Dripping wet from the downpour, I wiped my face with my hands as Daphne drove away from the market. Looking at the side mirror, I could not wrap my mind around leaving Hock Chuan like this.
“I can’t believe we just… we just left him there.” I said. “perhaps we should have..”
“Jerry I’m going to drive this van right up to the door step of Accident and emergency…How do you expect me to explain away a dead body ? “ Daphne replied, interrupting me from my thoughts.
“What about the guys behind ? What are you going to say ? “
“Don’t worry about them, I’ll lie my way through if I have to. Are you hurt ? “ Daphne asked while throwing me a sideway glance.
“I’m, I’m going straight to the hospital now….” Daphne said while trying to peer through the downpour. “You…ermm… want to drop off somewhere.?”
Turning to Daphne, it’s like she could read my mind.
“That would be good.”
What happened next was a period of uncomfortable silence.
I decided to break it by asking Daphne about her work.
“So you’re a…social worker eh…?” I said.” How did you end up in that mess?”
It’s not difficult to see that Daphne is trying to think on her feet.
“ermm.. I was looking for one of my client who has gone missing…and then erm..i started poking around.” She shared.
The next thing she knew, she finds herself being held hostage.
“There’s something shady going on definitely.” Daphne said. “I’ll notify the police to check it out later…. And you ? ”
“Ermm.. I’m err, sort of ermm… in the wrong place at the wrong time..”
We exchanged a look and the expression on our faces could not be more obvious that we are both lying.
As the van cruised along Nicoll highway, both of us are avoiding the biggest elephant in the room.
Any logical citizen would notify the authorities right away, yet both of us seemed determined to be out of the limelight in this situation.
“so you ermm.. want to tag along to A&E ? “
“No. No. there’s no need to. I’m ok.” I quickly said. “just drop me off somewhere up front will do.”
I asked her how she is going to explain herself when she call the cops.
“I’m just going to make an anonymous report.” Daphne said a little too quickly.
“What ? “
We exchanged another awkward look before she says she will find a quiet carpark to abandon the van after that.
“Actually, I…erm… I’m not supposed to be out looking for erm…my client tonight…so…ermm… I’m actually supposed to be on another case…my boss will kill me if he knows how much trouble I got into.”
That is hardly convincing at all, but I just nodded.
Seeing that I’m the one asking all the questions, Daphne asked how did I end up playing a blind man.
“ermmmm..i..errr… need some extra bucks and I heard from a friend I can do delivery for some fast cash if I pretend to be blind.” That was a pathetic lie.
What made it even more pathetic was that Daphne could see right through my excuse, the same way I saw through hers. And yet, both of us decided to take it at face value, refusing to call out on the bluff.
Daphne nodded and asked if it’s ok she drops me off by the train station coming up.
I could see City hall coming into view.
“Yeah, yeah.. that’ll do.” I said.
This feels weird. I just rescued a bunch of people, why am I behaving like a fugitive?
Turning to the rear, I asked if someone could pass me the bag of my stuff.
No one answered me. I forgot they can’t see.
Daphne pulled up by city hall and i asked her to give me a second. Opening the side door, I grabbed my stuff and shut it. Daphne was panting hard like she is still trying to recover from the shock. We stared at each other, unsure of what to say.
“You… you’ll be ok ? “ I asked.
“I think so..” She replied.
“Well take care Daphne…”
“You too Jerry.”
A cloud of black smoke pushed it’s way out of the exhaust and I watched the tail light of the vehicle disappear into the night.
The cab driver gave me a weird look when I boarded his taxi totally drenched.
Feeling bad for wetting his ride, I gave him a $20 tip after I got home.
I groaned loudly as the hot shower pelted my tired body.
Dead bodies, criminals, shady underworld. What have I got myself into ?
Collapsing into bed, I knocked out immediately until it was coming to noon the next day.
31st December 2018
New Year’s Eve.
I woke up with a headache.
Grabbing a quick meal of yogurt and coffee, I went to the newspaper.
The one with Hock Chuan’s death.
Nothing changed. The article is the same as before
Hock Chuan is dead and the police are looking for the next of kin.
I flipped the papers and noticed nothing has changed. Nothing was mentioned about the bodies at Geylang or the condominium. I’m beginning to wonder if Daphne reported it like she said she will.
Turning on the TV, I was immediately greeted by the scene of reporters on the ground in what was the latest breaking news.
Looking at the news ticker, I cursed under my breath.
“What have you gotten me into Hock Chuan?”
The unit in Geylang has been discovered and cordoned off. Preliminary reports stated that someone has died in there and drugs are found within the unit. The picture showed a burned area with figurines and melted candle wax on the ground.
Someone had tried to set fire to the place but the heavy rain stopped the spread and the fire fighters got there in time. Several body parts that do not belong to the dead victim are also found on the scene.
The camera switched focus onto another reporter and I literally vomited coffee out from my lips as I looked at the woman on the screen.
“bloody hell.” I cursed as I looked at Daphne reporting live at the scene of the incident.
She’s a fucking reporter, social worker my ass.
Daphne spoke of the possibility of a cult on TV with a solemn expression.
Her eyes had no life and I thought she looked rather pissed at having to deliver that piece of news.
News that she doesn’t believe in.
Daphne is giving off a vibe that she was being forced to read off a screen or something.
A cult in Singapore. That’s what they are calling it ?
Footages of figurines melted candles and weird symbols are flashed on the screen. Daphne then spoke of body parts wrapped and kept in freezer. Aside from drugs, there is also a stash of tobacco on the scene. Details are scant at the moment, but the news will update the moment they have more information.
‘This incident brings back memories of the Toa Payoh Ritual murders case that took place in 1981… where..’
It was quite obvious she was cut off from live broadcast and the TV resumed at the news room where details of the annual countdown is being shared.
A new year is approaching. No one is interested in murder, everyone wants to know where the party is to welcome 2019.
Crime in Singapore is rare, violent crime such as murder seldom happens. An active cult in the country? It’s practically unbelievable.
The bag of stuff I carried from the condo to Geylang, that tightly wrapped item that felt cold to the touch.
It’s got to be a body part or something.
Going online, I saw that the news only covered the deaths at the Geylang property. Nothing was mentioned of the girls’ body I saw in the condo. The connection has not been made yet. Perhaps the bodies have not been discovered yet.
There is not much information available online and all I can do is wait.
Since I have time on my hands, I decided to find out more about the ritual murder the reporter mentioned on screen.
The Toa Payoh ritual murders happened in 1981, before I was even born. The body of a 9 year old girl was found in a bag next to the lift in a block of flats in Toa Payoh.
Two weeks later, a 10 year old boy was found dead nearby. The children had been killed, supposedly as ritual sacrifice to the Hindu goddess Kali.
The mastermind is a self-styled medium who had women believing he has superpowers. After investigation, the police realized that the murders were but a distraction.
An attempt to distract the police from a rape charge filed against the mastermind.
“what the fuck is wrong with people these days..” I mumbled under my breath. “ murder to cover up rape? This is madness.”
Sitting back on my chair, my eyes drifted between my laptop and the news on TV.
Wait a minute.
The Toa Payoh Ritual murders isn’t exactly a cult. It’s just murder.
The mastermind used the murder to cover up something else.
No prayers, burning of joss sticks, ringing of bells or any other rituals were conducted during the killing. It was just cold-blooded murder in an attempt to cover up something else.
Daphne said that on TV that this case reminds her of Toa Payoh murder.
Something clicked in me and the fact that she was cut off prematurely made it even more plausible.
Yes, people died.
She’s trying to say something, deliver a cryptic message perhaps based on her hunch.
And if Daphne’s hunch is correct, the dead bodies are but a cover up for something much more sinister. There is also no mention of Edwin, the man we left behind and no one has been arrested. He must have woken up and got away or something. Perhaps Terry and Larry came for him and they decided to burn the place down.
Cleaning up the coffee spill on the floor, I thought to myself.
What can be a more gruesome crime than murder? Something that justifies killing to cover what they are trying to do ?
2nd January 2019
I’m done with my year end break and upon my return to office, I could see a truck load of emails waiting to be cleared.
Overwhelmed with work, I did not follow up on the news regarding the incident at Geylang. From the TV playing in the pantry, I could catch snippets of headlines for the day.
A fire broke out at the condominium and the bodies were found. No other details were given. No one made the connection between that and the cult incident in Geylang. It’s either that or the powers to be decided to keep it quiet for fear of inciting panic.
I bought the papers everyday from a news stand, and unlike the ones I used to get from Hock Chuan, the news on my papers are current. I read everything from cover to cover.
On the 5th of January, 2019. I found the article I was waiting for.
“what are the odds..” I mumbled.
The interview was conducted by none other than Daphne.
A woman regained consciousness after being in a coma for many years. She woke in the morning of 31st December 2018, the nursing staff in the community hospital rushed her to Singapore General Hospital in the wee hours of the morning.
Her condition stabilized over the next few days before she was found to be well generally. Her muscles have degraded but with a bit of therapy, she will be back on her feet in a matter of months.
The woman’s memories are a little fuzzy at the moment and she is expected to recover in time.
A photo of her has been published on the papers and with it, is a note asking for next of kin to get in touch. The woman, Xiumei remembers she is married and has a daughter.
This must be Hock Chuan’s wife.
I looked at Daphne’s email at the bottom of the column and I decided to drop her a message.
I want to speak to the lady what just woke up from her coma.
‘Hi Daphne, This is Jerry. So you decided to change job in the middle of the night from a social worker to a reporter?
Can we talk ?
My number is 9724 ****‘
I hit the sent button and read the article again.
It’s a small column tucked beside an advertisement for a cruise liner. My eyes are drawn more to the discounted ticket for the cruise than to the article Daphne wrote.
My phone rang and seeing a foreign number, I immediately knew it’s Daphne.
‘Hello. This is Jerry.’
‘yeah, it’s me.’ Daphne said, without a hint of apology for lying right in my face.
‘Why did you say you are a social worker when you are a reporter ?’ I asked.
‘And how did someone working for Nparks come about playing a blindman for extra cash ? ‘
It struck me then in my anxiousness to email Daphne, I had used my work email instead of a personal one.
‘What do you want ? ‘ Daphne asked over the phone.
‘The woman that just woke up from her coma. I want to talk to her.’
‘The one you interviewed, who just woke up after a few years.’
Daphne went quiet on the phone.
‘you there?’ I asked.
‘yeah, why ? what do you want to talk to her ?’
‘It’s complicated. Can you bring me to her ? ‘ I asked.
Daphne went silent on the phone again and I had to repeat myself a couple of times.
‘Daphne, you there ?’
‘let’s meet.’ She said without explaining why.
‘not now, I’m at work. How does 7pm sound?’ I suggested.
‘ok 7pm, text me your office. I’m going over.’ Daphne said and she hung up on me.
I simply told Daphne to meet at a café at Cluny court. I’m not bringing her to my office. What would Alvin think if I suddenly bring a reporter in?
I saw Daphne walking towards the café and I gestured to her. She took a seat and immediately opened up her laptop. Instead of placing her order for a drink with the staff, she placed an order with me.
“Get me a ice coffee, thanks.” She said while logging into her laptop.
I just stared at her and she stared back at me.
“What ? you have something to ask of me. Shouldn’t you at least buy me a coffee?”
I got up and got Daphne her coffee.
The moment I sat down, she turned her laptop towards me.
On her screen, is an article dated several years ago.
It was a piece about spousal abuse that she did.
“I covered the news about Xiumei and her family 6 years ago.” Daphne said.
“what…?” I took over the laptop and started reading while Daphne spoke.
“after Xiumei went into a coma, she was sent to a community hospital.” She said. “ I visited every month because this piece left a huge impression on me. It’s one of my very first article when I started work.”
“and ? “
“Something happened 2 months ago.” She said.
“what happened ?” I asked.
“Xiumei woke up for a while when I was there.”
Daphne explained that she got a shock. She was doing her usual chat with Xiumei, telling her about her life, her career when she suddenly opened her eyes.
“I immediately went to get a nurse but when I came back, her eyes shut again.” Daphne said.
“Could it be your eyes playing tricks on you?”
“Impossible. Xiumei woke up, she spoke to me.” Daphne said as she sipped her coffee.
“What did she say?”
“She thanked me for visiting her all these while, and that she could hear everything I shared with her.”
“go on.” I urged.” Tell me.”
“She asked me to go to a hawker centre.”
“Hawker centre ? what are the exact words she say?” I asked.
“Is the Irish man still standing at the carpark of Bukit Timah Hawker centre.” That was what Xiumei said.
I felt a rush of cold air hit me as goosebumps populated my skin.
Daphne could see the change in my expression, and I immediately asked her the date.
“Date… the date…what date was that ? “ I asked
“4th of November”
That was the date I first met Conor and Bobby.
“I called the nurses in and they checked Xiumei. The doctor came in too and they are certain it’s just my mind playing tricks on me. Brain activities show she is still in a coma. There’s no way she can wake up like this, much less talk to me.”
“Did you… go to the carpark on the 4th of November?”
“I took a taxi there after I left Xiumei. I arrived at 8.15pm”
Sitting back on my seat, I waited for Daphne to tell me the rest.
“And I saw an Irish man talking and laughing to another man.”
Daphne went back to Xiumei the next day.
She told her about what she saw even though she appears to be still in a coma.
“I told her the Irish man is still standing.” Daphne said.” She did not wake up, but I could see her smile for a brief moment.”
Swallowing a gulp of saliva, I could see there is more.
This cannot be just it.
4th of November is the first time I saved someone using information given to me by Hock Chuan.
“What did you do after that?”
“I increased the frequency of my visit to Xiumei.”
“Did she wake up again?” I asked.
“And you did not notify the nurses this time round.” I said it in a tone that Daphne did not take well.
“Something is going on, I can sniff it. And if Xiumei wants to share it with me and me alone, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“what else did she tell you? Where else did she send you to ? “
“Your turn.” Daphne said. “Why am I the only one sharing ?”
After a short staring match, I told Daphne that I was there at the carpark with Conor on the 4th of November. I must have left before she arrived.
She did not look convinced until I asked if she is in Hougang on the 26th of December.
Her coffee paused midway between the table and her lips as she looked at me.
“Were you there, when the car accident happened?.. Between the BMW , and the kid running across the road ?”
Daphne set her coffee down on the table with a loud thud.
“HOW DID you know that!” She demanded.
“What did Xiumei say when she send you there?”
Daphne now looked a little confused, unsure of what to make of the information. She revealed that Xiumei woke up again on the 21st December.
I mentally recalled that was the day I bought the next batch of newspaper from Hock Chuan.
“She told me something will be happening on the 26th at Hougang. People will die.” Daphne said, her voice getting softer and she got lost in her thoughts.
She admitted that she was thinking about being first on the scene so she could get exclusive news and footages.
“I asked her for details.” She added.” Xiumei couldn’t give any.”
Like the 1st instance, Xiumei asked Daphne a question.
“What was the question?”
“Who died in Hougang on the 26th December.” Daphne said while looking at me. “the thing is, 26th was not here yet back then. So on that day itself, I went down to Hougang. I wandered around the whole neighbourhood, going from Hougang Mall, to Hougang Green, to Kovan.”
“You were there the whole day?”
“Yes of course.”
“What time were you at Kovan?”
“Coming to the evening, I went to Heartland mall for dinner.” She said.
“Fast food, on the ground floor. Why ? “
I told her I was on level 2 the whole evening in the Korean restaurant.
“No way.”she mumbled.
Daphne then wandered around and was one street away when she heard the crash. She was the first on the scene. The pictures and videos she got firsthand earned her into the good books of her editor.
“You were the one who covered that accident too.”
“I wrote the article”
I asked her what happened after she told Xiumei who died that day.
“she smiled with her eyes closed, but she never wake up that day. I didn’t get to talk to her.”
“Chua and Spencer died that day.” I said.
“yes, Spencer was hit and Chua was not wearing a safety belt. I can’t make sense of all this. What is happening?”
“It’s complicated.” I said
“You won’t understand.”
“Where is Xiumei now?” I asked.
“Oh no you don’t, you’re not cutting me out of this. I can smell a front page story from a mile away.” She said excitedly. “ This is going to launch my career!”
“you have no idea what is going on, people are dying and you are concerned about the news!”
Daphne raised her voice at the café.
“YES, I have no fucking idea what is going on!” She said before lowering her voice to a harsh whisper. “that is why I’m trying to find out.”
“I want to know why i am not allowed to cover the story of what happened in Geylang properly. I want to know why I have to give up the story, one that I discovered to someone else. And I want to know why my boss made me say it’s a cult when I have seen nothing of the sort on site.”
I ignored Daphne and tried to leave.
“I know Xiumei sent me to a place where she knew people are going to die on the 26th. Then she sent me again to a place in Geylang where people are getting kidnapped! And i…ended up getting caught!”
Grabbing my arm, Daphne wants me to tell her what I know or she will make sure I never get to speak to Xiumei.
“I can always go to the hospital and ask for her.”
“Haha, you can try.” Daphne said smugly.” She has been transferred to a community hospital. A different one from the one she was staying at. And I happen to know where it is.”
“Let me guess.” I replied calmly. “It’s along serangoon road.”
The change in Daphne’s expression told me I hit the nail on the head. Of course, Suwen will have made sure her mother is transferred to her.
“How the fuck can you possibly know that ?”
“where was the last time you spoke to Xiumei?” I asked.
“yesterday..” Daphne said, still trying to figure out how I could guess which community hospital Xiumei was sent to.
“Did she tell you why she sent you to Geylang?”
Daphne hesitated, she appeared unwilling to share more seeing that she is getting the short end of the stick when it comes to information trading.
I stood up and thank Daphne for the help.
“Thank you for your help. Enjoy the coffee.”
“HEY!.. HEY! JERRY!”
Daphne grabbed her stuff and started following me.
“Wait, wait, wait, I haven told you everything. “ She said. “Jerry ! Wait..!”
I stopped and turned to look at her. Her attitude has changed and there’s this overly friendly smile on her face as she gave me that wide eye look.
“What is it ? “
“Xiumei told me I was there to meet someone.”
“I… I’m beginning to think it’s you.” She added.
“Bullshit, you just want to tag along for the news.” I said as I brush her hands away.
“Look I’ve been right inside the mouth of the tiger. I’ve seen these people. There are violent criminals. Something is definitely happening here and I want to know what is it.” She said.
“I promise I won’t get in the way of whatever you are doing, I just want the story.”
Daphne dug into her bag and pulled out a crumpled red packet. It’s sealed and she waved it in front of my face.
“This” She said.” Xiumei gave me this yesterday.”
“What ? a red packet ? “I shook my head and turned to leave but Daphne pulled onto my arm.
“Jerry, Jerry! Wait, wait. Listen.” Daphne stepped in front of me and thrust the red packet into my hand.
“I asked Xiumei…how will I know who I am supposed to meet.”
“and ? “
“She told me the man that opened the red packet will grant her a wish. Any wish.” Daphne said. “ Can you believe she actually said that ? “
“You’re mad. “ I said while looking at her with a raised eyebrow.
I tried to give the red packet back to her but she backed away.
“It’s for you Jerry, I know you are on to something, I just know it. I want to tag along. Please. That’s my wish.”
I rolled my eyes and handed the red packet back to her.
“Don’t be childish.” I remarked.
Daphne pushed the red packet back into my hand.
“What are you afraid of ? “ She taunted. “black magic ? a spell ? a curse ? hahaha… go on. Open it. I too want to see if Xiumei is really capable of predicting the future, or she is just fooling around.”
“alright, I’ll proof it to you.” I said as I tore open the packet. “This means nothing.”
I don’t believe in granting wishes to girls who are interested in poking their noses everywhere. Especially not a overly zealous reporter.
From inside the red packet, I pulled out a piece of paper and I felt my heart go cold. I recognized the piece of paper. It’s a normal piece of writing paper but the last time I saw one folded into 2 in that manner was when Suwen tried to give me one.
“what does it say?” Daphne asked.
Opening the piece of paper, I took a look and immediately shut it. My heart started beating really fast.
“What is it ? Is it working ? did she cast a spell on you?” Daphne asked with a hopeful voice.
I said nothing and just looked at the eager reporter in front of me.
Looking at me with a curious look, Daphne tried to take the piece of paper from me. I quickly tore it up and crushed it before putting it in my pocket.
“what was that?” She said.
“you ok Jerry ? “ she asked.
I nodded, looking at Daphne in her eyes.
On the piece of paper, Daphne’s name was written.
And below that name, is a date.
It’s a date one week from that day.
She’s going to die in one week’s time.
“Jerry. Hey !…” she waved her hands in front of me. “ Looks like it’s working dude… so ok ? you going to tell me everything I want to know ? let me tag along for my exclusive scoop?”
I nodded slowly and Daphne punched her fist into the air.
“YES!” she yelped.
She waved her fingers in front of my face like she is casting a spell on me.
“Tell me something that will absolutely blow my mind Jerry…abracadebbra..~!”
Daphne started laughing at her silly act, drawing the looks of passerby.
I was not laughing though. There is nothing funny about this.
“Hock Chuan, the body we left by the carpark…. He is Xiumei’s Husband.”
Daphne stopped waving her fingers and she stopped laughing.
Daphne is going to die on the 12th of January, 2019.
I don’t know the exact time and how, but that is the day.
We made plans to visit Xiumei the next day at 10am and parted ways after I spent an hour telling her about my relationship with Hock Chuan. For the first time, she listened without shooting off a single word.
From the very 1st copy of papers Hock Chuan sold me to the last breakfast we had together, I told her everything and her mouth was opened throughout the entire time.
I told her about Suwen as well, but I left out the part about the dates.
She had a hard time believing what happened but the pieces all fit together perfectly.
Returning home, I could not sleep. Laying on my bed, I thought about Daphne.
How do I break the news to her ?
Do I even break the news to her ?
If I choose to keep it a secret, is it then a selfish act ?
If she knew she has 7 days left, she could have spend more time with her family. She could make her all necessary arrangements, be it financially or otherwise.
Perhaps she could max out the loans from the banks and piss off all the credit from her cards. The banks cannot collect money from a dead person.
The thing that weighs most heavily on my mind was if Daphne should spend her remaining days running around like a clown with me, or she should spend that time doing stuff that are a lot more meaningful.
She might view chasing down this for front page news is meaningful, however, when the time comes when she is no longer around, does this even matter at all?
The date written on the piece of paper may not be mine, but it affected me equally. The knowledge itself is a curse, an unnecessary burden.
I only hope the burden comes with good reasons.
Closing my eyes, i tried to make sense of what is happening. There can be only one reason why Daphne has that red packet.
Xiumei wants to see me.
6th January 2019
Upon arrival at the community hospital, I could see Daphne pacing about.
“I’ve been thinking about this as a whole. I think we are meant to meet…it’s fate” Daphne said as I walked briskly towards the block where I last met Suwen.
“Listen to me…. You see. From the start, circumstances have been trying to bring us together via these series of events, however, we keep missing one another due to bad timing.”
I took 2 steps at a time up to the ward and Daphne tried to keep up in her heels. Her pair of hip hugging jeans has a large phone sticking out the back of her pocket.
The singlet she is wearing is paired with a matching cardigan. With a pony tail swishing about, Daphne cut in front of me and turned, slapping my face with her hair as she speaks.
“Then finally, you appeared and save me in Geylang. I really thought I was going to die that day…”
Arriving at the ward, Arturo is already at the door waiting for me.
“This is not Xiumei’s ward.” Daphne said.
“I have a feeling she’s here.” I said without looking at Daphne.
Going straight up to Arturo, he greeted me first, saying something that don’t make sense at all.
“Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper.”
“what the fuck ?” Daphne said as she looked at Arturo blocking the doorway.
I have no interest in playing his game that day and I randomly spewed my nonsense at him.
“She sells seashells at the seashore.”
To my surprise, Arturo stepped aside and let me enter.
Daphne stared at the exchange in bewilderment.
He blocked her at the door and refused her entry.
“hey…hey, I’m with him… I’m with him !” she argued. “She sells seashells by the seashore…hey..! Betty Botter bought some butter!…Hey Jerry!”
“My name…. is … Arturo….” Came the reply behind me as I walked towards the ward I last saw Suwen.
Peering in the door, I finally see Hock Chuan’s wife. Xiumei.
Xiumei looked thin and frail but through her eyes, you could see the strength of her spirit and conviction. The tired and frail body is like a façade, the boldness of her eyes easily burned away the mask she wears if you look close enough.
The vigor in her gaze scares me.
In that instance, I could see my own reflection in her.
While her gaze is steady like a snipers’ breath, mine I’m sure, just reeks of recklessness to her.
Seated in a wheelchair beside Suwen, the mother and daughter duo appeared as if they are waiting for me.
“I could have saved your father.” I said to Suwen. “Why didn’t you tell me he is in his van parked at the side of the carpark!”
I gave you the exact time and location where he will die. Isn’t that enough ?” She said casually.
“why…? Why are you doing this…” I said in exasperation. “If he is here, if I saved him, your family will be..”
“will be what ? “ Suwen said with a gentle smile. “ Reunited?”
Xiumei touched her daughter’s hand, telling her to stop. There is no need to go down that path of arguing what ifs.
“hi Jerry” She said.
“Hi Xiumei…” I said while pulling a chair to sit down in front of her. “I’m sorry I left your husband out in the rain like that. It was…unintentional”
“everything happens for a reason.” Xiumei said. “ If Hock Chuan is still alive, I will not be able to talk to you like this. My husband loved the rain, and it would do you good to see the rain as a final cleanse to his body instead of an insult.”
Pointing towards the exit of the ward, Xiumei knew what I wanted to say even before I did.
“yes… Daphne… can I save her…? Must she die ?”
“Jerry my dear boy… you already saved her don’t you know?” Xiumei’s voice is so gentle and soothing that it sounded like a mother hoaxing a difficult child to sleep.
Daphne was meant to die in Geylang that day.
“By doing what you do, you essentially gave her an extension.”
“7 days ? you got to be kidding. Is there no way to extend it further?”
“Jerry…for someone about to leave this world, even an extra hour is a blessing. I would say 7 days is pretty generous. I know what you are trying to get at, but let me put your question to rest with my answer so we can move on to bigger issues.” Xiumei said as she sat forward, taking my hand in hers.
Looking at me, she left me in no doubt that Daphne will die soon.
“Daphne will die on the 12th, nothing you do will change it.”
At that point, it felt as if someone is piling bricks on my shoulder. The weight gets heavier and heavier like someone is trying to crush me.
“Should I tell her?” I asked.
“Would it do her any good if she knew?” came the reply.
I sighed and took a moment to compose my thoughts.
“What is going on in Geylang and why do you want to see me?” I asked.
Xiumei wasted no time going around in circles. She went straight to the point.
Over the next 7 days, a series of events will occur around me. They will eventually lead me to the end game of what this is all about.
“You will be making some very tough decisions over the next few days and I am truly sorry you have to make those decisions. A good leader, understands how to balance emotion with reason, even though sometimes, he lives in regret and wonder if he could do better.”
I wanted to speak but Xiumei put up a hand, indicating that she is not done yet.
Xiumei started rattling off names and with each one, the goosebumps on my skin gets more apparent. And with each name, the fear within me grows.
“Alvin your boss, Bobby the businessman, Conor the Irish, Chan the police officer, Choo, the taxi driver, Daphne, the reporter, Tan, the cleaner, Sam your contractor, Sulyani your new friend, your fate is inevitably entwined with theirs.”
“This has nothing to do with Alvin and Sam ! I knew them before I met Hock Chuan!” I argued.
“They are part of this, be it by fate or by the sheer coincidence you involved them in your decision making.”
I cursed under my breath and Xiumei went on.
Including me, there are now 10 of us. There will be 2 more who will be making their entry shortly.
“12 of us. What can the 12 of us do?” I asked.
“That’s for you to find out.” Xiumei said. “A word of advice Jerry. You cannot expect yourself to do everything, you cannot shoulder all the responsibility. Spread them out, share them and believe me when I tell you that the other 11 are equally capable in their own ways. Perhaps they might even surprise you.”
I was to keep in mind not to isolate myself work with everyone.
“Ok… let me sum it up and you see if I’m right.” I sat up and put both palms on my knees. “Some shit is going down in a few days, Daphne is going to die, and everyone I have met so far is going to help me avert a catastrophic disaster.”
“Something like that” Xiumei smiled.
“Is a meteor dropping ? “
“Am I like the avengers or something ?”
“I’m sorry, what is the avengers?” Xiumei asked with genuine bewilderment.
“Never mind.” I covered my face with my palms in exasperation. “who are the other 2, among the 12.”
“I’m sorry Jerry. I don’t know.” Xiumei said. “ I can’t see them… I can’t feel them… Not even Suwen can feel them, if we could, we will you…. But we can’t…. all I can tell you is there will be 12.”
“Is there anything else you can tell me, it would really help if I know more.” I asked.
“I have told you everything I can, the rest is up to you as the events unfold.”
Taking a deep breath, I struggled with the question that is on the verge of spilling from my lips.
“how….how many of the 12 will die?” I asked with trembling lips. “is it only Daphne?”
“knowing that changes nothing Jerry. I will not answer that question.”Xiumei said, her eyes held her gaze as steady as a surgeon’s scalpel.
“So I guess it’s more than 1 then.”
Xiumei gave me a gentle smile before asking me not to be too hard on myself.
“Some things are beyond your control.”
I stood up and I saw Suwen playing with a piece of crushed paper. She threw it up into the air before catching it on the way down. She’s taunting me.
“I can tell you things my mother can’t, and you know the price.” She said. “ this time round, you will have to pay it.”
I hesitated for a moment before replying her.
“No thank you.” I said and turned away.
Making my way to the exit, I could see Daphne trying to wrestle her way into the ward but Arturo is too big for her to shove aside.
“Let go through…arhghhhhh!” she said as she hammered the giant by the door.
“My name…. is ARturooooo..”
“I know what your name is ! You’ve said it a hundred times!” Daphne argued.
“Stop it, I’m done.” I said as I appeared behind Arturo.
“What the fuck was that ? you promised to let me tag along ! I need my exclusive scoop!” Daphne said furiously as she tried to keep up with me.
“you’ll have your exclusive. Don’t worry. It’s going to happen within the next 7 days.”
“What is ? What is going to happen within the next 7 days?” she asked anxiously.
“I don’t know yet, but something is going to happen.”
“this is as good as nothing!” Daphne said.
My head is about to explode and as much as I would like to lose my temper at the irritating girl trying to pry for information, I could not bring myself to do it.
“Jerry ! Come on… you need to give me something… anything!”
My phone buzzed and it’s Sulyani.
A text message.
‘Hey. Going overseas for work, be uncontactable for the next few days ya in case you can’t get me. Catch you when I’m back.’
I replied the message, knowing full well there is more to this so call trip than meets the eye.
‘ok, be careful and take care ya.’
Looking at Daphne, I asked if she would like to grab lunch together.
“Shall we eat something?” I suggested. “ What is your favourite food ? “
“Oh no you don’t, don’t fob me off with food and try to change the subject. I like Japanese though.” Daphne wants me to tell her everything that Xiumei told me inside the ward.
“I’ll do it over lunch.”
I found nice Japanese restaurant in town and I gave Daphne a condensed version of what I know.
“do you believe her?” She asked.
“I don’t know. But so far, everything this twisted family has given came true.”
“wow, so I’m going to be part of this super hero thingy eh ? “ Daphne said as she took a bite out of a handroll.
Looking at Daphne eat and talk at the same time, I changed the subject of our chat. I want to know more about her. Who she is.
I want to know her as a person. Not an inquisitive reporter.
There is a difference between what a person is willing to go through for her job because of passion, and who she really is.
As the only child to a single mother, Daphne grew up rough. She never knew who her father was.
“I’m never afraid of all the boys at the playground, I can play rough too ok!”
Her mum passed away shortly after she got her 1st job. With no one else left, she devoted herself to work. Being alone is also part of the reason why she gravitates towards Xiumei.
“There is something motherly about her.” She said absentmindedly. “she would have wanted to see me if not for that Arturo dude. I’ll call on her tomorrow or something.”
“you..seeing anyone?” I asked abruptly.
“hahah, why ? You interested in me ah.” She said while giving me the once over. “You… not bad la Jerry. Quite good looking…..i think you can get in line.”
I laughed and to be honest, Daphne is quite attractive. She’s bubbly and outgoing, definitely the kind of girl that guys like. Physically she is attractive, however, she might come across as being a bit too bold for guys who lack the confidence to go after someone like her.
“Just kidding, yes, there is someone I’m seeing.”
“A colleague of mine…”
“Tell me about him..”
Daphne laughed and she shook her head, indicating that she did not want to talk about it but somehow the words just started flowing.
Dan is 3 years old than her. A senior she met in school.
“We’re very close friends. And.. I rejected him a few times back when we were in school.”
“ohhh.. you friendzoned him…”
She laughed and commented wistfully that she just felt so comfortable with him that she’s afraid if the relationship don’t work out, she will lose him forever.
“He’s a very sweet guy…and he loves me a lot…and I feel…safe…contented…and happy when I’m with him….” Daphne suddenly sobered up like she was in a trance earlier. “ Why the hell am I telling you stuff like this ! hahah”
“There’s nothing wrong what….Dan sounds like a nice guy…” I said while sipping my tea. “ You meeting him later?”
“Nahh. He’s out stationed, going to be back in a couple of weeks. Can’t wait to see him though.”
I had to grit my teeth in order to keep my expression neutral. A couple of weeks. That means she won’t even get to see Dan for the last time.
“Well you should call him…tell him how much you miss you or something.”
“Oh come on, what are you ? A relationship coach? Hahah” She teased.
“well sometimes, we….we…”
“we what ?” She asked.
“We just don’t know how much time we have left.” I said.
She stared at me while chewing her food at half the speed.
“That’s fucking depressing. Don’t talk like that, you’re boring enough as it is. Has any girls ever told you that you are boring to talk to”
“all the time.”
We laughed and parted ways after lunch.
Daphne made me swear I will keep her up to date on all the latest happenings and she demanded to meet me everyday after work for updates.
“Call Dan… I’m sure he’s looking forward to hear your voice.”
“Yah. Yah. Yah.. I will”
7th January 2019
My computer barely warmed up when my boss Alvin called me into his office.
“Eh Jerry, got a few things to talk to you.”
The budget for the additional works has been pushed through, Alvin needs me to decide on which project to embark on.
“We need to spend it by this work year ok.” He said while unrolling a piece of drawing on his desk.” And we have an issue with this building owner. “
I looked at the drawing of a warehouse and Alvin brought my attention a boundary between the warehouse and the neighbour. It started with a dispute between both parties, one says the other is encroaching on it’s plot.
“After each hired their own surveyor, the findings are consistent. Both of them are wrong.” Alvin said. “there is actually a 3m strip that belongs to us. Both are encroaching on it. Thankfully there are no structures built on it, it’s just fencing and parking”
I looked at the rectangular plot of land parked at the edge of Jurong River.
“This has been thrown to us, we need to go down and talk to both owners to reinstate it accordingly.” Alvin said.
Looking at the address of the plot, something clicked inside me.
I took out my wallet and looked at the name card that Bobby gave me.
“what is that?” Alvin asked.
I showed him the name card.
“I think I know one of the owner .”
Alvin took the card over and commented ;
“well, I think you know both owners then.”
Gesturing to the smaller plot, Alvin brought my attention to the name of the landscaping company.
“Sam..” I mumbled.
“yeap, you work with him quite often right.”
“Don’t worry la, I won’t throw this on you 1st thing in the new year. I’ll sort it out together with you. Since you know both of them, it would make things a lot more easier.” Alvin said.
He wants me to set up a meeting with both of them over the next few days.
Nothing unusual came up at work that day and when I left office, Daphne is already waiting for me at the café in Cluny court.
I told her about Sam and Bobby and she scribbled furiously on her notebook.
“This is going to be huge man.. I know this is going to be huge…” She mumbled.
We were looking at the google map location of the 2 buildings when Daphne suddenly closed her eyes and hissed softly while clutching her stomach.
“What’s wrong with you ? You ok?” I asked.
“Yah..yah.. I’m fine.”
We continued talking before Daphne said she hasn’t eaten anything the whole day.
“Let me go grab a sandwich first, you want anything?” She offered.
“Get me one of whatever you are having”
I went back to the map and the next thing I knew, there was a loud crash. Looking up, I realized that Daphne had collapsed onto a nearby table together with all the food and drinks she is carrying.
All the café patrons and staff immediately attended to her while I called for an ambulance.
“Are you ok Daphne? Hey..hey!”
Within minutes, I was at the back of an ambulance with her. Daphne regained consciousness within minutes and she revealed that she has low blood sugar and there’s no need to make a big deal of it.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
Daphne brushed me off and say she will be fine.
I waited around the emergency area for a while before I got to speak with Daphne. She came out in a wheelchair and apologized for the trouble
“Sorry ah.. was busy the whole day.. didn’t have time to eat.”
Aside from a bruise and minor cuts, she is pretty much fine.
I took over from the porter and pushed Daphne towards the pharmacy.
“Let me do it.” I said as I took the discharge and medication slip over to the drop in tray.
I got Daphne a bottle of water and she seemed to be engrossed with texting on her phone so I left her alone. When her number came up for me to collect the medication, I went over and the pharmacist went through the medicine with me.
Just before I go, the pharmacist told me something that felt like a slap in my face.
“You wife is pregnant. Please make sure she takes her meals on time.”
My heart started racing and a renewed sense of dread filled me as I turned over and looked at Daphne.
She pregnant ?
I brought the medication over to her and lowered myself to her height.
“You’re pregnant…?” I said, the words barely forced it’s way out of my mouth.
“Oh…how did you know that..? “ She exclaimed with a smile.
Daphne was just sharing the good news with her boyfriend.
“The doctor did a check earlier, I had an ultrasound.” Daphne said. “ I’m expecting twins.”
My legs gave way and I just ended up sitting on the pharmacy floor.
“What no? What’s wrong with you Jerry haha? You looked shocked.” Daphne teased. “ Don’t worry la, the sushi and raw food I ate that day won’t affect anything.”
“You… you… you didn’t know you were pregnant…?” I asked.
“My period has always been irregular. Didn’t think much of it…” Daphne added and she showed me a video on her phone.
It’s a video taken of the ultrasound.
“Can you heart the heartbeat?” Daphne quipped.
I pulled myself unsteadily off the ground and told Daphne I needed to use the washroom.
Running to the toilet, I splashed water on my face before running into an empty cubicle.
I started hyperventilating as my hands held onto the 2 partitions separating me from other bathroom users.
I looked at my watch.
It’s coming to 11pm on the 7th of January.
Daphne and her twins has less than 6 days left.
The thought alone made me sick and I vomited into the toilet.
Panting and wiping my mouth with paper, I struggled to keep my balance.
Xiumei and Suwen can’t tell who the other 2 were out of the 12 because they’re not born yet. They cannot tell the future of someone whose existence has not come about.
With the twins inside Daphne, the group of 12 is now complete.
I must save Daphne and her twins.
I will figure a way out.
Coming out of the bathroom, I must have looked rather pale.
Daphne insisted on going home on her own after a short rest and I saw her off in a taxi.
8th January 2019
I should be in bed but I can’t sleep.
The knowledge given to me about Daphne’s death is not without reason. I refuse to believe I cannot do anything about it.
If I know something, I can try to stop it.
I can try to catch her pen.
I can try to delay the inevitable.
Doesn’t matter if Xiumei and Suwen say it’s impossible.
It’s impossible only if I don’t try.
Plastered on the glass wall of my living room are the print outs of the industrial area where everything will be going down. Leaning against my dining table, I held a cup of cold coffee in hand as I looked at the plot belonging to Bobby and Sam.
Located in Kranji, the site enjoys a waterfront view of our neighbour across the causeway. The 2 rectangle plots stands parallel to each other with their entrance facing the road and the back of the plot against the water.
I can tell which one belongs to Sam right away due to the number of plants and young trees he has. Sam has a section set aside for Orchids and palms.
Tuck at the end near the sea is a pond which he did initially for fun so his kids can do longkang fishing. He ended up expanding it to cater for the school kids & families that drop by on weekends.
I’ve never been to Sam’s place and I have only seen it on pictures.
He has a few recycled shipping containers as office and most of his stores are under shelter beneath a zinc roofed structure he inherited from the previous owner.
Bobby’s plot on the other hand looked new compared to Sam.
A large gleaming warehouse 3 levels tall. He deals with furniture and relocation services. I cannot see much from the map because it’s all covered up.
Looking at the highlighted fence in question, I can see the 2 plots are encroaching into a pathway that would have allowed access from the main road all the way to the edge of the waters.
Both owners claimed they did nothing to it and when they took over the site, the boundaries have already been set.
Sam has a few palms and trees that are planted along the side of the fence and one of Bobby’s complains was that the plants are encroaching into his site. Sam on the other hand, is unhappy with a large pile of rotting wood sitting at the back near the water’s edge.
Petty quarrels when compared to the gran scheme of things that are about to happen.
The 2 buildings look so ordinary that one will not give either a passing glance.
Whatever is going to happen, chances are it’s going to go down at that site.
What are the odds of an issue cropping up between 2 person I know?
I did not sleep that day, instead, I got into office at 6am and started to clear my emails.
I cleared a section of my desk and using paper clips, I bent the metal into the first letter of each person that will be with me when things go south.
My heart skipped a beat when I subconsciously folded a letter ‘D’ for daphne before looping 2 smaller coloured clips onto it.
Taking a sip of my morning coffee, I separated the names.
Bobby, Conor, Sam, Alvin and I will be at the warehouse.
This leaves Tan, Choo, Sulyani, Chan, Daphne and her twins.
What is special about the number 12?
12 months in a year, 12 hours in a clock face. 12 signs in the zodiac.
Jesus has 12 disciples.
Assuming everyone has to be present on site when the said event occurs, this leaves more than half of the group that has no valid reason to be there at the moment.
I gave Sam a call and told him the purpose of my ring.
He sounded quite happy that we’re going down to help mediate the situation with his neighbour.
“Jerry, Jerry, Jerry….any day la, I can do any day. Come down come down. I treat you coffee.” Sam Chirped.
“Let me get back to you once I check with my boss.”
“got new project or not. Support a bit leh, quite slow recently.” Sam said.
“Might have something coming up, I’ll let you know again.”
I was about to ring Bobby up when Alvin came over to my desk.
He told me Bobby rang him up earlier. He too was eager to get things sorted out.
“Sounds like a nice guy.” Alvin said. “can you arrange for 11th, Friday.”
“What about other days.” I suggested.” In case they can’t.”
“Bobby can do Thursday and Friday. I’m on course tomorrow and Thursday. It’ll have to be Friday. You have anything on?” He asked.
“No…no.. not at all.”
“Alright. Put it on Friday morning. I don’t think it will take more than a couple of hours. We can go grab lunch after that.”
I agreed and notified Sam of the meeting on Friday morning. After that I gave Bobby a call.
Alvin stepped out of office shortly after and I gave Sam a call, asking if he is at his workplace.
“Yeah…why ? Want to buy me lunch is it?” Sam joked.
“Yes. I’m taking a taxi down. “
“Wah. You serious? I going to win lottery already.”
30 minutes later, I alighted in front of Sam’s landscaping company.
The road is pretty quiet aside from the occasional heavy vehicle rumbling by.
I can see a truck unloading stuff across at Bobby’s warehouse.
“Yo yo Yo…. Jerry, Jerry, Jerry….rare guest man.” Sam shook my hand and gestured to his work place.
I could see several of his workers resting under the shelter
“No jobs outside today?” I asked.
“Have small ones la. Later heading out in the evening when it’s not so hot.” Sam said we walked deeper inside his nursery cum workplace. “what brings you here? I thought we are meeting on Friday “
“I ermmm… want to see if your place is safe.”
Sam laughed and he thought I was joking.
“I follow the workplace safety and health guidelines one ok.”
He gave me a quick tour of his place. Nothing out of the ordinary. We came to the longkang fishing pond he built and he asked if I would like to give it a go.
“No thank you.”
“It’s no easy ok. The fishes are quite fast.”
With the short tour over, I flagged out a few things which made me uncomfortable.
“I noticed some of your fire extinguishers are expired…for more than a year… there are a lot of exposed and sharp edges where you store your things and the cage where you keep your garden shears and blades are not locked.”
“You fucking high on something Jerry?” Sam said as he lit up a cigarette beside his store of petrol cans.
“Don’t smoke beside your petrol cans for fuck sake. Why do you need so many by the way?”
“How else do I power my grass cutter ? Bicycle pedal ar?” Sam said with a puzzled look on his face.” You’re acting weird. Everything ok or not.?”
“Am I ? “
“you came all the way from botanic garden to come and tell me my fire extinguisher is expired and my equipment cage is unlocked. You got fever ah.”
Taking a deep breath, I struggled with my words before asking Sam about his schedule on Friday.
“Morning my guys going out to Jurong. Some small job for the town council there. They will only be back in the evening. Morning I will be here la. You coming with your boss right.”
I nodded. So Sam’s place will be empty save for us.
I stayed for coffee and asked Sam about his wife and kids. He’s still the same jovial fellow, laughing and talking loudly. He even offered me some plants to bring home if I like.
“No. no. no… I can’t take anything from you. It will be bribery.”
“Bribe you head la. Please la. A pot of fucking orchid is a bribe?”
“these are sensitive times, I’ll pay for the plants if I see anything that I fancy.”
Sam ushered me to his orchids and tried to market the national flower to me.
“Nah, this 1, good one. Van Da Kee Lim Jiu ( Vanda goes for a drink ) or Van Da Cuae Jiu Lim ( Vanda looks for a drink) “
“Oh come on, it’s Vanda Miss Joaquim” I corrected.” It’s our fucking national flower, how can you get it wrong?”
“eh hello Jerry, I uneducated Ah Beng. If I remember ever one of these names by heart, I scientist already, no need become landscaper.”
Sam laughed as he flicked his spent cigarette butt onto the floor.
“That’s littering bro. I’m from Nparks.”
“This is my property Jerry, I am from Sam Nursery.” He said as he lights up a 2nd stick. “ You want one ?”
I took a few steps towards the water edge and asked Sam if he has any issues with illegal immigrants coming from across the causeway.
“What ? You change department again ah ? Become immigration ?”
“Sam I’m serious.”
He looked at me for a couple of seconds before he pointed to a parked coastguard vessel a distance away with his cigarette holding hand.
“There, see.. our tax dollar at work.”
“That’s it ? Don’t you think you need more fence ? Security ? I noticed you have a lack of cameras in your property.”
“Oh cameras… cameras ah…ok…ok…come…come.. I show you…”
Sam brought me to a large pile of compost. It stinks.
He then brought me to his grass cultivation plot.
“This… cow grass…”
Then gesturing all over him, he added.
“plants… Cannot eat one…”
Displaying a pose mimicking a body builder showing off his muscles, he angled his body with his cigarette pointing 45 degree to the sky.
“And got me here. Who dare to steal from me ? hahahahha”
We went back to his air conditioned office and Sam made me a cup of coffee.
He began talking about the side fence in question and say he’s fine with reinstating it but he just needs time. He has no intention of paying someone to do it since he has the workers himself.
All he need to do is to arrange their work schedule accordingly.
“actually, if need to, I can help the neighbour do and bill from for it. Hahahahah”
I told him we will go through that in detail when we meet on Friday with my boss. Gesturing to his first aid box in his office, I asked if I could take a look at it.
“eh Jerry, you seriously something wrong ah.” Sam said as he brought the box down.
Opening it, I saw a few pieces of plaster and a tube of cream for mosquito bites.
“What? You only have these in your first aid box? What happens if your men hurt themselves?”
“Jerry I tell you.” Sam sighed and gestured to the first aid box. “if a piece of plaster cannot fix ah, then you need to go hospital. Simple as that…if some poor guy cuts his finger off, you think there is anything I can fix with a box like this? Come on la.”
“No no… you need a better one.” I said and made a mental note to get him one.
Turning to his pantry, I looked at the bag of 3 in 1 coffee and a few pieces of crackers inside a plastic container.
“Is that your pantry ? That’s all the food you have? “
Sam looked genuinely concerned and he leaned over to touch my forehead.
“You something wrong ah.” He asked. “ this is an office leh… I stay here do admin work, send invoice. My work is out under the sun one. I hungry I go coffee shop la, why I need to put so much things here. Feed rats and cockroaches ah.”
I made another mental note to help Sam stock up his pantry.
Taking away the twins inside Daphne, i should at least account for water and food for 10 adults for a couple of days.
Something is happening on the 12th but there’s no way to know if it will end on the 12th. It’s better to be prepared.
“I’m going to order some stuff for delivery later, you will be here to receive it right.”
Sam stared at me with his mouth slightly apart and I told him I won the lottery.
“first prize…it’s a while back…. My office phone number 3025.”
His expression immediately changed.
“WAH! Huat AH!”
“I only just checked the ticket recently so I want to ermmm… do something for you…”
“WAHHHH…. Steady la bro….why ah….why? is it because I give you the inspiration to buy your phone number…”
I lied that he called me multiple times that day and I could see him trying to recall.
“Anyway, I need to do more good things for the people around me so my luck will get better….fortune teller told me so.”
“Eh intro the fortune teller to me also leh..”
“He passed away.”
I told Sam it’s just some general pantry stuff, not expensive stuff.
He offered me my choice of plants from his small nursery and I told him I will let him know if I see anything I fancy.
After a 30 minutes chat with Sam on his site, I excused myself and made my way over to Bobby’s warehouse.
Upon entering the warehouse, I can hear Conor’s distinctive accent spewing singlish that will make any native speaker proud.
“OEI YANDAO ( Handsome ) don’t look at your fucking phone when you drive the forklift can or not! KNN”
Walking over to Conor, I saw his face literally light up when he saw me.
“Ehhhhh Jerry…Li SI Yandao ah..! hahaha”
“thank you Conor.”
“What brought you here?” he asked.
I explained about the boundary situation and Conor told me he heard Bobby mention it.
“So you guys seemed pretty busy.” I commented.
Conor told me they are shifting things around the warehouse because there is a client with several big packages coming in.
“When are they coming?”
“This Thursday, 10th. Why?”
“Nothing, just curious…”
Conor offered the information without me asking. The client is from Myanmar and they leased quite a bit of space to store goods from Bobby. Pointing to the temperature controlled rooms at the side, he revealed that the client also booked the entire cold room.
“What is the temperature for the cold storage?” I asked.
“Bigger room is between 10-15 degrees, we do quite a bit of wine on and off, the small one is minus 25”
“Any idea what the clients will be bringing in on Thursday ?” I asked and Conor checked his tablet as a forklift zoomed passed us.
“It’s stated here that it’s mostly furniture and personal belongings. I think some Myanmar general or something is relocating to Singapore.” Conor said. “The things are shipped from a military base.”
“It’s very common. Preferential rates, easy to clear the ports once you have the right connection.”
“I see.” I mentally took note of the client’s name.
I wanted to speak to Bobby but was told he is out for the day.
“You can give him a call if you want.”
“It’s ok. I’m coming here on Friday anyway.”
Leaving Bobby’s warehouse, I looked at the solid automatic gate compared to Sam’s world war 2 era wrought iron gate with mangled wire mesh. It’s really a heaven and earth comparison.
While the roads inside Bobby’s warehouse is paved and straight, Sam’s compound gives you the feeling you just drove into a kampung in Malaysia.
Making my way back to office, I started placing orders from a supermarket on my phone. I ordered a 5 cartons of water, with each at 1.5 litres, plenty of crackers and instant noodles. To be honest, I don’t know what I was preparing for, something inside me just tells me it’s better to be prepared for all circumstances.
Who knows, perhaps a giant sinkhole might open up under us and swallow everyone ? At least we will have food and water.
I placed orders for batteries and portable radio that comes with torchlights as well. Then I went to an online pharmacy and placed orders for bandages, plasters, antiseptic cream and wound cleaning solution. Basically, everything a first aid box should have.
Daphne gave me a call close to end of the day and I shared with her the name of the Myanmar General.
“General Aung Myint. Can you find out more about him?” I asked.
“Anything I should look out for?” Daphne asked.
“I don’t know yet. Let me know if you find anything interesting.”
“when is your meeting?” Daphne asked.
“ermmm.. next Monday.” I lied. I’m not letting her know I’m going down on Friday.
It’s a game of odds and probabilities. If I keep Daphne away from the place where something bad is going to happen, I reduced the chances of her being at risk.
“you better not be lying to me Jerry.” Daphne said over the phone.
“Don’t worry, let me know if you find anything on the General.”
I quickly hung up and got back to work.
Just before I left the office, Sam sent me a picture with all the stuff I bought in his office.
It came with the message.
‘Crazy ar ? 7th month celebration is it?’
I ignored him and went back home. I brought the paper clips back and attached them to the information wall.
A general is coming on the 10th, 1 day before our meeting. 2 days before Daphne’s death. Surely this must be connected.
I ate instant noodles while staring at the wall filled with printouts and I tried to think if there is something more I can do.
My phone rang and it’s Daphne.
She did not even say hi and went straight to talk about the General.
“General Aung Myint, commanding officer of 201 Infantry Battalion located in the Northern Shan State. He’s very low profile and there’s practically nothing on him. I called a contact in Myanmar and asked about him but he too could tell me nothing on this reclusive General.” Daphne said.
“He’s single. Early fifties, a very decorated soldier and commands a group of loyal men. That’s practically what we know about him.”
“What are the chances that he’s coming here for his retirement?” I asked.
“Why not ? Singapore is a good place to retire. Especially if you have a shit load of money.”
I thanked Daphne for the information and hung up.
Adding another post it note to the information wall, I pasted General Aung Myint’s name on top of Bobby’s warehouse.
Whatever it is, I guess we’re about to find out.
10th January 2019
I gave both Sam and Bobby a call to confirm the meeting the next morning. Bobby has offered to host us in his office.
Coming close to lunch time, I gave Bobby’s office a call to look for Conor.
I want to find out from him about the general that will be depositing his stuff with their warehouse.
However, the call went unanswered.
I didn’t think much of it and I tried again at 3pm.
Again, it went unanswered.
I brushed it off that they are busy with the new client who is taking up so much of their storage.
I’ll ask Conor about it when I see him the next day.
11th January 2019
I went to office early and prepared the documents and drawings for our discussion. Making sure none of my colleagues saw what I am up to, I took a penknife and checked the blade before slipping it in my sock by my ankle.
Although I’m not sure what I can do with it, I just thought it might come in handy.
The butterflies in my stomach starts to get more apparent when the clock ticked closer to 9am. My eyes kept drifting to the clock. Alvin is someone who likes to be on time.
This means we should be getting to ready leave at 10.15am for the 11am meeting.
Feeling a bit uneasy with what I’m about to face, I transferred money into my parent’s account, splitting the lottery sum between the two of them.
Just in case shit happens, they have the cash to deal with any emergency.
I went to the washroom and splashed my face with water.
I could feel the anxiety building up in me and I chose to take a walk out in the garden.
Taking in the sights and fresh air made me feel a little better. Subconsciously as I walked, I came to the same path where I met Hock Chuan for the 1st time. The place where he sold me the 1st copy of the newspaper.
I continued walking, heading to a project site of mine to take a look.
Its about time to head back and I had this sudden urge to pee when I saw the public toilet by one of the park’s entrance. I went in and head straight for the urinal.
I barely unzipped my pants when this man came in behind me.
There is this unspoken rule among men when using the urinal.
As long as there are enough urinals to leave a space between you and other users, you don’t take the one right beside a stranger. They don’t teach this in school, there’s no need to teach this. It’s ingrained in us.
So when this guy appeared beside me, I instinctively looked at him.
Why does he have to come so close to me ?
My tool is already out and I’m about to pee but given that I’m so on edge, plus the appearance of a man who don’t know anything about personal space, I just couldn’t go.
As if things could not get worse, the man unzipped his pants and looked down.
Then he started to smile.
And the smile turn to a laugh.
My jaw dropped an inch as I started at him in disbelief.
“Long time no see brother…”
“what the fuck…” I mumbled as I heard the strong stream of pee leave his penis and hit the urinal.
When was the last time he looked at himself?
“how are you ?” the man continued talking.
I immediately zipped up my pants. There’s no way I’m going to pee bside such a weirdo.
Suddenly, he backed away from the urinal and turned towards the basin. It was then I realized he has a Bluetooth headset on his other ear.
He’s on the fucking phone.
I was about to laugh at myself for overthinking stuff when the man washing his hands suddenly stopped talking.
He turned and looked at me.
“The man beside me?” He asked while exchanging looks with me.
“huh?” I looked at him with a questioning expression.
The strange man then finished washing his hands before drying them with a paper towel. He pulled out his phone and disconnected the Bluetooth headset.
“It’s for you.” He said while handing over the phone.
“take it.” He said.
I took over the phone and answered it to hear Arturo’s voice on the phone.
“Please hold Jerry.”
Moments later, Xiumei’s voice came onto the phone.
“Jerry. Do not throw away any empty bottles. Keep them. Stay close to the compost pile. Save as many as you can.”
“what? Xiumei. I need more. Tell me as much as you can. Every little bit helps.” I said.
“I’m sorry, this is all I can tell Jerry. Good luck.”
“Xiumei…Xiumei!” I called out but she has already hung up.
The man gestured for his phone and I returned it back to him.
Bottles, compost. Bottles and compost.
Keep every bottle. I thought about the cartons of water I ordered. That must be what she meant.
Returning to office, I went straight to the recycling bin in the pantry. I picked up the whole back of plastic bottles and lugged it with me back to my desk.
Alvin looked at me with the bag of trash and asked me what I’m up to.
“ERgmmmm… Sam wants to use bottles for some recycling….planting…stuff..”
“you ready to go?” Alvin asked.
“yeah let’s go.”
Upon arrival at site, I was surprised to see the gate into Bobby’s warehouse closed. Sam is smoking by his gate and gestured for us to go into his place instead.
“I don’t see anyone the whole morning.” Sam said. “ No one at all.”
“Can you try calling them Jerry.” My boss said as we walked towards Sam’s office.
Perhaps they are on the way in, probably worked late the night before or something.
Sam served coffee and Alvin started talking about shifting the fence.
We waited and we kept calling Bobby and his office. From 11am till 12pm.
The gate remained shut.
By 12.30pm, Alvin is visibly upset and he is contemplating climbing over the fence to see if anyone is in the office.
“ what nonsense is this!” Alvin commented.
“Eh sorry ah guys, I thought this was a quick 30 minute meeting, I have something else going on later at 1pm” Sam said.
“what do you have at 1pm?” I asked.
“There’s a busload of kids coming to visit the nursery and for longkang fishing.”
I could feel my heart sinking when I heard what Sam just said.
Before I could react, I heard the honk of a bus. Turning around in horror, I realized the bus came early.
“Ahhh..they are here already…” Sam pushed the gate opened and gestured for the driver to park inside the compound.
“No… NO…no…!” I protested and Alvin pulled me aside, asking me not to block the bus.
As the school bus cleared the turning radius into Sam’s nursery, a taxi followed closely behind.
“No…please… no…” I walked towards the taxi and the driver tapped his honk at me before lowering his window.
“hey Jerry…!” Choo called out
The next time I heard my name came from a tone which sounded pretty hostile, because the passenger in the taxi is none other than Daphne.
“Oh boy you have some explanation to do Jerry. “ she said.
“why are you here!” I exclaimed.
“and why are you here?” Daphne mirrored my exclamation.
Turning around, I tried to stop the school kids from coming down the bus only to see Sam already talking to the teacher.
No. This cannot be happening.
I tried to shout at Sam for him to stop the visit. Choo parked his taxi and asked to borrow the bathroom to which Sam pointed him in the right direction. Walking over to the bus driver, I was about to ask him to take the kids and go when I realized the person driving the bus is none other than Tan, the cleaner from the Mall bathroom.
“Tan…” I mumbled.
“Eh… why are you here…” He asked.
Right about then a 40 foot container truck pulled up to the side of the road, blocking the entrance of both units with it’s massive length.
Men appeared out of nowhere and a dozen of them made their way into the nursery.
“Hey..hey ! “ Sam shouted at the men coming into his property.
“what the hell” Alvin shouted at one of the man who shoved him deeper into the nursery.
He was about to push back when that man whipped out a gun.
Before Daphne could scream, she too was herded together with the rest of us deeper into Sam’s property.
Everything happened so fast. The kids didn’t even know what is happening. Some of them are still happily looking at the plants.
Their teacher, a female around 30 years of age was the first to react when she saw the guns in the hands of the men surrounding us.
“aRGHHHHHHHHHH!” Her high pitched scream was cut shot by a silenced shot to her head.
The teacher’s head snapped backwards before she fell onto a pot of tangerine.
Sam immediately put himself in front of several kids and turned them the other way. Alvin, having taken a grasp of the situation immediately rounded up a few kids too and tried to pacify them.
Tan was about to light a cigarette when he saw what happened and he dropped his fag. He held 2 kids by their hands and pulled them away from their unmoving teacher on the ground.
The other accompanying teacher fainted and collapsed onto the floor.
Moments later, Choo was dragged out from the bathroom and deposited unceremoniously with everyone under the zinc roofed structure.
Some kids started to cry and we tried to calm them down.
The man that shot the teacher fired 3 more silenced shots at Sam’s plants, shattering the clay pots and spilling the contents around the trembling kids.
“You make any noise. I’ll put the next one in you.” He threatened.
Seeing that they have the site under control, they gestured towards the back of their column.
Moments later, a charismatic man walked with his hands behind his back slowly into the compound.
His bearing, his body language, the way he carried himself, it reeks of military.
Removing his aviator shades, I suddenly realized he is looking at me.
I could feel my heart skipping a beat when he smiled at me.
Then I thought my heart stopped beating when he walked right over and call me by my name.
I was dragged up to my feet by his men, putting me face to face with him.
“I am… General Aung Myint.” He introduced himself.
Then moving closer to my ears, he said something that chilled me to the bone.
“I can do what you do…”
That eerie smile took everything I had within me to stop myself from shaking.
“Surely you must not think only Singapore….has fortune tellers..”
I exhaled slowly as we faced off each other.
Shaking myself free from his men’s grip, I took a step closer to him and I felt the muzzle of a gun touch my head.
“Jerry don’t do anything stupid!” Alvin called out.
That look of smug confidence on his face really got to me.
“How much do you know?” I challenged Aung.
“And how much… do you know..?” Aung repeated the question I posted to him.
“that’s for you to find out I guess.”
“You’re getting cocky Jerry…hahha.” Aung whispered.
From the way he keep his voice low all this while, I gather his men do not know what he can do.
“I’m confident, there’s a difference.” I replied.
Now I don’t know how much Aung knows about what is going to happen.
I don’t know what his fortune teller told him about what is going to happen over the next few days.
All I know is I stand a chance to stop him.
And my odds just went up a notch.
Because among the armed men he brought are 2 familiar faces who has remained expressionless and unmoving all this while at the back.
Sulyani and Chan.
Bobby and Conor are probably in the warehouse.
The rest of us are all here.
This is it I guess.
Aung smiled and put on his shades.
We were all herded into the sheltered compound under the zinc roof structure. Sulyani and Chan did not acknowledge me, and I refuse to believe they’ve gone over to the dark side.
Chances are they are working undercover.
Something of this scale must have taken some planning, surely the authorities are aware of this. That is why Sulyani and Chan have been planted with the General.
I carefully observe Sulyani and she is trying hard not to look at Choo’s direction. Choo on the other hand kept his eyes down and focused on pacifying the kids along with the other adults. If Aung realizes Sulyani’s father is among the prisoners, it’s going to be a disaster.
The men quickly took control of the site.
Aung Myint’s men took a roll of blue canvas from Sam’s store and started to block out the entrance and sides of the nursery. All our mobile phones were taken from us. The pockets of every adult were searched and thankfully, they did not find the cutter I kept in my sock.
The kids were not spared either. Some of them had smart watches that allowed them to call their parents, one even had his own mobile phone. All of it were taken away.
The dead teacher was carried and dumped in Sam’s fishpond. The children are all sobbing in fear and few of them peed themselves.
We directed the kids to sit while facing away from the terrorists. The adults formed a protective barrier of sort, separating the kids and keeping them away from the hostage takers. We did our best to calm them down, the remaining childcare teacher Mindy, asked the kids to take out the snacks they packed for the trip and take a bite.
Not that the food will calm their nerves but at least it occupies their attention for a while.
The 40 footer truck spanned across both units, effectively blocking any vehicles from coming in or out. It navigated itself onto a narrow section of the driveway leading into both units so it doesn’t block other traffic travelling along the main road.
The massive size of the truck also meant passing vehicles will not be able to see what is going on within the units.
Aung Myint’s men removed all the gardening tools that can be used as a weapon from the store.
“Hey..hey! those are mine! Don’t you dare damage them!” Sam called out but was blatantly ignored.
Suddenly I saw a familiar face.
Terry. That sick fuck that made me massage a dead body.
Goosebumps appeared all over my skin as Terry sauntered over to me with his hands in his pocket.
“So you can see now eh?” Terry laughed. He did not bother to call out my lie or go into detail what he meant. He just looked at me in a disturbing manner.
It’s like he is looking forward to toying with me when he gets his chance.
“Terry, the fence.” Aung said while lighting up a cigarette.
Terry grabbed 2 men and went to the fence separating Bobby and Sam’s plot. They cut through both fence and using canvas and timber from Sam’s nursery, erected a makeshift connection of sort between both plots.
When the connection is done, everyone was herded over to Bobby’s warehouse.
Upon entering, I could see Bobby and Conor on the ground. They were covered in bruises with 4 men standing guard over them. They’re knocked up pretty bad.
In a particular section of Bobby’s warehouse, the 6 meter tall racks are arranged in a ‘n’ configuration. With plenty of boxes and goods packed to the brim on 3 sides, it formed the perfect prison to hold everyone.
I could see some gaps that perhaps a smaller child could squeeze through but even then, he or she will need to cross an entire warehouse of hostile men.
At the opening of the makeshift prison 5 meters away, stands the cold storage section, it’s length perpendicular to the prison we’re in.
If we are to make a run for it, we will have to turn either left or right after coming out of the boundary of the storage shelves.
For close to an hour, we were left on our own. No one said anything to us, no one shared anything with us. About a dozen men kept watch over the group. If any kids needed the bathroom, only Mindy is allowed to bring them.
As for the rest of the adults, they will be escorted by Aung’s men.
“We’re fucked aren’t we.” Daphne whispered beside me. “what should we do?”
“Why are you here?” I asked.
“I want to check out the site before the meeting you lied about you dick.”
“Well, if you have listened to me, you wouldn’t be here, will you?” I retorted.
Daphne looked like she wanted to say something but stopped herself.
I’m right and she knows it.
“No talking amongst yourselves!” A man shouted at us.
General Aung’s men set up a table.
The rustling of plastic bags and boxes were accompanied by the smell of food. I could feel my stomach growling.
Aung took a seat as his men unpacked the food on the table, laying out a feast of Dim Sum and bread among other packed food. The packed food was distributed among Aung’s soldiers while the spread on the table is reserved solely for the General.
I stood up and one of Aung’s man immediately shoved me back down.
“Jerry, stop it. Calm down.” Alvin whispered sharply to me.
“Jerry….” Aung called out my name as he started to eat in front of us.
“I know what you want to say.” Aung took a bite of his French loaf before popping a dumpling into his mouth.” So I’ll save all of us some time.”
Gesturing to the kids, Aung said what is on my mind.
“The kids have nothing to do with this, you want me to let them go.” Aung exhaled as if had expected something like this from me, or rather, he has replayed this in his mind a dozen times. “I’m going to say no. then you’re going to try and convince me.”
Gesturing with his palm in a back-and-forth motion, Aung tried to illustrate the alternating conversation we will be engaging in if we attempt to go down that path.
“Let’s not do that. I’m not a patient man, doing something like that will only make me angry. And I’m not a nice man when I’m angry.” Aung chuckled as he shook the gold watch on his left hand to loosen it from his wrist.
I didn’t say anything, but I remained standing while looking at Aung. You can tell he is not done with what he wants to say. There is something more.
“I am a stubborn man Jerry.” He paused and took another bite of his late lunch.” So you can imagine the first time when I was told what will happen in the future, I have a hard time believing it.”
However, Aung soon came to embrace the gift that was given to him.
“Knowing the future Jerry. Can you believe that?” Aung laughed as he gestured to his men for a drink.
“you can tell the future Jerry?” Sam whispered “ Why didn’t you say so ? Tomorrow night 4D (lottery) 1st prize is what number? Or Monday TOTO ( lottery ) “
“It doesn’t work like that.” I whispered to Sam.
“What is going on Jerry?” Alvin asked and I told him I’ll explain in a bit.
After Aung washes down the food, he went on to say something that made my heart rate go up a notch.
“I’m here for a reason Jerry, I may be a small pawn in a big chessboard but I am here for a reason. “ Aung wiped his mouth with a napkin while levelling his eyes at me.” And my fortune teller, has revealed that you, are the key to my work here in Singapore.”
“I’m not sure I get what you mean.”
“I was told that you, will be the one that stands in my way for what I’m about to accomplish…. And my reply was simple. That I will kill you, put a bullet in your head the moment I see you.” Aung smiled.
I felt a chill in my spine as I thought about my parents. I can’t die in this warehouse. Not like this.
“However, if I kill you right now, I will fail in what I’m about to do. If I don’t, you will thwart and affect my plan. I’m caught between a rock and a hard place here you see.” Aung said, betraying a hint of anger. “
“I have accomplished enough with the skills and knowledge told to me that I truly believe everything my fortune teller tells me, but there is only so much she can see.”
Aung gestured around him.
“I have a platoon of my best men right here. My men have control of the site. We even have local guides that have been on our payroll for a while. They provided the necessary information to get me to where I am today.” Aung said proudly “and I’m really curious, how, you can possibly thwart my plans in your current state.”
Aung took out his phone and I saw him fiddling with it. Turning it over to face me, he displayed a countdown timer before looking at his watch.
At the stroke of 2.15pm, Aung started the countdown.
“In 30 hours, this will be over. In 30 hours, I will be able to kill you with no possible repercussions to my plan.” Aung said. “in the meantime, I want to understand how such a normal guy like you, can be blessed with such a gift like mine.”
My eyes looked at the countdown timer on the phone. A part of me wished I had taken Suwen’s deal. If I had looked at the day I die, I might have been better prepared for this.
Beads of perspiration rolled down my back as I looked at Aung who is smiling at me.
“this… is a gift from the gods.” Aung stressed “ only the worthy may have it.”
“What do you want?” I asked. “what are you trying to do here with your men?”
“What? You think this is some Hollywood movie plot where we dedicate a portion of screentime for the villain to explain why I do the things I do? Hahha?” Aung teased as he lit up a cigarette. “Tell me Jerry. What do you want ?”
“You want me ? I’ll stay right here. Let the rest go.” I said.
“Boring Jerry. Boring. Entice me. Make me, make me let the kids go.” Aung said as he blew a puff of smoke into the air.
He’s wasting time. Surely he has something better to do than to fuck around with me. Terry is nowhere to be seen, so are the rest of the men I saw that day in Geylang. They must be up to something. Sulyani and Chan too are not in the warehouse.
I wonder if they managed to get word out that there’s a terrorist attack with so many kids taken hostages.
“The kids are a liability to you.” I said to Aung and he raised an eyebrow at me.
“They are young, noisy, difficult to manage. They need the toilet more frequently than adult.” Gesturing to them, I added that half of them smells of pee. “You can be sure when the poop starts coming, this place is going to smell a lot worse.”
Aung roared with laughter, clapping in a dramatic manner.
“I could always shoot them couldn’t i?” Aung threatened. “My men and I have shot unarmed women and children before. What is a few more?”
Gesturing to me with his fingers, Aung gestured to a chair in front of him.
Aung looked at his phone and smiled, a sign I took that whatever he is here to do has been progressing well so far.
“If I let the children go, they go off running to get help. What will happen to me and my men?” Aung said without looking at me.
“The children stays here beyond their excursion time while their teacher remains uncontactable, what do you think is going to happen?” I countered
“hahahha. Good answer. Good answer.” Aung chuckled.
“I refuse to believe you came here without a plan to get out. Especially not when you know if you kill me in 30 hours, everything will go your way.” I said.
“hmmmm…go on.” Aung sucked on his cigarette as a column of ash dropped on his shirt.
“I’ll stay here with you until the time is up. Let the rest of them go.”
“Jerry NO!.” Alvin called out from behind me.
“This is a chicken and egg issue isn’t it.” Aung commented. “ I let anyone go.. they go for help, it spoils my plan.”
As Aung started talking further, it became clear to me that he has in fact thought this through.
“I’m going to make you an offer Jerry.” Aung said. “ I will let half the children go, along with 2 adults. However, if they go for help, or notify the police, the army, whoever, I will kill the rest of the children here at the warehouse.”
I counted a total of 20 kids. Half would be 10 of them. Plus 2 adults, that’s 12.
“However I’m not going to let them go just like this, you’ll have to work for them.” Aung said while gesturing to the table full of food.
“You must be hungry Jerry, come eat.” He offered.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked.
“10 kids, 2 adults. I will let them go on one condition.” Aung smiled and I could see the evil in that grin. “Eat what you want on this table, after you are done, we will play a game with the amount of food left on this table.”
The rules are simple.
Everyone of the hostages must know exactly what food is left on the table. From the type, to the quantity.
“in case you think you can cheat and finish everything” Aung laughed “ You must leave a minimum of 12 types of food on this table. 1 for each hostage that I’m going to release.” Aung said, laying out what seemed like an impossible rule. “ And you cannot leave the same quantity for each food type.”
I looked at the spread of food as I ran over the rules in my head.
12 food types, with different quantities, that means I need to leave 1 of type 1, 2 of type 2, 3 of type 3 and so on until I get to 12.
My heart sank as I digested that Aung just said.
It’s hard enough for even an adult to remember have the amount of food on the table given the stressful situation. Not to mention a group of 6 year old kids.
“How is that possible!” I blurted out.
“That’s on you Jerry. Haha.” Aung laughed while looking at a few of his men. “were you expecting scissors paper stone ? London bridge is falling down?”
Aung looked at his watch and gave me an hour.
“Do you accept the challenge?” He asked.
Taking a deep breath, I exhaled slowly through my nose and I shut my eyes, blocking out all the ambient noises.
I said nothing and Aung never rushed me for a reply.
Even with my eyes closed, I could tell he is staring intently at me.
He wants to see what I will do.
“If you give up on the challenge I will release 1 adult and 1 child right away but the same condition apply. If they go for help, I will kill the rest.” Aung threw that offer out fast, speaking rapidly to mess with my concentration.
“Make up your mind now, 1 adult and 1 kid now ? or risk not being able to save anyone. What is your decision Jerry!” Aung spat. “ I give you 10 seconds to make up your mind.”
My heartrate raced through the roof as Aung’s words hung by my ears. He started counting down from 10, sounding only too please to pile on the pressure.
It’s a difficult choice, should I go with the easy option, just save 2 first, or should I attempt to save 12.
At that moment, I remembered something from before.
Hock Chuan believed I am someone who will try to save as many as I can.
That is the reason why he chose me.
“3 seconds Jerry!” Aung said as I opened my eyes.
“I want to save everyone.” I said. “ I accept the challenge.”
“Good!” Aung laughed as he swung his arm around the spread of leftovers.
Taking a look at the food on the table, I took a deep breath and calmed myself down a notch.
I set aside 12 types of food in their respective quantity and I stuffed the rest into my mouth. Aung looked at my food choices but said nothing.
Terry came over and confirmed the quantity and types of food on the table.
Stealing a glance on his watch, Aung asked his men to take a picture of the leftovers.
“Can I bring the table closer to them?” I asked.
“Be my guest.” Aung gestured to Terry and he helped me carry the table of food over to the makeshift prison.
The moment we got close, the adults all got on their feet. They heard what Aung said I could see them trying to commit everything to their memory.
“There will be no writing of any kind.” Aung reminded, “anyone tries to cheat, this game is over.”
I could see Sam and Alvin’s lips mouthing the food types while Daphne’s eyes opened and shut as she tried to remember what is on the table.
The challenge here are the kids.
How do I get 20 kids to remember exactly what is on the table?
I rearranged the food on the table from type 1 quantity 1, to type 12, quantity 12.
Ignoring the adults, I addressed the kids directly.
“alright children, I am uncle Jerry and I want to teach all of you a song.” I said and the attention of the kids all settled on me.
“what the fuck ? “ Sam mumbled.
I gestured for him to calm down and listen.
You cannot get 6 year olds to remember stuff like this without some kind of structure. The easiest way for kids to remember something is through song and games.
And I have the perfect fucking song for them.
“You might have heard this song before ok, but the lyrics are going to be a bit different, so listen and sing with uncle Jerry ok?” I said with a smile.
Aung walked closer with Terry by his side, eager to see what tricks I have up my sleeve.
“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me. Sio Sio eh Jiam Tao Roti ! ( hot French loaf ) “ I sang and I watched the jaws of all the adults dropped an inch while a few kids laughed.
“come on, come on, everyone, sing with me!” I said. “ On the first day of Christmas……. my true love gave to me,….. Sio Sio eh Jiam Tao Roti !”
There was a 3 second delay before Daphne led the song with the teacher quickly joining in.
“Come on, it’ll be fun guys, sing with me.” I encouraged.
“ On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, Sio Sio eh Jiam Tao Roti !”
“good! Next” I lifted up the next food item. Char siew bao ( pork buns ) “ on the 2nd day of Christmas my true love gave to me. 2 char siew bao and a sio sio eh jiam tao roti.!”
I could not help but chuckle when the hostages sang after I was done, a bit louder this time.
“GOOD!” I said with a smile and lifted up the next.
“On the 3rd day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 3 siew mai ( meat dumpling ), 2 char siew bao, and a sio sio eh jiam tao roti”
Some of the kids started giggling at how silly this is but the glimmer of hope I see in everyones’ eyes told me I’m doing the right thing.
“On the 4th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 4 har gow ( prawn dumplings ) 3 siew mai, 2 char siew bao, and a sio sio eh jiam tao roti !”
I could see the change in expression in Terry’s face while that of Aung is one of amusement.
“On the 5th day of Christmas my true love gave to me,5 fan choiiiiiiii ~ (glutinous rice with meat) 4 har gow ,3 siew mai, 2 char siew bao, and a sio sio eh jiam tao roti !”
“On the 6th day of Christmas my true love gave to me,6 egg tarts, 5 fan choiiiiiiii ~ (glutinous rice with meat), 4 har gow ,3 siew mai, 2 char siew bao, and a sio sio eh jiam tao roti !”
Almost all the kids were smiling by then and I could see Daphne laughing at what I was doing.
It’s a simple song. It’s effective.
We’re halfway through and aside from saying the new dish of each segment, there was no need to repeat the earlier ones.
“On the7th day of Christmas my true love gave to me,7 chee chong fun ( rice rolls ) 6 egg tarts, 5 fan choiiiiiiii ~ (glutinous rice with meat), 4 har gow ,3 siew mai, 2 char siew bao, and a sio sio eh jiam tao roti !”
“On the 8th day of Christmas my true love gave to me,8 spring roll, 7 chee chong fun ( rice rolls ) 6 egg tarts, 5 fan choiiiiiiii ~ (glutinous rice with meat), 4 har gow ,3 siew mai, 2 char siew bao, and a sio sio eh jiam tao roti !”
“On the 9th day of Christmas my true love gave to me,9 carrot cake, 8 spring roll, 7 chee chong fun ( rice rolls ) 6 egg tarts, 5 fan choiiiiiiii ~ (glutinous rice with meat), 4 har gow ,3 siew mai, 2 char siew bao, and a sio sio eh jiam tao roti !”
Almost all the kids are on their feet by then, a few are laughing as they sang along. My boss Alvin shook his head in disbelief and gave me a thumbs up.
Even Tan, found it amusing.
“On the 10th day of Christmas my true love gave to me,10 xiao long bao, 9 carrot cake, 8 spring roll, 7 chee chong fun ( rice rolls ) 6 egg tarts, 5 fan choiiiiiiii ~ (glutinous rice with meat), 4 har gow ,3 siew mai, 2 char siew bao, and a sio sio eh jiam tao roti !”
“On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 11 lor mai gai ( glutinous rice chicken ) 10 xiao long bao, 9 carrot cake, 8 spring roll, 7 chee chong fun ( rice rolls ) 6 egg tarts, 5 fan choiiiiiiii ~ (glutinous rice with meat), 4 har gow ,3 siew mai, 2 char siew bao, and a sio sio eh jiam tao roti !”
I nodded at my receptive audience and looking at the big innocent eyes of the children singing and jumping, I know they can do this. They can.
“On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 12 guo tie ( fried dumplings) “ I sang the last dish and I pointed at both fingers at my audience.
“11 lor mai gai, 10 xiao long bao, 9 carrot cake, 8 spring roll, 7 chee chong fun ( rice rolls ) 6 egg tarts, 5 fan choiiiiiiii ~ “
Turning around to face Aung and Terry, I allowed myself a victorious smile as I looked at them.
Spreading my arms apart, I lifted it slowly like a performer wrapping up his act.
“4 har gow!” Sam’s voice overpowered the song as he sang gleefully
“3 siew mai!” Alvin laughed
“2 char siew bao!” Daphne yelled before the deafening scream of kids finishing a song echoed throughout the interior of the warehouse.
“and a sio sio eh jiam tao roti !”
Terry took a threatening step towards me but was held back by a smiling General Aung.
Aung waited for the din to die down before speaking.
“I was wrong to underestimate you Jerry.” Aung said with a smirk.
Aung walked closer to me.
The manner in which he looked at me has changed. There is no longer any amusement in his eyes.
“I thought you are nothing more than a distraction in the grand scheme of things.” He paused and walked around my back, taking his time to complete a full circle.
If you could measure the temperature of a person’s voice, Aung’s one just dropped several notches below freezing.
“Now Jerry…. Now…… I think you are a worthy opponent indeed.”