentlemen walked towards the altar to offer a flower for Yiling.

He looked at me after he’s done and it’s obvious he came for me.

 

Goh : You must be Jackson …

 

Jackson : Hi…. Yes I am….

 

Goh introduced himself as the director of the narcotics bureau and he asked to speak with me privately.

 

Goh : I believe it’s in our mutual interest…. To have a quick chat…

 

I stepped outside with Goh and he lit a cigarette before offering me one.

 

Jackson : No thank you…

 

Goh : I’ll go straight to the point…. I know what Yiling does…and we have been playing a cat and mouse game for many years……sometimes…. The mouse leaves cheese crumb behind on purpose….. a trail of crumbs that leads us to a nest….sometimes the cat…. Chooses to look the other way….

 

I nodded but kept my silence.

 

Goh : Yiling’s control and dominance over the trade in the country is critical for stability….i’m not saying I condone it….but stability….. is what everyone wants…. Especially in such challenging times….

 

I nodded but said nothing again.

 

Goh apologised for his subordinate’s outburst before mentioning that he is certain Yiling would have left instructions to me.

 

Goh : Seeing that you do not know who I am… pretty much meant you have yet to settle in….

 

I looked at Goh and he laughed before shaking his head.

 

Goh : Don’t look at me like that… it’s not about money…. It’s about balance…

 

Goh smiled and extended his hand and I shook it.

 

Goh : Nice to meet you Jackson….

 

Jackson : Nice to meet you too Goh….

 

Goh : I’ll be in touch…. Once you are ready….

 

Goh left with his men shortly after that.

 

When I walked back into the hall I could head Uncle Ben commenting loudly ;

 

Uncle Ben : Jackson …. Hahahah…. You just made your first enemy… hahahaha….

 

I shrugged my shoulders, with an attitude like Lim’s, I couldn’t give two fucks about him.

 

Uncle Ben chuckled and gave me a thumbs up.

The day continued on and more guest arrived.

 

Close to 10pm that Christmas eve, Yvonne arrived with her parents.

Billy was with them and he requested the hall be cleared.

 

It was difficult to even look at Yvonne for the uncanny resemblance she shares with her twin sister.

 

When Yvonne approached me with her eyes swollen and red, I didn’t know what to say to her.

 

Jackson : I’m…. I’m sorry…

 

Yvonne gave me a hug as she sobbed tearfully.

 

Yiling was cremated in a private ceremony attended by us and her immediate family.

It was a low-key affair, and Billy made arrangement for her ashes to be flown to where her family is staying.

 

Yvonne told me where they are located and she gave me a number to get in touch with them.

South of Taiwan. A quiet resort town.

Yiling has set the family up there properly and they are operating a small 30 room hotel.

 

I told Yvonne if she ever needed anything, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

 

Yvonne : if you ever want to get away from it all…. Come look for us…we can host you for a day or two….

 

Jackson  : I will…

 

As I bade farewell to Yvonne, I knew I probably would not have the courage to go visit her.

At least not after I do what I have to do, and even then, I’m not sure how I would feel seeing a split image of Yiling walking around in front of me.

 

 

There is no rest for the wicked.

I got to work right away.

Yiling is right.

 

It’s a shitload of work and there’s so much to be done.

 

Yiling left instructions to Candy and Cindy to help me clean up her room and keep all her clothes but I refused.

 

Jackson : Yiling’s room stay the way it is…. At least for now…

 

Cindy : Where will you stay… ?

 

Jackson : The farmhouse….

 

Cindy : That is not appropriate…. You should be in the castle… it’s your new home Jackson….

 

Jackson : home is where the heart is Cindy….

 

She smiled and knew there was no use arguing with me. The perimeter guards that used to encircle the castle will be extended to include the farmhouse as well.

 

Yiling was not joking when she told me of a drawer filled with sanitary pads and panties. It’s true.

I took the key she left in the black pouch and I left the rest of her stuff untouched. I even put her stationaries back the way she left them after I’m done.

I’m up at 5am every day.

 

After a 1 hour run around the estate, I would shower and be in the study by 6.30am.

 

Sometimes I don’t even have times for my meals. Helen would bring me tea, coffee, snacks or even meals from the cookhouse sometimes.

 

I thought Yiling was joking when she said she didn’t even have time to change her pad.

She was not.

Time just flew by when I’m in her study.

Sometimes I find myself in that chair 8 hours straight at a go.

 

I would finish up the day’s work by 11pm, spend some time tidying up the desk before pouring myself a drink. Yiling had 12 email accounts and I had to bring myself up to speed reading them whenever time allows.

 

I pieced together a picture of Owen’s organisation from all the past correspondence Yiling received.

LFO also known as Liberation from Oppression, is a well organised international organisation. Fucking terrorist in short. Southeast Asia is run by this man, known as Edward Fernando Chan.

 

What everyone thought was one man all along, turned out to be a council of 3 individual.

 

Edward was killed in Malaysia shortly after the attack on the island, leaving Fernando and Chan.

 

They operated mainly at the south of Thailand and they cross frequently into Malaysia using illegal routes deep in the jungle.

Owen used to be the one playing the cloak and dagger game in the country. He’s well connected, he was the one who set the idea of the castle in motion and he put Yiling in charge.

From the mails and reports dating back all the way to 2013, I discovered that Owen was the real reason behind the riot in Little India. The riot by the foreign workers was just a cover for a massive hit on the building I visited with Yiling.

 

That’s no ordinary commercial building. It’s now the administrative headquarters for Ron and his men.

 

Owen joined the LFO, taking on the title of Fernando after he linked up with a man call Chan. Someone he once actively searched for. It appears as if their vision for a new world order is aligned.

 

When Owen left, the organisation he was in charge of fell apart into pieces and Ron was the one picking them up.

There are still a lot of men loyal to Owen lying in wait for him to return.

 

And yes, this includes equally well-trained assassins who disappeared off the face of the country after the riot.

 

A total of 29 were missing.

 

Ron was once Owen’s predecessor, and he initiated a major reorg, continued the training of new recruits and rebuilt it.

 

The amount of reading material available is staggering. Reports, observations and leaked intelligence notes from neighbouring countries.

 

It made me question what it means to be safe.

Are we truly safe, when every day you know someone is plotting to see you fall for their own benefit ?

 

I kept the Friday steamboat tradition. I insisted, no matter how busy everyone was, we should at least eat together once a week.

Cindy and Candy ran security around the castle. Hong and Kamal helped with operations.

 

I took over Declan and Aaron’s workload, from doing accounts and payroll, to managing the housekeeping staff and restocking the castle and cookhouse with supplies on top of the stuff Yiling is doing.

 

All 5 of us would gather for steamboat at the farmhouse. A bonding session in a way at the end of the week, and for us to update each other regarding work.

 

By end of January 2018, things were pretty much back to normal at the castle.

There will be days when I miss Yiling a little too much and I would let myself into her room.

 

Helen cleans up the room once a week, but other than that, it remained sealed, temperature controlled at 23 degrees with everything left exactly the way it was since the day Yiling last used it.

 

Her toothbrush lying by the side of the sink with the toothpaste cover missing.

Her worn clothes still in the laundry basket.

 

A nightgown hanging behind the bathroom door.

A wine glass with her lipstick mark.

Even the trash she threw remained in the bin.

 

I wanted to preserve it all. Something to remember her by, I don’t know how long, but at least for a while.

 

On weekends, I would spend time in the gym with Candy and Cindy.

We’re evenly matched by then and sometimes I find myself having to go a little easier on Candy, especially with her of smaller built than me.

 

I would smoke with Hong on the patio of the extension wing.

He lit his Marlboros, while I lit my Cohibas.

 

I would drink with Kamal in the study, sometimes in the garage while sitting on Yiling’s collection of cars.

 

And yes, I opened the vault in the middle of January in 2018.

At 1am in the morning, when I’m done with the day, I walked down to the basement and opened the door to the vault.

I first entered a small ante room, where the door behind me needed to be shut and locked before the next one opened.

 

Only then did I see the large menacing steel door in front of me.

 

I entered the password, and when the lights came on, I burst out laughing.

I felt like Aladdin stumbling into a cave of treasure.

 

The room is about the same size as the armoury, come to think of it, the layout seemed to be a mirror image, I’m guessing they share the same reinforced walls.

 

Metal racks on both sides of the vault stacked all the way to the ceiling with cash in various currency. All bundled and cling wrapped. Each about 4 pizza box high.

SGD, USD, YEN, EURO, RMB, all the major currencies filled the racks to the brim. With the racks filled, some of the money are just left on wooden pallets on the floor.

I don’t even know how much there are in the vault.

I opened a black case the size of your laptop and diamonds sparkled brilliantly back at me. There’s so many of them it’s being dumped like sand inside that box. Even the smallest one looked huge.

 

I even suspected it’s fake because there’s just so many of them.

I did a visual count and there’s almost 10 boxes of diamonds. I picked one stone up and pocketed it.

Gold Bars, 2 pallet worth sat in the corner like junk. I picked one up and I felt the density of the precious metal in my hand.

10KG bars stacked as tall as me.

There’s a case of silver bullions too.

 

There are 1kg Bars as well, they were kept in intricate wooden boxes. 5 in each box and there’s 5 boxes of them. It looked like they will be given as gifts or bribes.

 

2 money counting machine sat on a metal desk with 2 trash bags below it.

 

I opened the trash bags and loose notes stared back at me. A mixture of used 10s and 50s.

 

Aside from money and precious metals, there are rows of cabinets with files.

 

I opened one and I smiled.

 

Evidence Yiling has compiled over the years on individuals and companies that had shady dealings. I opened another and looked at the disgusting deeds a hotelier was up to.

Another file was that of a listed company.

Files on politicians, not just local, even those from neighbouring countries.

 

It’s a literal gold mine.

The information is priceless.

There is a desk with a small table lamp tucked in the corner.

 

I took a seat and opened the drawer, revealing a file about half an inch thick.

 

I whistled and looked at the locations around the country Yiling had money and gold stashed away.

You can buy an army and destabilise a country with the amount of money in that vault. Coupled with the armoury, I can see why Owen wants to take it back. The room full of antiques I accidentally stumbled into is probably just a bonus.

 

I left the vault and never went back in again. There was no need to.

Yiling has millions in the various bank accounts she left for La Bella Vita with more coming in every month.

 

I asked a jeweller to take a look on the stone I took from the vault and he told me it’s one with a good cut, flawless clarity and very good colour.

 

Jackson : in English… please…..

 

Jeweller : 2 Carat…. I would pay $40000 for it…

 

Jackson : ok… thank you…

 

I was too lazy to open the vault again so I dropped it inside Yiling’s panty drawer together with her pads.

 

The castle feels empty without her voice but it’s something we have to deal with.

We take each day as they come. We deal with each day as they come.

 

We never stopped looking for Owen.

 

Yiling’s extensive network of little birds and spies are mine now and I get updates and information on almost a daily basis.

It really opened up my eyes.

 

Our borders are so porous especially along the water. The amount of things happening on a daily basis is mind blowing.

 

I found more Malus scattered throughout the island in their hideouts and we flushed them out.

 

1, or 2 or 5, it doesn’t matter.

 

I want all of them. When I got them, I gave Ron a call and someone would pick them up.

I tried using the Nokia phone to call the mysterious men and women once.

There was a Malu hideout with almost a dozen men, I wanted their help.

At the same time, I wanted to see how this work.

I never expected to be ignored.

 

Someone answered the phone alright, I told them what I wanted. I need help to flush out a nest of Malus and things might get ugly.

 

The person on the other end said no.

 

Really, a single word.

 

No.

 

What the fuck ?

 

And he hung up on me.

 

I’m not exactly expecting it to be a pizza delivery line where someone appears when I need them but this is ridiculous.

 

Kamal told me maybe because I’ve yet to pass the probation period.

 

Kamal : Probation brother… probation period…. Haven get confirmation letter….annual leave also don’t have….. eh hiao bo… ? ( you know ?  )hahaha…

 

Jackson : This is ridiculous… looks like we’re on our own….

 

Kamal : better to be on our own…. Than to depend on others isn’t it…

 

Jackson : True… true….

 

In the end, we flushed out the nest on our own.

 

Out of the original hundreds of men in La Bella Vita at it’s peak, we’re down to about 140 spread out on the island. Some left, some moved on, some stayed. It’ll take time to rebuild it to it’s formal glory but I’m sure we will get there eventually.

 

The chatters I was getting started to pick up in early February as we get closer to Chinese new year.

There’s an increase in the number of people being picked up for trying to enter the country illegally.

I know that for everyone that was caught, 5 more would have made their way into the country. Owen knew the routes to take, and he still has people loyal to him.

There appears to be a pattern.

Every couple of days there will be a big operation where a lot of illegal workers tried to enter the country from across the causeway by boat but they are just the decoys.

 

A couple of days before Chinese New Year, things got serious enough that Ron gave me a call on the Nokia Phone.

 

He told me that things will be heating up in the region.

 

Region, mind you, not country.

 

Ron : If I were Owen, I’ll make my move when everyone is busy….

 

That was all he said.

 

A warning from Ron is not to be taken lightly.

 

So I discussed with the guys what should we do.

 

We increased the security as much as we could but then it’s Chinese New Year.

 

How many men do you think is there to stay with you at the castle on one of the most important festival in the country? People head home for reunion dinner.

 

 

15th February 2018

Chinese New year eve.

1pm

 

Thursday

 

After a celebratory lunch feast at the cookhouse with all who could turn up, the jubilant mood went up a notch when I announced that an additional 2 months salary has been credited into everyone’s account.

 

Jackson : thank you all…. For the hard work… this difficult period…. And thank you for believing in me….

 

I raised my beer and the men cheered as we filled the cookhouse with laughter and shouts of joy.

 

It’s not that I’m generous or anything, Yiling usually gave one to one and a half month bonus during CNY, I just felt that everyone deserved two during this period.

 

 

6pm

 

I was busy setting the table for dinner at the farmhouse for our first reunion dinner or sort.

 

We shrunk the security perimeter of the castle ground because we’re operating on a skeletal crew.

 

Less than 20 men, most who are without anyone to celebrate the festivities with remained on the castle ground.

 

We sealed Binjai Hill road with vehicles and pulled everyone to the Castle and farmhouse. The cookhouse is still running but with only 2 assistant cooks reheating pre-prepared food.

 

The 5 of us sat around the table where a bubbly broth of specially prepared soup waited for us to start putting ingredients into it.

 

Kamal and Candy will be heading back after dinner to spend Chinese New Year with their family and they will back the next day.

 

Hong and Cindy will be staying with me at the castle.

 

Hong : Movie marathon Jackson …. Movie marathon…. Junk food…. Lots of alcohol… hahahaha….

 

Cindy : we’re guarding the castle Hong….

 

Hong : what kind of fucker would launch an attack during Chinese new year ???

 

Kamal : A badass one ??

 

Hong : absolute fucker he must be then…. Hahaha

 

We started eating and for the first time in a while, I allowed myself to bask in the warmth of a family.

 

The laughs, the jokes, the harmless flirting by Candy, I loved it.

Every moment of it.

 

I have yet to ask the guys how much they wanted for their bonus yet. Yiling gave them a range from 2-3 months from past records.

I wanted to hear their opinion, and see how much they want.

 

Money is something I have plenty of.

 

Jackson : so… about your bonuses…. I thought we should…. Have an open chat about it….

 

Kamal : aiyah… don’t need la…

 

Hong : I need… I need…. I not paiseh  ( shy ) about this kind of thing one Jackson… hahaha

 

Their pay were all higher than mine, at a range of between 6-9k a month.

 

I asked if they are ok if I followed Yiling’s benchmark with regards to increment and bonus.

 

Jackson : You know me…. I’m not… big on doing what appraisals and shit… so… if you need anything… I rather you just tell me upfront….

 

Hong : aiyah…. Just kidding la Jackson…. You do what you want…. we don’t need anything…. Not now…

 

Candy : We’ll tell you if we need them Jackson …. Don’t stress yourself out over this…

 

The lot of us ate, drank and by 8.30pm, we were so full that I felt like puking.

 

Candy and Kamal decided to make a move first.

 

Candy gave me a hug before she left, she’s been a little obvious with her hints lately. I could tell she likes me.

 

8.45pm

 

Cindy, Hong and I walked back to the castle and we grabbed a bottle of 30 year Hibiki as we settled in the study.

 

I switched on the TV as we chatted and drink.

As the TV played the new year celebrations in the background, we reminisce old times when things were a lot cheerful.

 

I looked at the TV and it was showing the New year Bazaar at Chinatown.

 

The heavy security presence was a painful reminder of the attacks in the country barely a year ago.

There were police officers at every corner, and even the military was roped in for extra security.

There’s even a armoured vehicle parked a short distance away from the stage. I know for sure there are plainclothes security personnel hiding amongst the crowd.

A barrier was set up in front of the stage, giving it a berth of open space about 20m wide.

 

4 screens about 15m tall each formed the backdrop of the stage displaying new year greetings with colourful animations of little doggies hopping about.

In just a few hours, we would be welcoming the year of the dog.

 

The camera zoomed in at the stage.

 

Hong got ready his phone

 

Hong : eh must try must try…. Everytime new year…. Call in can win money one…. hahaha….. Huat aH!!!

 

I laughed as Cindy shook her head.

 

There was a flurry of activity near the stage and the area behind the barriers were packed with audience and visitors. Most of them were there to get a glimpse of their favourite celebrities that would be arriving to host the countdowns.

Games will be played, cash prizes will be given out.It’s the new year after all. Sponsors usually go all out to capture a slice of the new year crowd’s attention.

I’ve seen it happen on TV many times.

Answering a simple question would easily net you a few hundred dollars in cash.

A platform about 50m behind the main stage rose up high into the air. Many were expecting fireworks at this years’ countdown.

To ward away the bad luck that has befallen this country so they say.

 

The gathered crowd waited eagerly for the show to begin.

The noise from the crowd grew a notch before cheers rang out from the streets.

Under heavy security escort, our prime minister walked up to the stage where a rostrum was waiting.

The puzzled public grew euphoric, the cheers got louder. People started clapping. Welly Chin, our Prime minister took the stage much to the surprise of the gathering crowds.

No one expected the prime minister to be there.

If the cheers of support were an indication of his popularity, then the spontaneous eruption of the crowd chanting his name reaffirmed the country’s faith in him leading us out of this mess.

Hong : what is he doing there… ?

 

Cindy : that must be why security is so tight….
It took several moments before the crowds calmed down enough for the PM to speak.

The screens behind the stage no longer displayed greetings, instead they showed the best view the cameras could get of the popular politician.

 

Just before Welly began to speak, my phone rang.

An anonymous number.

 

I picked it up and there was a series of clicks before it connected.

 

“ Jackson … “

 

Jackson : yes… ?

 

“ Please hold… “

 

I waited for the caller to speak as I looked at the Tv screen and Welly started to address the nation.

 

 

PM : Good evening Singapore…

The past few months has been particularly challenging for many of us.

I still feel the pain of the needless loss of human lives over the attack, and i’m sure for many of us, the wounds are still raw.

Time will heal all wounds, this is something we all know………….. we also know that a wound…………. would leave a scar.

That scar will be a painful reminder for all of us………………..to never let our guard down again.

…………………………………………………

It was a humbling moment as the street grew quieter. I could see stall holders and hawkers who were blasting their music before now turning them off.

The hustle and bustle grind to a halt. Never before have the streets of Chinatown descend into such a eerie silence.

Not on the eve of the Lunar new year.

 

PM : Among the activities that will take place these few days, the reunion dinner is the one many families would hold dear. It’s the Lunar new year, a tradition for many of us.

The simple act of having your family and love ones around you, safe, warm and with food on the table is a luxury we have taken for granted over the years.

Tonight, many of these tables will be filled instead by empty seats…………………….No matter how sumptuous the fare, ……………….or how tasty the delicacies prepared,…………………. they would not taste as good without the laughter of your love ones beside you………………..

For some of us tonight, the dinner would also be a painful reminder of our loss………….

……………………………………………………………..

 

At this point, it felt as if life at the bustling Chinatown had come to a stop.

The silence was deafening.

 

PM : More than 70 years ago,………….. on this day………….., the Japanese invaded the island on the 1st day of lunar new year………….

We learned about this in our textbooks, we watched it on documentaries, we can see some of the exhibits in our museum………..

You must be wondering why am i bringing up the history of our country in this New year message.

You must also be wondering why would i even deliver a sombre one when it’s supposed to be a happy occasion.

……………………………………………………..

There was a few seconds pause as the PM took a sip of water from the rostrum before turning back to face the crowd and cameras.

……………………………………………………..

 

 

PM : I’ll answer that in due course. ….. As a politician….. as your prime minister, all of you have placed your trust in me to make rational decisions no matter how difficult they may be………….. i have been questioned countless times by the public and the families of the victims from the attacks….. why……..WHY have we done nothing……. why ?

………………………………………………………..

Murmurs started to come from the crowd as more and more hands shot up with their camera phones pointed at the stage.

…………………………………………………………….

PM : My answer has always been the same, we are working on it…… we are working on it….. we are always…. working on it…..

………………………………………………………….

It was at this point someone from the crowd shouted.

” HOW ! ” ….. ” TELL US….. HOW!!!! “

That sparked off a shouting frenzy and emotions started to get a little heated.

…………………………………………………………..

Welly smiled.

It was a simple and sly smile, one that fooled many of his political opponents.

A smile that speaks volume, yet reveals nothing.

 

The voice came on the line. I could hear the crackling from the poor connection, but I knew it was James.

 

James : Jackson …. Jackson…. Can you hear me…….. Owen’s coming for the castle tonight….

 

Jackson  : what… ? hello…. Hello… ?

 

James tried to say something else but the line went dead.

 

I looked at the TV and I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand on it’s end as the event unfolded before us.

 

I dropped my glass and spilled my drink when I saw the screens behind the stage went dark before the 1st one displayed a jerky aerial view of a cluster of dwellings located in the middle of what seemed like a plantation. The bright specks of lights coming from the dull black and white video feed was lit up by dozens more smaller specks that have already surrounded the target.

As if right on que, a squadron of fighter jets roared across the night skies. The crowd at Chinatown turned and craned their necks trying to catch a glimpse, but it was near impossible to see them.

…………………………………………………

The 2nd screen came on without warning, and the crowd gasped as the screen glowed green with the faces of heavily armed men gathering at the edge of a forest clearing.

I saw the unmistakable size of Boon in the background before the camera settled on James.

……………………………………………………….

The 3rd screen drew more gasps and shouts from the crowd as a drone fed black and white images of a dozen assault boats slicing across the calm waters before landing on the beach.

It all happened at once.

Gasps of amazement gave way to cheers as the screen lit up wildly.

Bright balls of lights appeared on screen like an angry flare as our men opened up and advanced on the positions of the camps.

 

Hong : oh my god…

 

Cindy : We’re hitting them….. we’re hitting them all today…. All those fuckers….

 

A ticker tape news flashed scrolled on the bottom of the screen, informing everyone that a major operation is happening in enemy territory.

 

Hong : Fuck YEAH WELLY !!!… I’ll fucking vote for you !!!! AHHAHAHAHAHA….

 

 

…………………………………………………………………….

The 4th screen came on, showing something closer to home.

A lot closer.

The large screen subdivided itself into 8 squares zooming into 8 different spots in the gathered crowd. You can clearly see the stage and the gathering crowd on the screen.

An eerie red square appeared around the faces of 8 men who for a brief moment looked up in surprise before their expressions betrayed their fear upon realising what was happening.

That they were already marked and their game is up.
Before they could react, men, women who were blended into the crowd beside them quickly brought them down. The commotion sent people scrambling in different directions and the barriers in front of the stage were removed, opening up additional exits for the dispersing crowd.

Many scrambled for safety, yet many more remained on the ground, glued to the screens. Eager and hungry to see the payback the country has been lusting for.

I caught a glimpse of some of the men arrested on screen.

A couple of them had sharpened stakes and knives wrestled from their hands.

A black bag was unceremoniously thrown over their head before they were dragged kicking like animals heading to a slaughter out from the area.

All 4 screens went dark before merging into one giant display.

The 4 screens began to show the series of political attacks both local and abroad on the current administration. When you are down on your knees, you can be sure the vultures are circling.

The laws of nature apply no matter who you are.

When you are weak and ripe for the picking, the predators will come.

The scavengers will come.

They will come for you, trying to shape your opinion, to influence your thoughts, to generate doubt, to create confusion and fear among the population.

Analysts , observers, so called experts living a few thousand kilometres away appeared on the screen in succession. Politicians, dissidents, exiled individuals, business owners everyone you can possibly fucking imagine appear on the screen one after another questioning us.

 

Questioning the country.

Questioning the leadership

Questioning the citizens

Questioning how …………………. the fuck………………..will we survive …………….this…..

How ?

How will we defend this island of ours ?

How ?

How can we fight against an enemy hidden among us ?

How ?

How can such a small fucking country survive a threat of such scale ?

How ?

How will this be done ?

How far are we really willing to go to ensure our way of life is not threatened by the absurd ideas of a few individual ?

How far would you go to make sure your kids can run free and safe by the playground ?

How much are you willing to sacrifice ?

How the fuck………. really……

How the fuck are we going to do this ?

 

I dropped my phone, transfixed at the screen as I watch everyone slowly unfold.

We’re no longer playing defence.

We’re finally hitting them and boy it felt good.

 

The fuckers that did this to us.

 

Finally it’s payback.

 

As the clip rolled towards it’s climax of a hundred fuckers asking us ‘how’ when all they really wanted was to see us fall on our knees, the screen went dark amidst the fading screams on the streets as the chaos slowly came under control.

The PM’s face appeared again, this time round, he is not in his usual collared shirt and pants. He was dressed in full tactical gear as he answered the question everyone has been asking.

He did not repeat the question.

He did not need to read from a script.

He did not need any prompt from his aide.

He did not even need to think

You could tell he said it immediately when the camera came on live.

It was a soft yet strong reply. You could hear the steadiness in his voice and the conviction he had in his reply.

PM : With my life….

 

The drone camera zoomed out to show a sequence of the PM leading a section of men as they entered a compound somewhere near a shipyard before turning black.

 

No longer is he contended from leading behind the desk and dealing with politicians. He’s going to be man on the ground as well.

Right on que, the screen started flashing a succession of answers and replies.

Replies and answers from the true sons and daughters of Singapore.

A father holding his daughter’s urn.

A mother holding her son with only one hand.

A husband, eyes red with a photo of his wife.

A wife holding the beret of her late husband.

An old man on clutches wearing his Temesak green uniform

A dog handler with the collar of his best friend.

Paramedics, doctors, teachers, hawkers, officers from the home team, right down to the service men and women who has dedicated their lives to the country.

Jackson : Jesus…

 

Many are the victims of the attack from a year ago.

Everyone of them answered the questions in the same way.

” With my life “

As the drumbeat of the sound track grew in intensity, the screen went dark right on que, You could hear the crowd and anyone watching that live broadcast erupt in cheers in the same manner when the country won it’s first Olympic medal.

The shouts came not only from the gathered crowds that new year eve.

You could hear and feel the pent up anger and frustration of a nation in mourning for the past year. The nearby HDB blocks exploded with cheers and shouts, the camera panned to show neighbours leaving their homes and coming out to the corridors.

 

Hong stood up and thrust his arms into the air and shouted.

 

Hong : FUCK!!!!!  ARGHHHH!!!!!

 

Jackson : Damm… Welly is smart….this is fucking brilliant…

 

Then everything went dark.

 

I snapped out of my stupor and I quickly shared the news with Hong and Cindy.

 

Owen is coming.

 

The power to the castle has been cut.

 

30 seconds later, the backup generator kicked back up and we were running all over, gathering the men left on the estate back to the castle itself.

 

Hong : Kamal has the armoury key !! fuck !!

 

Within minutes, we pulled everyone into the castle itself.

 

Even the cooks.

 

I did a count of the men we have. There’s 21 of us in all.

 

We gathered and I gave it straight to the men right there and then.

 

Jackson : Men are coming for the castle…. I don’t know how many…. I don’t know when… but I bet they’re on their way right now….

 

I told them I cannot guarantee their safety and anyone who chooses to stay should know that their decision carried a significant amount of danger.

 

Jackson : I won’t compel anyone of you to stay if you don’t want to…..you’re free to go….

 

One of the men asked if this has to do with Singapore hitting the fucking terrorists that evening.

 

Jackson : I think so…. They will not sit idle when we dealt the first strike…. They will come….

 

 

I could see several of the men looking at one another, unsure of what to say.

 

Jackson : I’ll give you 5 minutes…. I won’t blame you if you want to walk….  I’ll see you guys in the pantry of the castle ….. and if you are here by then…. I take it you are with us all the way…..

 

We started arming ourselves with whatever we could get our hands on.

 

I picked up my axe from the farmhouse while Hong has his trusty knuckle duster. Cindy pulled a whole set of golf clubs from Yiling’s storeroom and when 5 minutes is up, there were only 15 of us left in the pantry.

 

“ Boss gave us a job, a roof and everything we have when no one believed in us “

“ She gave us a chance to get back on our feet “

 

“ She paid for my wife’s medical bills till she passed on “

 

“  I won’t be here today if not for her.. “

 

 

11pm

 

The group of us started carrying water and food down to the basement.

 

The vault will not fall.

 

Not on my watch.

 

I tried calling Ron, James and even the mysterious men on the 3 Nokia phones but on one picked up.

 

One of the men I posted as a sentry on the patio came running in.

 

LBV Man 1 : I think they’re here…. They’re all at the cookhouse….i can see them….

 

We followed him and we went up to the patio above the extension wing.

 

Hong : There’s….. there’s so many of them…..

 

I could see the headlights of vehicles including big trucks pulling up.

 

They must be prepared to cart away everything in the armoury and the vault.

 

Hong : Jackson you need to go…. You know the vault password.

 

Jackson : Don’t be crazy…. You think they have any intention of using a password…. ?

 

We may not be able to make out the exact numbers but with the lights at the cookhouse still on, we could see a crowd of men gathering over there with more arriving as we speak.

 

There’s no point blocking Binjai Hill road with vehicles when they are approaching from the cookhouse. From there, the small road we always take will lead them right to the castle across the open field and garden.

 

Jackson : How many do you think there are….

 

Cindy spoke with an eerie calm and said she counted at least 40 so far.

 

Hong : 40….

 

Cindy : there’s more arriving……

 

Jackson : are all the doors and windows of the castle locked ??

 

LBV man 2 : yes… we have men at the main door, the side entrance, the garage and the entrance via the extension wing….the rest are at the vault….

 

Someone ran up from ground floor. He was posted in the study to monitor the camera feed I pulled from the security office.

 

LBV man 3 : There’s a call…. It’s a internal line… direct from the cookhouse…. He’s looking for you Jackson….

 

Jackson : What… ?

 

I quickly went down to the study and answered it.

 

Jackson  : Yes…  ?

 

Owen : you must be Jackson….

 

I could feel my blood boiling as the voice settled in my head.

There is a weird sense of familiarity as Owen’s voice stirred up decade old memories.

 

Jackson : You must be Owen….

 

Owen : They say you are a smart man….the winds of change is coming…. And it would be good for you and your men to be on the winning side….. what do you think ? … haha….

 

I kept quiet and waited for Owen to go on. After a few seconds pause, he continued.

 

Owen :  I’ll take that as a no then…. Hahah…

 

I kept my silence and I tried to control my emotions.

Yiling’s death, the betrayal, the attack on the childcare, all the dead kids, the parents who lost their flesh and blood, and the subsequent aftermath the chaos his attack has plunged the country into, all of this is because of him.

 

The Malus, the attack on the Rajahs, and even my grandfather’s death.

 

Owen : I came to take back what’s mine….if you are as smart as they say you are….. stay out of my way….

 

Jackson : You want the castle…..come and get it….

 

I hung up the phone and I could feel the endorphins in my body spiking. My heart beat faster, all my senses were on fire as I looked at my computer screen.

 

We’re surrounded. Besides the men gathering at the cookhouse, I could see the vehicles we parked at the foot of the hill being pushed aside. Another 2 trucks were waiting to drive up the hill right up to the castle’s main door.

 

I looked at the men in the study and I sent 4 of them to the garage.

 

Jackson : Siphon all the petrol from the cars…. 2 of you, try to get to the POL storage…..  ( Petrol , Oil , Lubricant ) bring it all down to the basement…..

 

Hong : What are you doing Jackson …..

 

Jackson : If we can’t hold…. We’ll burn it all down…. castle, vault and all… go..

 

I went up to the patio again and the 40 men across the open field of the castle has swelled.

 

There must be a hundred men at least spread out near the cookhouse and the farmhouse.

 

I could here the rattle of metal as about a dozen men started scaling the castle gate and walls.

 

Hong warmed up his shoulders and he slipped on his knuckle duster.

 

Hong : This is going to be one hell of a Chinese new year…. Hahahaha…..

 

Jackson : stick together…. They outnumber us… if they corner us too soon, we’re dead…. Kill the lights….

 

Hong started switching off the lights in the castle.

It’s our home ground and we have to use it to our advantage.

 

We know where the corners are and where to hide.

 

Cindy slung the golf bag around her body as if the weight meant nothing.

Where an archer would comfortably carry a quiver full of arrows, Cindy carried fucking golf clubs.

 

The sound of glass breaking and wooden door being forced opened reached our ears and I walked back into the castle with the remaining men in toll.

 

I heard the slam of doors hitting it’s stopper and within seconds, men rushed into view.

 

There was no hesitation, Cindy pulled a golf club swung it at the head of the 1st man charging in. Hong kicked another before ducking low to avoid a wild swing of a machete.

Cindy caught the machete swinging man’s face in her massive hand and sent him hurling onto the marble floor.

 

The thud was so loud that it echoed throughout the living hall and the terrorist stopped moving immediately.

Shouts rang out and furniture were being dragged and pushed about as the fight broke out in the living area.

 

I positioned myself at the staircase leading to the basement.

 

A man came at me and I recognised him as one of the Malus I saw at the auction.

I blocked his hit with the back of my axe before sending the blunt end into the side of his ribcage. As he angled over in pain, I finished him with another swing to his temple.

 

Before I could even see if the Malu I just hit was conscious, another came for me.

 

A laughing and chuckling crazed foreigner.

 

He grabbed my axe wielding right arm with both hands and tried to pull me down.

 

I relaxed my body and allowed him to yank me close to him as I dropped the axe at the same time.

Thinking that he managed to disarm me, my right hand went to his face and I dug my thumb into his eye socket.

 

CF : aERGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

 

Pulling the 2nd axe from behind my back, I did not even check which side I was using, I just slammed it into his ear. The CF fell onto his knees while clutching his eye.

 

Someone kicked me hard enough that I gave up my position by the basement stairs.

 

I fell against a 1.2m tall vase, shattering it on a guy Cindy just punched to the ground.

 

PHOMMM !

 

I felt the strong whoosh of metal sweep past my face as the 9 iron ripped itself into the face of someone who was trying to get me from behind.

A petite CF jumped onto Hong’s back and I jabbed my thumb and fingers into the side of his ribcage while grabbing his hair

He screamed as I lifted him off Hong and threw him onto the freshly shattered vase.

 

Someone was shoved against me and I barely managed to keep my balance when I saw another guy coming right at me.

 

He jumped and clung onto me as I lifted both my arms up to block his hits on my face. I stopped my backwards stagger due to the force of the man jumping onto me by jamming my foot against the leg of the large dining table.

 

I stabbed my right thumb into the man’s left ear and crushed the soft tissues and flesh on his face as I tightened my grip. He tried to rip my hair but my hand  caught hold of his thumb and I angled it back.

 

“ aRGHHHH!!!”

 

I head butted him on his nose and as he staggered 3 steps backwards, Cindy swung the golf club into his eye.

 

I saw 2 CFs tackled Cindy to the ground and I jumped onto one of them like a koala, turning my body to the side as the same time, I used my body weight and pulled him off Cindy.

 

The 2 of us rolled on the floor and when we both got back up, he thought he could pull a Jacky Chan stunt by yanking the carpet from under my feet but he made a mistake.

 

You don’t yank a 2m carpet under a whole set of solid living room furniture.

 

I ran forward and kneed him in his face. I was about to kick him when someone charged at me and we both fell over the ottoman stool and landed on the coffee table.

 

I saw the glint of a dagger and I stopped it with a stack of Travel and living Magazines just within reach.

 

Cindy : aRGHHH!!!

 

Cindy literally peeled the man away, dragging him by his hair as if she was opening a old school aluminium can where the tab is not attached.

 

I slid over and grabbed one of my axe and I hacked at the arm of a CF that was trying to strangle Hong.

 

“ aRGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! “

 

He loosened his grip and while his arm is still attached, there’s no way he could use it anytime soon as blood started pouring from his wound.

 

Someone shouted and jumped at me, I ducked in time to grab his shirt in midair before pulling and slamming him onto the floor.

I don’t know how I fell but this time round when I rolled on the floor, I was rolling on the shards of the broken vase.

 

Jackson  : arGHHH!! Fuck !!..

 

I could feel the wetness of blood as I got back up to see Cindy fist the jumper in his face twice before turning her attention to another attacker.

Hong punched a Malu so hard that he turned and staggered in a diagonal angle straight down the stairs into the basement.

 

I saw our guys running back in with 2 jerry cans of petrol in toll and I shouted for everyone to clear the way for them.

 

I dove for a attacker wielding a knife and hugged him around his waist as I anchored myself with left knee and right foot on the ground while swinging to his back.

 

Jackson : aRGHHHH .

 

I lifted him cleanly off the ground and slammed his head against the side of the railings leading to level 2.

 

The fighting intensified as our men tried to hold the ground.

 

It appears as if we’re holding.

 

I shouted to the men in the basement to douse the armoury and vault entrances with the petrol and get ready to light it.

 

We earned a moment of reprieve after the 1st wave and I started moving furniture to block the entrance where the attackers were coming in from.

 

Hong : Jackson  !!! there’re coming in from the extension wing….. !

 

Cindy : GO… I’ll hold here…

 

Hong and I ran towards the new extension and while I easily stopped the first man who ran in unarmed except for a large torchlight, I failed to see another guy with a pistol behind him.

 

Jackson  : Gun !!… Gun !…Gun!!

 

I pushed Hong away as I used the man I just grabbed as a human shield.

 

Shots rang out in succession as I shove the meat shield against the shooter.

 

Amidst the confusion, I went for the gun.

 

The shooter appears to be someone in charge as he shouted for his men to take the castle.

 

Shooter : WHAT ARE you all waiting for… !!! TAKE THE CASTLE !!!!

 

I tried to twist the weapon away but the shooter countered my move with ease.

The weapon fired in my face towards the ceiling, while I could not see the flash, the sound of the bullet discharging muted all noise from my eardrums for a few seconds.

 

I fought for the weapon and I directed the next 2 shots at the entrance where the shooter’s man was coming in, hitting a CF twice in his stomach.

 

The shooter swung his weapon and I barely avoided the muzzle as he shattered the full height glass panels of the extension wing with 3 successive shots

I managed to hit the magazine release and I pulled it out.

 

A final shot rang out, embedding itself in a column near Hong as I slammed the magazine into the shooter’s eye.

Shooter : aREGHH!!!!

 

Before I could hit the shooter again, another terrorist ran in with his dagger.

 

I reared back and timed my grip.

 

I grabbed his stabbing wrist as I angled my body to the side.

 

Wrestling the dagger out of his arm, I stabbed the shooter in his thigh, then the stabber in his waist, then under the armpits before burying the dagger right up to the hilt in the shooter’s neck all within a matter of seconds.

 

Someone kicked me in my face and I landed hard on the ground.

I was being dragged for over 2 metres when I saw Hong ripped into the guy pulling me.

 

Looking out towards the cookhouse, I could see groups of men taking their time. The carried trolleys and wheelbarrows, no doubt to cart away what the vaults holds.

 

Jackson  : arGHH!!

 

I kicked a Malu out of the way as 2 more of our own LBV men jumped in to help contain the endless wave of terrorists entering the castle.

Cindy was barely holding the living area with the rest of La Bella Vita’s men and the furniture we stacked by the main entrance were in danger of toppling over.

 

Hong : fuck you !!!!!!!!!!! aRGHHH!!

 

Hong dragged a Malu along the floor of the extensions wing and into one of those long empty tables.

 

We’re not going to be able to hold much longer

 

The hardest decision would be when should I light the fire.

 

And even then, we need an escape route.

 

I picked up my axe and threw it the main entrance when a CF just kicked a chair off our makeshift barrier. While I had hoped it would embed itself in his chest, I was happy enough to see it slam on his mouth, causing him to fall back onto his friends.

 

Cindy pulled the last golf club out the bag and started swatting the terrorists trying to climb over the barrier.

I picked up the other axe and my mind raced for a way out.

 

Hong was shoved back into the living area from the extension wing as he pulled a dagger out from his shoulder.

 

I jumped in and waved the axe in a wide arc, putting some distance immediately between us.

 

The CFs laughed and the charged, ignoring the lethal weapon I was wielding.

 

I separated the jaw from face of the 1st CF before I was kicked backwards.

Hong pushed me away as he narrowly avoided the sharpened ends of a metal rod.

 

Cindy fell beside me and I could see both her hands are bleeding and I pulled a 3 inch splinter from her shoulder as I helped her up.

 

Hong pulled one of our own guys back but he was too late as a CF buried a dagger in his gut.

 

I grabbed the golf bag on the ground and used it horizontally as I charged towards the men that are starting to encircle us.

 

Jackson : arGHHHHHHHH!!!

 

My forearm suffered cuts as I pushed the attackers back barely 2 metres despite the effort I put in.

 

Hong lifted an antique grandfather clock and used it as a battering ram.

 

I helped him support the clock as we shove it at the men entering from the extension wing.

 

It was no use.

 

Within seconds, we were kicking and pushing away men who were successful in surrounding us by then.

 

A cut here, a slash there, an attempted stab as the lot of us we pushed closer and closer to the barrier we build by the front door.

 

A barrier that as we fight was being taken apart piece by piece.

 

I dislodged my axe from the CF’s face by our feet and I prepared myself to make the last stand.

 

Jackson : …. I will light the vault….the rest of you get out via the front once the barrier fall….

 

Hong spat a mouthful of blood on the floor and cursed.

 

Hong : No way Jackson… hahaha… no way hahaha….

The barrier to the front door came crashing down and I tightened the grip on my axe as I exhaled. My eyes locked with my target and I knew where the axe needed to go.

 

I pray to whoever is listening that I would at least get to burn it all down rather than have it end up in Owen’s hand.

 

If not, I would not know how to face Yiling when I see her, if I see her.

 

I was expecting to face a flurry of stabs, daggers and sharpened stakes when one of the CF at the entrance flew over our head.

 

He literally flew and landed on the man surrounding us.

 

“ arGHHHHHHHH!! “

An agonising cry rang out as another was thrown against Hong and i.

 

The man in front of us charged and a mass cluster fuck occurred in the living hall but not for long.

 

Screams.

 

Screams and shouts rang out and echoed within the high ceiling of the castle.

 

I held a CF who was straddling me on the ground up by his neck as I avoided his punches when he suddenly went limp.

 

His whole body went limp and when I looked up at his head, there’s a massive cleaver buried in his head.

 

Hong punched and pushed the men back as I lifted a small build CF off the ground and slammed him into a mess of broken furniture.

 

Hong : aEHGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! ARGHHH!!!!

 

The metallic rattle of chains rang our as it whipped across the living hall and flayed the flesh of the terrorist off their faces.

 

I pulled Cindy off the ground and saw 2 CF coming for us when a flash of a shadow behind them stopped them good in their tracks as they went down on their knees and collapsed in front of us.

 

Hong saw it first and he laughed.

 

He fucking laughed as he grabbed one of the Malus by his face and head fuck the damaged grandfather clock with it.

 

Hong : WAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!!!!! AHAHAHAH!!! You’re all fucked now !!!!!!!! you hear me… you’re all fucked now !!!!

 

A CF jumped at Hong but Hong grabbed onto him.

Hong slammed the CF he was carrying onto the ground and just when a Malu leapt up into the air to attempt a gravity assisted hit on Hong with his mallet, he was stopped in midair by the blunt end of a Kwandao.

I saw the butcher charge into the house on my left and he literally tore a route through the attackers, driving half of them scurrying away and leaving their weapons behind.

 

They’re here.

 

They’re finally here.

 

I picked up my axe and told Cindy to hold the position by the vault with the rest of the men.

I joined Hong and our new friends as we chased and fight our way out from the extension wing and towards the open field beyond.

 

The butcher was strong enough to hold a fully grown man up horizontally with his left hand. I watched him roar as he slammed the poor CF against the already damaged curtain walls.

 

While some ran, the CFs among them started charging again.

 

I tackled and fought two of them before falling onto broken shards of glass as we rolled onto the landscape turfing on the exterior.

The CF had a dagger aimed straight for my heart and I barely pushed his aim away when I felt this searing pain in my bicep.

 

Jackson : arGHHH!!!!

 

Before I could contemplate my countermove, my attacker’s head was detached from his body and he fell over.

 

I caught a glimpse of either Nikka or Tametsu, I don’t know who. He was too fast as he bounced off the ground and went on to engage others.

 

I rolled over and I looked at the field in front of me.

 

I saw a large man running at me. Almost as big as the butcher himself.

 

I gripped my axe and I felt something rip right by my face on the left.

Something tore through fabric of air so close to my hair that I could see my own fringe fly in front of me.

The large man in front of me was stopped in his tracks as he took a few more steps, while looking at the long black spear buried in his stomach.

He could not believe his eyes as he gripped onto it before falling down and landing on his back.

 

The spear is as black as the night itself and I could still see the residual energy from the throw vibrating it on the lifeless body of the man it just hit.

Everything happened so fast.

 

A cluster of 5 men charged towards the castle in an arrow formation with a burly looking man leading it.

 

I tried to get back up when I saw the figure of a man hurling towards the attackers like a Jaguar pouncing on it’s prey in the jungle.

 

He knocked the 1st man down, rolled on the turfing and redirected the dagger of the 2nd man into the 3rd man’s neck. Disarming the 2nd man, he broke his arm, twisting it in an awkward angle. Without breaking a beat, the 4th man’s sharpened stake was driven into the 2nd’ man’s kidney while the 5th guy’s hammer was disarmed and thrown into the face of the 1st burly man trying to get back up when he was tackled to the ground moments ago.

 

The 4th man barely had time to realise what was going on when the dagger was reused after exiting the 3rd man’s neck and plunged right into his gut.

 

The 5th guy got up and tried to charge at the monster that so easily took care of all his friends only to be at the receiving end of a dual blade enter his body at a 40 degree angle from his waist.

 

Only when Hibiki pulled the knives out did I realised it was him.

He’s fast.

 

The perimeter of the castle’s extension wing is now cleared.

 

What remains of the initial attackers were now regrouping at the cookhouse. Many dropped the carts and trolleys they were initially carrying.

 

Their numbers don’t look like it changed at all and there must be at least a hundred of them.

 

From the looks of it, it doesn’t look like Owen is going to come all this way just to give up at the end.

 

I touched my bleeding wound and I looked at Hibiki standing right at the front of the rest of the masked men and women. They stared silently at the opposite end of the field.

 

It’s a numbers game.

 

Numbers.

 

No matter how good you are, you don’t win again numbers like this but yet they remained where they are.

In this day and age, how many could say they stood steadfast and unyielding in the face of overwhelming odds.

 

I saw the sure-footed steps of the women that was with Hibiki walked past me.

 

I saw Nikka And Tametsu split up and took position on the 2 extreme ends of the line.

 

Xia’s Kwandao’s blade hovered 5cm off the ground, with blood still dripping off it as he held it with one hand with it’s solid handle angled behind his back.

 

There was no breeze.

No cloud, no rain.

The night skies were clear.

 

I looked across the field and I could clearly see a man with long hair. He walked towards the front of his line while tying his hair up.

 

Hibiki saw him as well and his shout echoed throughout the estate. A shout filled with anguish and what sounded like years of suppressing his anger.

 

Hibiki : OWENNNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

I got up on my feet and bit down my teeth to ignore the pain in my left shoulder.

Owen led his men on a direct charge towards the handful of us at the castle.

 

I watched Jane pull her spear out of the dead man’s stomach.

 

I watched the Butcher dropped the chain on his left hand and replaced it with a meat hook while his right hand swung the cleaver side to side.

 

I watched Nikka and Tametsu’s samurai blade stained with streaks of blood, flesh and hair leave its’ sheath.

 

I heard the cracked of a whip a distant away.

 

I saw the glint of the scythe as it’s handle doubled in length.

 

I watched Hibiki spread his arms apart as if challenging Owen and his men to come for him.

 

And I watched the perimeter of the estate lit up. It lit up as Hibiki raised his arms like a necromancer raising the dead.

 

It was lit up not by streetlamps or ambient light spilling from a sleeping city.

 

It was lit up by the eerie green glow coming from the masks of the rest of Yiling’s family.

They’re here.

 

They’re all here.

 

Right about then, I looked up into the cloudless skies and I remembered what Yiling said to me in the video and I could not help it as I blurted out with a smile.

 

Jackson : ……..Yiling……………………..… I sure hope you’re watching…..

 

I smiled as I tightened my grip on my axe as Hong staggered over to me side trying to stem the bleed on his leg.

 

Xia was the first to move, charging forward like a vanguard of an army as his Kwandao floated a few centimetres off the ground like it was weightless.

 

As he cut passed Hibiki, he turned and shouted to his friends.

 

Xia : For Bella…. !

 

And the resulting reply was one hell of an echo that filled the estate.

 

For Bella.

 

……………………………………….

 

Xia was followed closely by the rest and I watched the noose close in from all direction towards Owen and his men like a circle of light coming together.

The men that Owen brought with him were a weird mix, the mad, the crazy and while some are just there for the money.

 

My eyes followed Owen as best as I could for a couple of seconds before the clash of bodies on both sides made it impossible to even make out anything.

 

Hong : bloody hell…. They’re all mad…

 

It’s true, everyone on that field that day is mad and insane in their own way.

 

The cries and screams that filled the air that day is one I would never forget soon.

It was utter chaos.

 

Hong limped away and said he will head back into the castle to check on Cindy.

With most of the action going on outside, the inside of the castle should be pretty much clear.

 

I skirted the perimeter of the main fight and tried to find a way in.

 

It’s madness out here and anyone not running in the opposite direction has to be mad.

 

Has to be.

 

And yet I was gripping the axe I held in my hand tightly as I tried to look for Owen. A guy ran towards me with a wooden baton in hand but upon seeing the bloodied state I was in with the Axe in hand, he ran the other way towards the perimeter and I never saw him again.

 

As I got closer to the farmhouse, a better picture started to form in my head.

While I expected a Mel Gibson braveheart style clash to play out, the reality is a lot different.

The initial clash lasted seconds before the main body splintered into smaller groups heading in different directions.

 

Some ran, some gave chase, some gave up, some dropped their weapons and started to bolt.

 

You could tell those that are motivated purely by financial gains are the first to leave, dropping the trolley and tolls they intend to use for pillaging the vault.

The fanatics and the ones loyal to Owen are the ones that are fighting.

 

I got close to a group of fighting men and I saw 3 men spewing a foreign language surrounding Jane who just rolled off a beefy man after burying a dagger in his neck.

 

All 3 attempted to strike at Jane at the same time and she rolled, crawled and tumbled out of their reach before running towards Xia who thrust his Kwandao in between Jane and the 3 man.

 

Xia swung his weapon behind his back like a rotating blade before widening the circle and drove everyone to give him a wider radius. A clear sign that he was not dependent on his Kwandao, Xia threw it at 2 screaming CF approaching from his rear before engaging them with his bare fist.

The 3 foreigners continued heading for Jane who is avoiding their hits with her nimble moves. While it appears as if Jane was on the run, it was just her drawing them towards where she wants the fight to be at.

 

Making an abrupt turn and springing back onto the man closest to her, Jane brought him down to the floor before rolling away seconds before Butcher’s cleaver severed his head.

 

The other 2 continue heading towards Jane who executed a beautiful back flip into the path of Nikka who saw Jane’s approached and threw her his weapon before pulling out his secondary and shorter sword to continue his fight.

 

Jane was about to split the stomach of one of them when another CF jumped onto her and tried to relieve her of her Katana.

 

I ran towards the 2 men and one of them realised my attempt to hit them from behind.

 

Before I could cleave the 1st fucker’s head apart, he was literally rammed out of sight by another body.

I don’t even know where that came from.

 

The 2nd man came at me only to fall into my plot of edible plants when Jane jumped onto him. Before the 2 of them can finish rolling to a stop I saw another man coming at me with a sledge hammer.

 

Jackson  :aRGHHH!!!!

 

I swung my axe at him and he kept ducking my hit while landing a few unsuccessful blows at me. His heavier choice of weapon is harder to wield but the fear of getting hit kept me further away from him than necessary.

 

“ get down !!!!! “

 

Someone shouted, I don’t know who it was, and I don’t know who he was directing the shout at. It felt almost as if someone was shouting because a grenade landed next to me.

 

I lowered my body instinctively to see the bamboo plants which had grown taller than me get it’s height reduced by 50% exposing angry sharpened stakes you see in viet cong traps during the war.

 

“ whuaarrrrr !!! “

 

Jackson : fuck !!

 

A massive blade swung a little too close to me for comfort and I barely managed to avoid it.

I rolled onto a dead body and pressed my hand into a split stomach as I get back up on my feet a few metres away to see Jane removing the hand of the sledge hammer guy.

 

Turning my attention to the person that just redecorated my bamboo garden, I cursed softly under my breathe.

A large heavy set man about 1.9m tall and extremely well built is keeping 2 of our masked men at bay with his large blade. He’s wearing a mask but one which is starkly different from the ones in black that our guys wear. The mask is like a full face helmet with paintings of a Japanese Edo-period monster.

A Nure-onna

The ghostly painting of a woman’s head on a snake’s body went around the helmet like a snake chasing it’s own tail.

 

One of the masked man in black tried to jump him and it was a fatal mistake.

He did not expect the man to drop his main weapon and brandish a secondary one.

I watched in horror as the NureOnna thrust a forked knife into the body of the masked black man before quickly pulling it out and burying it in his neck again.

 

I threw my axe at him and he blocked it with the lifeless body of the man he just killed.

 

Charging into him, I bulldozed him backwards against the farmhouse wall as he dropped the body.

 

I punched him twice in his kidney and made the mistake of striking him on his helmet.

 

Before I could cry out in pain, he strangled me by my neck with both hands. Not wanting him to gain a firm hold, I tightened my core, grabbed onto his arms for leverage and literally walked my feet on his body up till I grabbed onto his arms with my legs.

 

I slammed my right foot repeatly against his face until his grip loosened and I felt onto my back.

 

Rolling under his opened legs I slammed my fist against his groin.

 

With him groaning in pain on his knees, I grabbed his helmet and yank his head towards my striking knee.

 

I hit him hard, on the helmet that is.

 

It might have disorientated him a little but my knees felt as if I just knee a fire hydrant.

 

I took 1 unstable step before falling down and there was a loud cry as I watched 2 other men with back mask bury their daggers into the body of the Nureonna.

 

Nureonna : arGNHHHHHHH!!!!

 

The 2 daggers appeared to have not done enough manage and he could still punch hard enough to send the 2 man staggering back and slam one of them into the ground.

 

Another 2 daggers appeared from our guys and disappeared inside his body before he finally knelt down and fell face flat onto the ground.

More men were rushing towards the farmhouse and I could hardly make out if they are on our side until they are close.

 

A crazed CF charged at me waving a sawn off pitch fork and I quickly rolled out of his way.

He came at me again and I blocked his downward stab with both arms raised into a cross but the force was too big.

 

Jackson: arGHHH!!

I felt a sharp end of the fork split open the skin from the side of my left nostril down to my chin.

I tripped and wrestled the CF to the ground before I was kicked on my ribs so hard that I completely a full roll on the ground.

 

Before the kicker could come at me, he went into spasm before falling flat on his face, revealing the spear that had buried itself in his lower back.

 

I went back at the CF again who jumped up and clung onto me.

 

Jackson : aRGHHHH!!!

 

I rotated to redirect the energy of the leapt and we fell towards the newly cut bamboos.

 

Several sharpened bamboos entered the CF’s body as he screamed and struggled with his body impaled by the plants I grew. My arm was grazed too as I pushed myself off him.

 

He’s still alive but aside from screaming in pain, there was nothing he could do. The snapping sound of the weaker bamboos accompanied his dying cries as gravity did the rest of the work, embedding the plant deeper into his body until he stopped moving.

I heard the hiss and honk of a truck before the wild flashing headlights caught my attention.

Some mad fucker has driven their truck right into the estate from the cookhouse and is headed straight for the farmhouse.

 

The truck smashed itself into the farmhouse, ripping a chunk of the wall cleaning off. The jagged edges of brick walls were exposed, and broken chunks of concrete flew all over the garden.

 

The driver revved the accelerator and he was trying to use the truck again as a weapon. I ran towards the passenger side and tried to open the door but it’s locked.

 

I jumped off and grabbed a piece brick before climbing onto the reversing truck. It took a few tries before I smashed the window in and unlocked the door. The driver is obviously high on drugs and he kept laughing and shaking his head in tandem to the rock music he was blasting inside the cabin.

 

The truck reversed onto dead bodies and uneven terrain, the bumpiness made it hard for me to hold on.

I threw myself at the driver and wrestled for control of the wheel.

We traded punches as I pulled the handbrakes and went for the keys.

The moment I yanked the key out, the driver tried to escape.

 

He opened his door and just before he could jump onto the ground, he was nailed to the inside of the opened driver door.

A massive out of this world ice pick went right through his body and embedded itself in the door, pinning the driver as blood gushed from his wounds and perforated organs.

 

I saw a man as large as the butcher in height but he looks more lean. His muscles are more contoured. He left his ice pick and was chasing after another group of CF towards the forested area.

 

I went out of the truck and I saw a CF leaping onto butcher from behind and stabbing him once on his shoulder.

 

I grabbed a broken chunk of brick from the ground and ran towards him.

The butcher threw the CF onto the ground like a bug before immediately diverting his attention to another man in front of him.

Wearing a similar helmet to the Nureonna, this one had a different painting of a monster. A balding head with life like eyes painted all over it’s face. Even the clothes he was wearing is filled with prints of eyeballs.

 

Before the CF could strike at the butcher again, I smashed the brick into his face the same time the butcher and Eyeballs engaged.

 

Eyeballs carried 2 sabres, and he danced nimbly around butcher. Butcher blocked and parried eyeballs’s strike, bidding his time to strike.

 

After I made sure the CF could not longer get up, I saw a Fat lady charging towards Butcher and i.

 

She’s fat, fucking fat. Almost 3 times my size, the fat lady wore a similar helmet with a painting of, you guessed it. A fat lady.

 

Her fats wobbled as she rolled towards us supported by her thunder thighs.

 

A smaller masked man on our side tried to engage her only to get caught by her pudgy fingers. I could not believe my eyes when I saw her slam her attacker onto the ground before jumping tummy first onto him.

 

The massive weight disorientated her target and she used the man’s weapon against him, burying the blade into the side of his body. The masked man had no fighting chance against a massive beast like her.

 

She’s surprisingly fast for her size.

 

I looked around for something I could use and I saw a severed wrist holding onto a machete.

 

I didn’t even have time to flick the wrist away and I grabbed it, blade, fingers, wrists and all. The butcher blocked off another 2 strikes by Eyeballs while I barely slid behind him in time to swing my machete in a outward arc to fend off the Fat lady who tried to ram herself into Butcher.

 

The fight was spreading out towards the perimeter of the estate and some are headed for the castle. Most of the crowd in the field has cleared.

 

Fatlady : herrrikkkkkkkkkkkkk!!!!!!!

 

I slashed at her body and I drew blood immediately, but she seemed to be immune to pain.

I slashed her three times and each time I barely avoided her pudgy fingers grabbing through the air.

 

Backing up, I exhaled and calm myself as I heard the clash of metal against metal rang out from behind me from the fight between Butcher and Eyeballs.

 

Fatlady screamed a muffled cry and ran at me with both her hands raised like a overweight banshee. I fake a left before running towards my right, drawing her towards me.

As long as I can get her away from Butcher, he will be able to concentrate on Eyeballs.

 

Fatlady came for me, laughing and shrieking as I retreated into my destroyed farmhouse.

Fatlady : serhrhiiikkkkkkkkkkkkkkk!!!!!

 

I went around the table where we always have our steamboat and used it like a barrier. Speed is my key advantage here. I went left when she tried to go right and did the opposite when she changed her direction.

 

I grabbed cans off my shelves and started throwing at her. Clams, abalones, baked beans and even a bottle of peanut butter.

 

Fatlady waved her pudgy hands and blocked most of them.

I directed most of the cans at her head but she was wearing the helmet.

Fatlady : arGHH!!!

 

Slamming her fist onto the table, she lifted the table off the ground and threw it aside, opening up access to me.

 

I dove low and went for my tool box. Grabbing a shovel, I had no time to orientate it and I jabbed the handle end into her body only to see it literally being consumed by her layers of body fat. It’s like pushing something into Jello.

 

I let go of the shovel and she laughed as she wobbled her body to show how nimble her fats were. I felt like puking when I saw her stomach spit out the shovel.

Fatlady came at me and I ran around the bamboo plot where the earlier CF laid impaled on it. She bashed through the low plants ignoring the scratches and I decided to make my stand and fight.

 

A succession of well-placed kicks from my days in the gym with Candy and Cindy did little damage. Fatlady did not look like she was hurt by my kicks as well.

I blocked, punched and had my arms scratched as I fought off her grubby fingers. She belly fucked me with a forward thrust and I fell backwards. Her stomach alone is enough to push me off balance and I scrambled towards my tool box for something to use.

 

I saw the nail gun from my tool box and I went for it.

 

I took it and fired at Fatlady.

 

Thud Thud thud thud……

 

I squeezed off 4 nails and the nails disappeared into her body with hardy any effect.  I wanted to squeeze off more but it was already empty.

 

If that did anything, it was to make her even more angry.

 

Fatlady : erhigkkkkkkkkkk!!!!!!!!!

 

Fatlady got hold of my shirt and she yanked me towards her.

 

I wanted to strike at her neck but she had no neck.

My punches were negated by the blubber around her body.

 

I could feel her shifting her centre of gravity towards me. in a matter of seconds, she’s going to body fuck me onto the floor. Her grip is too strong to pry and I went for her helmet.

 

Reaching for the clasp, I unlocked it and loosened the protective helmet.

Yanking it off her head I head butted her on the nose and felt an explosive expulsion of bad breath that made me want to puke.

 

Still she tried to push me down.

Jumping and spreading my legs outwards and towards my back while holding her wrist, I anchored my body onto the soft ground like I’m wrestling a sumo. My right leg snapped forward quickly, raising my knee and went for her stomach.

 

The hit seemed to have registered some pain in her as she screamed and staggered backwards.

 

I struck her several times on her bloodied face and she kept shrieking and moving backwards.

Fatlady : erGUUUU!!!!!!herrikkkkkkk!!!!!!!!

 

I saw the spark of butcher’s cleaver against eyeball’s blade as they came closer to Fatlady and i. They were evenly matched and both managed to land a couple of strikes on the other but it’s not fatal enough to end it.

Eyeball came towards me upon seeing that I’m unarmed, his blade barely missing my hand as I retracted my punch in time to avoid his slash.

Butcher sliced his meathook through the air and I never expected Eyeballs to use Fatlady as a shield.

 

The meat hook went into Fatlady body from the back like a hot knife slicing though butter.

She screamed and went berserk, waving and screaming as she staggered back and forth with the meat hook going clean through the front of her shoulder blade and coming out the back.

 

Fatlady : arGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

 

With the meathook stuck, Eyeballs went under and landed a horizontal slash across butcher’s chest. Butcher dropped his cleaver as he staggered back and Eyeball went for the kill.

 

Before he could strike, I grabbed onto Eyeball’s waist and yanked him off the ground, his sharp blade barely missing butcher’s face as both of us tumbled onto the floor together.

 

Eyeball elbowed me in my face but I managed to block the 2nd hit and rolled away.

 

Butcher recovered enough to reach for his cleaver the same time Eyeball grabbed his blade. He executed a back slash into the ground directed at me with his weapon and I barely got clear.

Seeing that I was out of range, Eyeball went straight for the approaching Butcher.

 

I thought time slowed but it didn’t.

 

Butcher’s left hand reached for his meat hook that was embedded inside Fatlady and yank her in front of himself as Eyeball’s blade thrust towards him.

 

There was no time for Eyeball to react as his blade sliced into Fatlady while Butcher’s cleaver finally found it’s target.

A sickening crunch reached my ears and I saw the cleaver buried in both Eyeball and Fat lady’s neck.

 

The smell, the sound, or perhaps mostly the Fat lady’s breathe made me retched. I vomited onto the vegetable plot I was kneeling in as the Butcher collapsed onto his bottom to catch his breath.

 

I looked around the vicinity and it was clear. There was no one left on the field. No one left fighting that is.

 

I went into the farmhouse and opened up the fridge. My throat is so dry I felt like I haven drank anything in a long while.

 

I gulped down a bottle of water and grabbed another one together with the first aid Kit. I opened up the storage under the bed at the farmhouse and pulled out another Axe.

 

I handed the first aid box and water to Butcher and I asked him where is Owen.

 

Jackson : Where is Owen… ?

 

Butcher : Hibiki was with him earlier…. I don’t know where they went….

 

A small ball of flame shot out from the cookhouse.

Something exploded. Perhaps a small stove.

 

I could hear distant gunshots as well.

I decided to head over to the cookhouse and along the way, I passed by more bodies from both sides.

 

Upon reaching the cookhouse, I saw Xia and Jane fighting another 2 helmet donning men on level 2.

 

It’s like brutal dance with dragons with Xia’s massive blades sliced and hack through the air as Jane nimbly ducked and attacked with her Hudiedao.

 

The 2 men in helmet both wielded a large shield and a spiked mace.

One hit with that heavy mace on your body and you are done.

 

No matter how many cuts your body suffer, you will still be able to manage a certain level of activity. Get smashed in your ribs or head with a blunt force and you are done.

 

The group parried back and forth, each testing the other’s opening and weakness.

 

Xia’s blade kept them pinned while Jane looked for openings but with their large shields, they are well protected.

 

One of our LBV man was thrown into the cookhouse by a beefier CF and I immediately went to his aid.

I got the CF on his knee with the back of my axe and followed up with a smash to his face.

The man that was thrown earlier grabbed a black soup serving pot you always see at the buffet line and slammed it into his head.

 

Shots rang out and one of it hit my man in the back of his shoulder.

 

LBV man 6 : aRGHHHHHHHH!!

 

I went down low and started crawling as I turned to see where are the shots coming from.

 

It was a stray bullet fired from the outside. The firing stopped after a while.

I went to my guy and dragged him away from the entrance.

 

Jackson : are you ok…. ??

 

LBV man 6 : yes… yes… arghhh… Hong asked me to blocked the road to the cookhouse with our vehicle…. There’s no way they can backed out fast….

 

He told me he manages to get the keys from 2 of the unattended trucks as well.

 

Jackson : ok… ok … stay here… stay here for a while….

 

I dragged him over to the storage room by the kitchen and did my best to dress his wound with his belt and a tablecloth.

 

I gave him my axe and told him to lay low till it’s over.

 

 

 

Heading out I saw Jane sheath her weapon and jump over the railings like a parkour expert while gripping onto the handrails. Shuffling along the sides of the rail, she distracted the 2 men long enough for Xia to break through their formation.

 

One of the helmet wearing man slashed at her and I watched Jane let go of the railing and allowed her body to fall. My heart nearly fell when I saw Jane grab onto the foot of the railing at the last moment with her left hand.

 

Using only her right hand, she pulled herself up high enough to plunge her Hudiedao into the calves of the man that just tried to kill her, She made him drop his shield and allowed Xia’s Kwandao to find it’s intended target.

 

Jane let go and landed on the ground floor like a sure-footed cat.

 

Shortly after that, I saw 2 bodies falling from the 2nd level down onto the tables we regularly have our meals on.

 

One of them stopped moving but the other got right up.

Another man donning a helmet entered the fight from the main entrance and went straight for Jane.

Xia came down and within seconds, regrouped with Jane as they evaluated their new enemy which carried a long staff who just helped the other shield and mace guy over to his side.

 

I slowly backed away from the cookhouse and towards the rear exit.

Owen is not here and there’s no point in me being here longer than necessary. The fight that will be taking place is of a level that is beyond what I train for.

 

I exited the cookhouse and jogged across the open field.

Most of the fighting had subsided by then with small pockets of contact spread out at the perimeter of the estate.

 

I could see storm clouds starting to gather a distance away. Arriving at the extension wing, I paused and took cover behind a hedge after making sure it’s clear.

There’s still active contact in the extension wing. Nikka and Tametsu were facing off another 2 guys also wielding Katanas. Their contact is swift and calculated, when they clashed, it was all down to a matter of seconds before they moved out of each other’s strike range.

 

It looks like this route is blocked off.

 

I don’t want to interrupt the fight and I circled around the exterior of the castle towards the side.

I tried the pantry door and it was locked.

 

I cautiously took the detour and I was getting closer to the garage when I heard voices and shouts coming from the inside.

 

I recognised that voice immediately. It was Owen.

 

I dashed inside the garage and I saw Hibiki jumping from the Maserati and denting the roof of the Z4 as he attempted a kick at Owen.

 

Owen ducked and he laughed, circling to the back of the vehicle as if he was playing catch with Hibiki.

 

Owen : Too anxious Hibiki…. Still too Anxious… hahaha…..

 

I grabbed a wrench from a tool box and I walked calmly over to Owen who saw me arrive.

 

Owen : Ahhh… another one to the party…. Hahaha…

 

Hibiki : stay out of my way…. !

 

Hibiki struck at Owen who blocked his stab with his knife. Their knives parried and grind against each other and every stroke felt as if someone’s face is going to get sliced off soon.

Both of them wielded dual knives almost like a mirror image.

 

I could hardly follow the flurry of movements and the wild swings of their weapon and I hung back, bidding my time to strike.

 

Owen managed to get a lock and disarmed Hibiki off one of his knife before a close slash at his neck drove him backwards.

 

Owen : too slow Hibiki…. You are getting slow…..

 

Hibiki went for him again and so did i.

 

Owen’s eyes darted and his movements anticipated our strikes and defence accurately. He avoided my heavier wrench while making short sharp strikes at me to keep a distance while he taunted Hibiki to move and hopefully make a mistake.

 

Jackson : arGHHHHHHHH!!!

 

I charged at Owen and in that heat of a moment, I had half a mind to die together with him if it means all these could end. If I could just hold him down for a couple of seconds, it would be enough for Hibiki to end it, maybe impale both of us together or something.

I don’t care.

Owen jumped backwards and onto the hood of Yiling’s Lamborghini, landing on his hips and he quickly rotated his body away.

 

With his hands spread and the pointed tip of his 2 knives pointed at Hibiki and I, Owen taunted us to move.

 

Owen : come on… hahaha… I don’t have all day….. hahah

 

Jackson : there’s no one left to help you get to the vault…. It’s just you now…

 

Owen shrugged his shoulders with a smug look on his face like a poker player who still holds some cards.

 

Hibiki moved and so did i.

 

Owen blocked Hibiki’s hit with both knives and still have ample time to block my wrench by punching me on my wrist from the side hard enough to disarm me. I tried to kick him but Owen read my move and he landed a heel on my shin before my kick could build up enough momentum.

Hibiki send his knife within inches of my face while his other knife grind angrily against Owen’s own blade. Only after the flash of steel in front of my face disappeared did I realised that Hibiki had saved me from getting my nose slice off.

 

As if someone hit the reset button, the fight started again after a 2 second pause.

Hibiki moved first and amidst a flurry of grabs, twist and attempted stabs, they disarmed each other, dropping the knives onto the floor.

 

Hibiki tried to go for his knife but Owen was waiting for him to make that mistake.

Owen managed to kick Hibiki away and he came for me.

 

He struck at my face with his palm but I blocked it twice in a row with my raised arm. Owen swung his elbow at my cheek and I lowered myself and did the same to his stomach. His elbow connected with a picture on the wall while I landed a hit on his hard stomach.

 

The framed picture of Yiling beside her angry car splintered into pieces under Owen’s elbow as I knocked Owen back into engagement with Hibiki who just recovered.

Owen is fast, if you asked me to repeat what I just did earlier, I might not be able to do it again. It was purely a mix of instinct and luck.

 

Hibiki and Owen tussled and their bodies removed the side mirror off the Z4.

Owen went for Hibiki’s legs and tripped him but Hibiki brought him down together.

I went forward to kick Owen in his face but he orientated his body fast enough to kick my balancing foot in the ankle.

I fell forward and took an elbow to my nose as Owen and Hibiki bounced back up from the ground.

I got up and tightened my arm by my side to spring it forward at Owen’s kidney after I saw him kneed Hibiki in his face and sending him into the windscreen of the Z4.

Owen hammered my punch downwards with both forearms before spinning and punching me with a back hand fist so hard that I felt disorientated for a couple of seconds.

Hibiki : arGHH!!!

 

Hibiki jumped in with his leg extended to go for a kick but Owen backed away, causing him to miss by a wide margin.

Owen threw a punch but Hibiki caught it, he swung Owen arm and all onto the hood of the Z4.

The car bonnet took 2 large dents as Owen avoided Hibiki’s fist and kicked him away.

 

I shook my head a couple of times to clear my vision and I grabbed one of the knives from the floor.

Owen caught my stab and twisted the weapon out of my right hand, before he could snap my joints, my left hand grabbed his wrist and twist in the opposite direction.

 

Owen headbutted me on my ear and as I let go, hammered me on my bloodied shoulder from the earlier injury.

 

Hibiki came in and caught Owen on his jaw but Owen returned the favour with his knee to Hibiki’s side.

I grabbed one of the knives and so did the both of them.

Owen was slightly faster and he threw one at Hibiki to distract him before rolling forward to grab the other. Instead of going for Hibiki, Owen came at me instead.

 

He came at me with no warning and I managed to parry away one of his knife but the other opened up a wound from my right shoulder all the way to the base of my neck.

 

Jackson : arGHHH!!..

 

I dropped my knife and Hibiki came slicing back in the nick of time to separate Owen from me.

 

I clutched my bleeding wound and staggered backwards while Hibiki retrieved his 2nd knife and slid himself in between us.

 

Owen : another inch further and you would be drowning in your own blood by now…. hahaha…

 

Hibiki : get out of here…. I’ll handle him…

 

Owen : Oh… really… ? hahah…

 

Owen wiped perspiration from above his lips and adopted a lower fighting stance like a boxer about to strike. Instead of gloves, the 2 knives he was holding danced back and forth within a small radius from his body like the arms of a praying mantis waiting to strike.

Hibiki relaxed his stance and held one knife up in front of him while keeping the other behind as his eyes levelled on Owen, ready to response to his next move.

Owen : always have a backup plan Hibiki… hahah.. what did I teach you….. you really think I came just for this vault…. ? hhahah …

 

The 2 of them engaged each other in a flurry of moves, stabs and kicks as I applied pressure onto my wound. I backed away and the burn of my split skin fucking hurts.

 

Hibiki landed a knee on Owen but took a hard punch in his chest as the 2 of them separated.

Owen : now that all of you are here… ahhaha… my men are hitting Little India…..haha… who’s left to defend that place… ? hahah

 

Hibiki : arghhhh!!!

 

I could hardly see what was going on as they disappeared from my line of sight for a bit before emerging.

Hibiki put 3 long scratch on the body of the Maserati as Owen ducked and avoided the attack. I heard a series of hard cracks as the side windows of the super cars in the garage took on a series of spiderweb cracks.

 

Owen got up on the hood of the Maserati and taunted for Hibiki to get up.

 

Hibiki did not fall for his taunt and he backed away just as Owen flew towards him with his knee like a spring loaded jack in the box.

Hibiki blocked it with his arms and just before Owen regained his foothold, swiped and knocked him off his feet.

 

Owen immediately rolled away and got up on his feet while keeping his body crouched near the ground like a Ninja surveying the battlefield.

 

Owen : I came here so as to draw you guys away from the vault in Little india… ahhaha… that’s where the real treasures are…. Haha…. Twice as big… … but on normal days…. Impregnable…

 

Owen’s next strike was read by Hibiki and it was a failed attempt, causing him to suffer a quick elbow to his chin.

 

Owen spat out a mouthful of blood and sniffed.

 

Hibiki : You think we would ever leave that place unguarded…..  Are you sure you still have men left in Little India now…. ?

 

Owen’s expression twitched as the first glimmer of doubt flashed across his face.

 

The 2 of them fought again and when they broke apart, Hibiki added.

 

Hibiki : James is waiting for them…. With all his men…. And you know how fucking trigger happy they are….

 

Owen : Impossible…. They are in Malaysia hitting a decoy camp… haahaha… nice try….

 

Hibiki : Do you really believe that…. ?

 

Owen : arghhh!!

 

Both Owen and Hibiki landed a strike on each other of the arm. Hibiki’s wound seemed to be more serious as he dropped 1 of his weapon whereas Owen still gripped onto his.

 

I could see Hibiki’s left hand limp by his side as he raised the other knife up horizontally against the floor.

 

Hibiki : what you saw on TV….. was just a massive PR campaign by the Prime Minister….. the fight and raids on screen were pre-recorded….

 

Owen : Impossible !! the camps were hit this evening….

 

Hibiki : hahaha…..there is another team hitting the decoy camp….. supported by the Malaysian Military….

 

Owen struck again and I could see Hibiki going on the defensive given that he only has the use of one hand left.

 

Hibiki : why don’t you check on your men in little India…. And see how many of them are left…. Hahaha…

 

Owen landed a series of kicks and Hibiki did his best to block him.

 

Owen : arGHH!!! Arghh!!!

 

I crawled over to the fire extinguisher and pulled out the safety pin.

Directing the nozzle at Owen, I let loose a cloud of carbon dioxide that filled the entire garage.

 

Barely seconds later I felt a foot in the middle of my chest that knocked the air out of my lungs. I fell backwards and rolled of the bonnet of the Lamborghini

 

Hibiki took the opportunity to strike and he landed a good blow on Owen, stabbing him on the side of his ribs before being punched away.

 

Owen staggered backwards as he held his knife up.

 

Hibiki : give it up… it’s over….

 

Owen : hahaha…. No it’s not…. arghhhh

 

Gun shots rang out from the exterior and Owen started to smile.

 

Owen : Always have a backup plan…

 

His smile was short lived when those gun shots was immediately followed by that of a higher calibre weapon.

The rapid thud and report of assault rifles and machine guns.

 

Then I heard the growl and barks of dogs.

 

Hibiki : you’re right…. Always have a backup plan….

 

Owen pulled out a walkie talkie from his back and spoke into it. He spoke again but there was no reply.

 

The electronic shutters of the garage door started to vibrate before rising and I heard another gunshot. This time much closer.

 

The fully risen shutters revealed the new guest that just arrived.

 

I saw 2 dogs shot past the garage out of sight before the cries of a man in agony reached my ear. As soon as the cries registered, he was silenced, probably permanently.

 

Ron stood outside, flanked by his personal guards including the tattooed men with their dogs.

 

Owen looked outside before looking at Hibiki.

 

Owen : Impossible….

 

Ron : you fell for it Owen….you fell for it….

 

Looking at how confident Ron was as he lit a cigarette, it dawned on me this was a trap all along.

 

Ron already knew Owen is coming for the vault. I never knew there were 2 vaults until Owen revealed it earlier but Ron knew. He knew Owen would come for them but the problem is which one.

The one at Little India, or the one in Bukit Timah.

 

Ron : I knew you were waiting for the right moment to strike…. And rather than wait…. I thought…. Why not we create the perfect moment for you….

 

Owen seemed calm and composed as he kept his knife in front of him.

 

Ron : create the illusion that there is a major operation going on…. One that will take up most of our resources……and in the middle of a long holiday… I knew you won’t be able to resist that…..

 

Ron looked at Owen and asked him to drop his weapon.

 

Ron : Give it up….Owen….. Where is Chan ?? …. All this ends tonight…. We win….

 

Owen laughed.

 

Owen : hahhaha…. No you did not win… hahaha…. You did not win…..

 

Ron looked around before confirming his observations.

 

Ron : I just checked….i’m pretty sure we won….

 

Owen : You thought you won in 2013….but you merely delayed the attack….. hahah….. and as for today…………you did not win…… You merely brought up the schedule of the inevitable…. Hahah…..

 

Owen looked at each of us in the eye as before touching his wound by his side.

 

The dogs growled but remained by Ron’s side.

 

Ron : it’s over Owen…. Put it down…

 

Owen smiled at Ron. His predecessor.

Owen : I remember my training Ron…… you trained me too well…..

 

Ron : Owen …. sTOP!!….

 

Owen :  I will rather die on my feet……… than live on my knees….

 

Owen suddenly turned the pointed end of his knife towards himself.

 

Hibiki : NO!!

 

The dogs reacted first but not before Owen plunged the knife into his own throat. I felt my heart skip a beat as I watch him muster up enough strength to twist the knife in his throat before collapsing onto the floor.

 

I felt the lump in my throat and an overwhelming sense of relief wash over me as I leaned against the wall of the garage.

 

The dogs sniffed and lost interest in Owen’s body and I felt my body getting heavier and heavier.

Everyone was quiet and Ron was the first one to speak.

 

 

Ron : As do we all……. As do we all……

 

 

………………………………………………………………

 

Someone came to attend to my wounds, and he said I need to go to a hospital.

While I waited to be wheeled into the ambulance, I overheard Ron and Hibiki talk to each other.

 

Ron : We got Edward and Fernando …… only Chan is left now….

 

Hibiki : do you believe him…. ?

 

Ron : the inevitable…. ? ….

 

Ron smirked.

 

Ron : let them come….

 

……………………………………………………

 

I was conscious throughout the ride to the hospital and upon arrival, I could hear Hong screaming in pain somewhere nearby. At least I know he’s alive.

Cindy was there too in the cubicle next to me.

 

I needed a minor surgery and after I felt the needle go inside my veins, I drifted off into darkness.

I had a good sleep, it was one that is long overdue.

 

When I woke, Candy was by the side of my bed. She had a laptop and was tapping away furiously on her phone.

 

Jackson : Hey…..

 

Candy : You’re awake… are you ok… ?

 

Jackson : I need to pee…

 

Candy : if you need me to hold your Pee pee…. Please don’t be shy to ask…. So you don’t piss all over yourself….

 

Jackson : My cock is fine… thank you for asking….

 

I relieved myself with much difficulty even with Candy’s help before settling back down into the bed. And no, she didn’t touch my dick, I can hold my own pee pee.

 

Jackson : is everyone ok…. How is Hong and Cindy… ?

 

Candy : Both are ok… Cindy lost 2 fingers but they managed to reattached them….. Hong lost a lot of blood….. and he was very agitated when he came in….

 

Jackson : Where is he now… ?

 

Candy : In the ward… he’s beat up bad but he’ll live… he’s a badass…

 

I smiled and Candy told me Kamal was here earlier but went back to the castle to take care of things.

 

Candy : What happened last night…. ?

 

Jackson : I don’t know how to begin….

 

Candy : hahah… then tell me how did it end…. … did we win… ?

 

I smiled and sighed.

 

Jackson : for now I think…..…. for now…..

 

…………………………………………………………………………………

 

4 months later.

 

………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

1st June 2018

Friday

2.30pm

 

I sat at the café across the buildings at the central business district.

As I sipped my coffee, I looked at my watch.

 

Hong chewed on a cube of ice noisily as he dumped all the syrup into his ice tea.

 

Hong : Do you believe this….in the middle of the day…. ? I know we have a schedule to meet but…. In the middle of the day…. hahaha… ?

 

Jackson : whatever it takes bro……  whatever it takes…..

 

2.40pm

 

Several buildings in the business district plunged into darkness and I could see people coming out into the streets.

Hong and I got up and we started to walk towards our car.

 

This would be explained off to the public as a power outage.

 

Only a few would know that it was a cleansing operation for something big that is going to happen in a few days.

 

Within that 30 minutes of outage and chaos, Hibiki and his men would be able to do what they need to do to those who deserve it.

As we pulled into the expressway, Hong shook his head.

 

Hong : Can you believe this…… Trump and Kim…. Coming to our country…. In a matter of days….. madness….

 

Jackson : It’s a day for the history books for sure…..

 

Hong : if only Boss is here to see this….

 

Jackson : She knows….. I’m sure she knows… she’s always watching….

 

Hong leaned back and put on his shades as we went back to the castle.

 

I moved into the castle but I stayed in a guest room beside Yiling’s.

It’s not as opulent and grand but I don’t care.

 

We’re rebuilding the castle, rebuilding the farmhouse and making some changes to the estate.

 

The garden is ruined, and I don’t have time to work on it.

 

I decided it’s time to hire more help.

 

Cindy has a cousin that was just released from prison.

 

He was an accountant in one of the big 4 firms until he knocked someone down while driving under the influence of alcohol.

The person survived but lost the use of his legs. It was not his first driving offence and he already had his license suspended.

He fucked up real bad.

 

Cindy : He learnt his lesson…. And he’ll be useful…. I give you my word….

 

Jackson : What’s his name… ?

 

Cindy : Edmund… he can start anytime…. I will take responsibility if he mess up…..he’s afraid of me….

 

Jackson : Everyone is afraid of you Cindy….

 

Cindy : hahah

 

Jackson : Ok…. Can I trouble you to set it up…. I want to have a chat with him….

 

 

1st July 2018

11am

 

I hired Edmund to help with some of the paper work and he proved to be pretty meticulous in his work. If all goes well, I hope he can take on Aaron’s role.

I thought of hiring a secretary to help with trivial stuff but when I floated the idea, Candy chided me.

 

Candy : Why would you need a secretary… just tell me what you need….

 

Jackson  : I don’t want you to be picking up dry cleaning and collecting stuff…. There are more important things for you to do….

 

Candy : You don’t need a secretary … I’ll do it… oh one more thing…. Are you looking for a gardener…?

 

Jackson  : yes… any recommendation…. ?

 

Candy : yeah… my cousin ….. she just ended a contract with a company … and is looking for a job….

 

Jackson  : cool…. Let me talk to him…..

 

Candy : It’s a her…..

 

Jackson  : hmmmmm… is she hot… ?

 

Candy threw a file at me and replied no.

 

Candy : No she’s not…. she’s a simple homely girl…. Leave her alone…. And she’s a qualified botanist by the way….

 

I chuckled as Candy rolled her eyes at me.

 

 

1pm

 

I received a call from the Nokia phone.

It’s Ron.

 

Ron : Jackson ….. let’s have a chat this afternoon…. I’ll text you the location….

 

Jackson  : What… chat about what… ?

 

Before I could finish my sentence, Ron hung up on me.

 

 

1.30pm

 

I adjusted my top against the full height mirror before walking out of the room to see Kamal waiting for me by the stairs.

 

Kamal : It’s in the back of the car … you need me to go with you.. ?

 

Jackson : It’s ok… Ron says to be there alone…

 

Kamal : What do you think he wants… ?

 

Jackson  : I don’t know…. maybe he thinks I’m not good enough to manage the castle and just want to put a bullet in my head…

 

Kamal : That’s not funny at all…

 

Jackson : I don’t know bro… he just asked me to meet him there at 3pm…..

 

Kamal : The accounts are in order… he’s getting his money… everyone is being paid…. We’re making more money than ever…… I don’t think there will be a problem….

 

Jackson : Maybe he just wants to give me a confirmation letter or something…. Or a bonus… ? maybe an award….

 

Kamal : hahah…. And what good will that do for you … ?

 

I shrugged my shoulder as we walked down the stairs to the garage.

Opening up the boot of the restored Maserati, I saw the bag Kamal prepared for me.

There’s a body armour and a pistol with additional clips.

 

Kamal : Candy will be following in the car behind you…she will be across the road with 3 of our guys….. Hong will wait at the hotel café with 2 more….

 

Jackson : ok… thank you… ..

 

Kamal : Any last word…. in case you don’t come back… ?

 

I laughed and just before I shut the car door, I told Kamal to log into my personal laptop.

 

Jackson : Delete the browser history…. And my porn collection….

 

Kamal : Hahaha.. fuck off….

 

I put the car into drive and made my way to Tanjong Pagar.

Ron wanted to meet at M hotel. I came early because I don’t want to be surprised.

 

It’s a weekend and the streets in the business district are deserted. There’s hardly any cars on the road.

Before I even pulled into the carpark ramp, I could see the heavy security presence on site. A telling sign that Ron is already here.

 

Several police vehicle are parked by the main and side roads and a black SUV blocked the entrance towards the ramp.

 

A man approached my vehicle and I wind down my window.

 

He saw me and looked away while gesturing towards his team to remove the barricade.

 

I went up the ramp and I saw more men waiting for me at a parking lot designated for me.

They were all armed despite dressed in civilian clothing.

 

I got out of the vehicle and one of them immediately gestured for me to raise my arm.

 

Jackson : Is there a need for this…. ?

 

They did not reply me and the moment the wand they were using started beeping, they gestured for me to remove whatever it was that made the alarm go off.

I pulled out a dagger from behind my back and when it beeped again, removed a 2nd one from around my ankle.

 

Jackson : sorry…. habit….

 

By the time I turned around. I saw the men looking into the trunk at the stuff I have in there and they were talking into their walkie talkie. Probably bitching to Ron about what I brought along.

 

After they were satisfied that I only have my phone and car keys left with me, they directed me to the lift.

 

I went up to level 9 and when the door opened, I saw the dogs from before walking around the lobby.

 

They wagged their tails and came over to sniff me.

 

I clicked my tongue and patted them on their head and they followed me towards the bar.

 

J Bar.

 

Located in the middle of the business district, it had an alfresco strip that is outdoor. I could see a few guys smoking outside.

It’s weird visiting a bar in the middle of a day. No live band, no loud music, instead, a soothing jazz melody played in the background as I stepped in.

 

One of the heavily tattooed man that is always around Ron was sitting by the door drinking a beer and a look from him was all it took to turn the curious dogs away and back to the lift lobby.

 

I entered and the bar is pretty crowded I would say. I’m pretty sure this is not your regular open to public gathering.

 

I saw James and Boon drinking with a few of their men at a sofa. We acknowledged each other with a nod and I saw Ron appearing behind the bar dressed like a bartender.

 

Spreading his arms wide, he looked like he was waiting for me to place my order.

 

A group of men entered just about then, it looked like they just went to the loo together or something. An older gentleman with several others that looked about the same age as me.

 

I heard them call the older man Warrant Soh before joking that he should continue watching his weight and cut back the beer.

 

They settled back to their seats, picking through the nut mix and drinking their beer.

 

I felt the hair on my back stand when I saw at a far corner the unmistakable bulk and size of a giant.

The full pint beer mug in his hand looked like a toy. The visible scars on his arms, those massive hands.

He must be the butcher.

 

He gave me a nod before turning away.

 

Seated around him were several more of his friends. Some wore a cap, a couple of them wore shades and my eyes met with the only one that looked at me for longer than a second.

 

Those eyes. I know those eyes.

 

Hibiki.

 

He said nothing and I walked over to Ron.

 

Ron : Can I get you a drink Jackson …

 

I took the seat in front of Ron and a lady in hip hugging jeans and tight top served me a dish of mixed nuts, served might be too strong a word after I look at the dish. There’s only half the nuts left and I don’t know if she’s just offering to share .

She’s pretty, with a sweet smile. A typical girl next door you would love to know more about. I wouldn’t say she is young, but she is hot with an air of maturity surrounding her.

 

Wife material for sure.

 

Ron : I’ll be careful with those eyes of yours Jackson….. hahah….countless men have died in her hands….

 

I raised an eyebrow at that comment and wonder if Ron meant i.

 

“ Mummy !! Mummy !!! “

 

I turned and was surprised to see a little girl running to the hot babe. She scooped the little girl up effortlessly and I watched them whisper something to each other. I could not believe she is a mother.

 

Jackson : are kids allowed in here… ?

 

Ron chuckled but said nothing.

 

The little girl wriggled to get out of her mother’s embrace before heading from table to table with a makeshift container made out of napkins. Like collecting a mixed nut tax from each table, the little girl filled her bowl and went out of the bar.

The moment she did, I could see all the dogs crowding excitedly around her as she fed them, laughing as they licked the nuts off her small hands.

 

Ron : what’s your poison Jackson … ?

 

I turned back to face Ron and asked for a whisky.

 

Jackson : Whisky please….

 

Ron : What kind…  ?

 

Jackson : is it on the house… ?

 

Ron : of course….

 

Jackson : I’ll have the Yamasaki 18 thank you….

 

Ron nodded and I looked at him open a new bottle of the drink I just chose.

 

Ron : Yiling sat at the same spot where you are sitting now…. when I first spoke with her…..

 

I could not resist looking at the stool I was on.

Out of the many stools at the bar, I don’t know what made me chose the one I did.

 

Ron : How’s life at the castle…. ?

 

Jackson : it’s ok…..  do you need more money… ?

 

Ron chuckled and laughed. I could see he found this amusing.

 

I asked him what is this about.

 

Jackson : what do you want…  ? you need to look at the accounts… ? our spending patterns….? The people I hire… ? they’re clean… I made sure…

 

Ron shook his head and told me he was not interested in all those as long as the money keep coming in to finance their operation.

Ron poured me a finger of the drink and he started talking.

 

Ron : I was Owen’s predecessor….. and when I came back to take over….there was a….. who do I put it…. A sense of distrust…..especially those who don’t know me from the start….

Ron looked over to the group where the Butcher and Hibiki were seated.

 

Ron : Imagine… suddenly being told your boss is gone… and you either work with someone new… or you are out…….. this don’t exactly sit well with some of  them……. It takes a special group of men and women to do the things they do…. So… they can be weird in many ways…..

 

Ron explained that Yiling was the one that went out of the way to make sure the transition works out well for all. They trusted her because she was one of them.

Not only for the older ones in the group, even newcomers, Yiling made sure they were settled in well.

 

Ron : Fresh recruits…. Their first job….…their accommodation… their needs… their problems…. Yiling was the one that fixed them all…… she was like a mother Hen to them….

 

Jackson : I don’t want to be a mother hen….. I am willing to take those responsibilities on…. If they want to work with me…

 

Ron : hahah….. they will eventually…they will…. give them some time to get use to you….

I finished my drink and Ron told me that he is comfortable with the way I work having observed me for the past few months.

Ron : so far so good….. I don’t have anything to offer you…. You have money…. And I don’t think you are interested in a commendation letter…..

 

Jackson : it’s ok… don’t need….

 

Ron nodded and told me he asked Yiling a few questions when she started working for him.

Ron : The questions… the same ones I asked Yiling…. when she is sitting right where you are right now….

 

Jackson : what is it.. ?

 

Ron : If your country needs you to risk your life for her…. would you do it… ?

Jackson  : Yes I would….

 

Ron : If your country needs you to lie to the ones you love…. Would you do it… ?

 

Jackson  : Yes I would…

 

Ron smiled and he refilled my drink.

 

Ron  : If your country requires you to take a life… would you do it…. ?

 

Jackson : Yes I would… what is this…. ?  a National education survey…. ?

 

Ron : hahahah… I like your sense of humour….

 

 

Ron went on to talk about the missing military equipment in Malaysia.

 

Jackson  : Yes I’m aware….i’ve been trying to find them using Yiling’s contacts up north….

 

Ron : you know what was taken… ?

 

Jackson : Yes… much more than the news reported…..

 

Ron : there’s a rouge general across the causeway…. He’s the one facilitating all these….

 

Jackson : We have our own stuff taken too isn’t it….

 

Ron smiled and gave me a look as if he acknowledged my source of information.

 

Ron : yes…. How much do you know…. ?

 

Jackson : We have missing jets….. ones we kept offshore….

 

Ron nodded.

 

Ron : The exact inventory is sketchy…. But it’s enough for Chan to launch a full scale assault on the country…..

 

Jackson : When…. ?

 

Ron : that’s the million dollar question isn’t it…..

 

Ron poured himself a drink and proposed a toast.

Our glass touched and I asked him a question that has been on my mind for the longest time.

 

Jackson : Who are ….. you….or rather…..

 

I looked around the bar and finished my question.

 

Jackson : Who are we…. ?

 

Ron gave me a wink before replying.

 

Ron : We’re lions Jackson…. We’re lions….

 

I laughed.

 

Jackson : so are we the reason everyone can sleep peacefully at night… ? haha

 

Ron  : No…. we are the reason why our enemies don’t….

 

He raised his glass and i raised mine, as we finished the drink, Ron added.

 

Ron : Come…. Let me introduce you to everyone…..

 

 

………………………………………………………..

 

15th July 2018

Sunday

7pm

 

I parked the car in the garage and went straight to my study.

After sending a document Billy asked for, I poured myself a drink and grabbed my cigars.

 

Heading up to the patio above the extension wing, I walked out and felt the cool breeze in my face as I looked at the lights around the estate starting to light up.

I lit a cigar and exhaled as I looked at what lies in front of me.

 

The cookhouse lights is on and I could hear the distant laughter of men enjoying their dinner.

A pair of guards patrolling the ground waved at me and I returned one.

The setting sun turned the skies a sensual shade of pink and orange. I took a sip of my whisky and set the glass down on the railing and I wished Yiling were here.

 

Right about then, something caught my attention.

 

My eyes darted towards the rebuilt farmhouse and I saw a woman looking at me with a rake in hand.

 

She was staring at me and when she realised I saw her, she quickly disappeared into the shadows. I smiled and it reminded me of the first time I laid my eyes on Yiling.

 

I got changed into something casual and made my way to the cookhouse to grab my dinner. I received a bag of abalone and mushrooms from a supplier and I chucked it all into a box to bring it over for the cooks to use.

 

As I passed the farmhouse, the women from earlier called out to me.

 

Woman : hey hey…. Hello….. hello…..

 

I turned and looked at her, pointing my finger back at me to ask if she is calling to me.

 

Jackson : me… ?

 

She’s young, very youthful looking and sweet as well.

Her figure is as shapely as Candy and she has a nice pair of legs to boot.

 

Woman : I’ve been trying to reach my cousin… her name is Candy… do you know her… ?

 

Jackson  : yeah I do…

 

Woman : she’s not answering my call…. I’m suppose to meet her boss for an interview since this morning……but she told me he need to head out for something urgent…..

 

Jackson  : oh…. Ok….

 

Woman : I’ve been fucking waiting for that asshole since 10am….what kind of fucker makes a potential employee wait the whole day…. and my stupid cousin is not picking up her phone since 5pm…. How long more do I have to wait…. !!

Jackson  : Oh… ermmm.. I’m sorry about that… I think there might be a miscommunication somewhere….

Woman : can you get inside the castle… ? they refuse to let me go in…. I think I saw the owner earlier….he’s fucking taking his time drinking and smoking while I wait….

 

Jackson : errrr…. Give me a minute.. let me call Candy….

 

After trying twice, I told her that Candy is not picking up either.

 

Jackson : what’s your name…. ?

 

Christina : I’m Christina…. I’m here for the position of the in-house Botanist…. How about you… ?

 

Jackson : Oh I’m Jackson…. I used to be the gardener….

 

Christina’s eyes lit up and she added.

 

Christina : what… ? really ? … what happened …. I could see there used to be a good garden here…. It has the right foundation… then everything just went to shit…. Why did you stop…. ?

 

I laughed and for a moment, was unsure of what to say.

 

Christina : I know…. you were fired….

 

Jackson : What… ?

 

Christina : fired by that asshole in the castle…. … and that fucker made you come back to collect your stuff on the same day he is going to hire someone new…. What an asshole….

 

I looked at the box I was carrying and the casual manner in which I was dressed and I do look like an out of work bum.

 

She shook her head and added that if she didn’t need the money, she wouldn’t have bothered.

Christina : I’ve heard rumours and talks about the owner…. Fucking asshole but he pays well…. Sighzzz… if I didn’t need the money… I wouldn’t have come….

She turned to me and asked if I have a job now.

 

Jackson : errrrr…….

Christina : give me your number…. When I get the job… I will say I need an assistant…. Who better to work on the garden with me than the former gardener…. ? you didn’t fuck up big time right…. Why were you let go… ?

 

Jackson : errr……. i….

 

Christina : what… ? what did you do…

 

Jackson : I flashed my cock at the boss and tried to initiate sex….

 

Christina dropped the phone in her hand as she stared at me with her mouth apart.

She exhaled and nodded before patting me on my shoulder.

 

Christina : I don’t judge…. It’s ok… i… I didn’t know the boss is Gay…. And… I have nothing against you Sister….. oh… are you… err… can I call you sister… ?

 

Jackson : yeah yeah.. it’s ok….

 

Christina looked at the castle and exhaled while shaking her head.

Christina : I wonder what he’s like….

 

Her phone started ringing and she exclaimed it’s her cousin and she picked it up.

I saw a breathless frantic Candy stop by the farmhouse as she stared at us and froze while her cousin screamed into the phone

Candy looked at her cousin before looking at me as I slowly put a finger to my lip.

 

Christina : is your fucking gay boss ready to interview me…!!! ?

 

I don’t know what the future holds, but no harm having a little fun in the present while I can.

 

……………………………………………………………

 

The end

 


 

 

 

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