Occupy Movement Singapore: Three Complete Novels, p.1CJ Tan
Occupy Movement Singapore: Three Complete Novels
In the middle of the Great Depression in Singapore in 2020, Occupy Wall Street Terrorist (OWS) Kwek Chee Meng and Tham Shin Yi meet when Chee Meng tries to steal Shin Yi's mother's car.
Shin Yi, who is bored by her job as a jobless university graduate is intrigued with Kwek Chee Meng, and decides to take up with him and become his partner in crime.
They do some holdups, but their amateur efforts, while exciting, are not very lucrative.
Chee Meng and Shin Yi turn from pulling small-time heists to robbing rich foreigners. Their exploits also become more violent until it reaches the point of Chee Meng murdering and robbing the rich to help the poor.
2)The Mortgage Arrears Forgiveness Project Murder: From Dark Journey to Deep Grace
On Nov 5 2013, one man left an indelible stamp on the Singaporean psyche. His goal was simple: to blow up and murder and to leave "a lasting impression on the world."
Lieutenant Marcus Tang, a militia movement sympathizer, sought revenge against the federal government for their handling of the Mortgage Arrears Forgiveness Plan, which ended in the scrapping of the project in Singapore Parliament. Marcus hoped to inspire a revolt against what he considered to be a tyrannical federal government. He was convicted of eleven federal offenses and sentenced to death. His execution will take place on Dec 4, 2015, at the Changi Correctional Complex in Singapore but with one wish – he wants to be baptised.
3)The Tan Cheng Juan Story: From Systems Analyst to Security Guard
Tan Cheng Juan is a loner. He’s a vigilante. He’s fed up with his unemployment. He was retrenched as a systems analyst and seeks a security guard to pay his bills.
And he carries a three-gun arsenal:. 44 Magnum, .38 Smith & Wesson and a little palm piece, a.25 Colt. He spends his nights working the shifts as a security guard. He meets someone with a similar fate as him and desperately wants to save him while redeeming himself. Someone strange is a hero. How many wrongs to make it right?
The times were hard in 2020. The great depression lay across Singapore and suffering spread and many lives were shattered. Businesses failed, factories closed down and multi-national corporations left Singapore. The unemployed Singaporeans are now pointing the finger of blame at successful employers and foreigners under the guise of fairness. Men were thrown out of work and despaired of ever finding jobs. Public housing apartments were repossessed by banks and Singaporeans were left to find lower quality jobs.
Singapore politicians, well fed and addicted to platitudes, foretold a corner around which prosperity waited. Few people every turned that corner. Anger and bitterness intensified. Dry-eyed Singapore parents could do nothing to ease the hunger of their children or the torment of their chronic unemployment. Families went on austerity drives to save money. Others spilt up, never to be reunited and young men frequently went out on their own, taking what they could find out of life. It was 2020. Times were hard.
The land baked under a hot white sun. All existence slowed, the juice of life running slow. In Toa Payoh, the air was thick and oppressive, an infectious stillness that stretched to the horizon and put Shin Yi in mind of the mournful cadence of a funeral.
Singapore was a place dying without hope. Shin Yi wanted to scream out in protest. It wasn’t fair. She was young, good-looking and her brain and body, fresh out from Nanyang Technological University with a Bachelor of Banking and Finance, craved excitement and adventure.
Singapore universities had barely begun producing their own graduates when Singapore received its large influx of foreigners from India, China and Philippines to compete with them for jobs in the banking, healthcare and computer engineering sector.
Armed with their Bachelor’s degree, some of these graduates are learning the truth of unemployment the hard way. Others find themselves completely out of the field and settled for jobs in McDonalds, Crispy Kreme and Starbucks.
Somewhere outside of her mother’s old frame house, beyond Singapore, beyond Singapore itself, perhaps there existed a world rich and full of rewards for a girl with her gifts. How? She asked herself. How could she find that world, become a part of it? There had to be a way.
Her brown eyes raked swiftly over the small, second-story bedroom in apartment block 193 Lorong 6 Toa Payoh. There was shabbiness about it, a shabbiness she had sought to disguise with new curtains and a collection of porcelain figurines. She signed, patted a bead of perspiration from her upper lip, and gazed at herself in the full-length mirror.
The naked image she saw in the glass pleased her. Her body was properly round but satisfyingly lean, the skin smooth and taut. Her breasts were high, glowing and no girl drew more admiring glances from the young men in Toa Payoh than Shin Yi.
And some of the older ones, too, the ones who had wives. A slow smile turned the corners of her rose-bud-painted mouth; she appreciated young men with their strong arms and flat bellies.
Resentment flooded her memories and she pivoted away from the mirror. Damn. She was already unemployed for more than six months since graduating from Nanyang Technological University with a banking and finance degree. It was getting very frustrating as she stashed a few letters of demands from Standard Chartered Bank about the tuition student loan. The last one was in red and demanded that she start paying her installments or risk being sued for bankruptcy.
The men of Toa Payoh, dull, soft with surrender, accepting without protest the fat dealt them. She could marry any one of them, bear him a little of squawling brats and become old before her time. Become a duplicate of her own mother, weary and dried out, never smiling, never knowing any fun, finding no pleasure in life.
Not for Shin Yi!
She heaved herself onto the bed and pounded the pillow with her fist. There had to be a better life than this. She was after all, made it into the Dean’s List once and started off with big dreams and a full banking career. With her looks and charm, she could land a job as a banking relationship manager. But somehow, things just didn’t work out for her after graduation.
Something different, something exciting, rewarding that could shake up her system. She rolled onto her back, breasts slightly flattened, ribs cording the pale skin, her belly a gentle rise. Narrowly, she eyed the painted bedstead, so like a cage. She struck it with her fist. Again, harder. Harder still. A sharp pain stabbed through her hand and she sat up, swearing softly at the brass bars.
Somehow, she told herself. Somehow, she would find a way and get out. Out of this dinghy apartment, out of Toa Payoh, out of Singapore, out of this empty life. Still naked, she moved purposelessly across the room and stood at the window, looking out.
Everything was the same. The same deep sky, cloudless and hot, the same empty street, dusty and still, the same dirty white wooden taxi cabs. At first, she didn’t notice the man in the dark suit as he strolled up to her mother’s car, parked in the driveway below. When she did see him, she was unimpressed. His clothes owned no special style, the padded shoulders too wide, the jacket sack-like, the trousers baggy and dusty. A wide-brimmed hat shadowed his face.
What would he be thinking, she wondered, if he were to look up and see her standing jaybird naked in the window?
That would give him a thrill, something to tell his buddies below.
She frowned. What was he doing around her mother’s car? She watched him peer through the open window at the dashboard and at once remembered that her mother’s purse were in the drawer near the front seat. A flash of apprehension.
The man straightened up and glanced in both directions and in that microsecond she k
“Hey, you!” she called. “What you doing with my mother’s car?”
His head swiveled around and he looked up squinting against the glare. He was younger than she had imagined, no more than twenty two for sure, fresh out from serving the nation in the army. There was something in his face, an intensity, a recklessness etched into the crinkles around his eyes, in the set of his mouth. She watched the first flush of fear wash away, replaced by an expression of delight at what he saw.
Let him look, she thought, an impudent half-smile angling across her full mouth. Give him a good look. A knowing smile spread his lips and at once she enjoyed his seeing her this way, naked, and she knew that there was something special about him, some private element in him that was also in her that made it possible for her to understand him, to know what was in his brain almost as soon as he did. Her grin broke open.
“Hey!” she called. “You wait there!”
She dashed across the room to her closet, shoved her feet into a pair of shoes and draped a white dress over herself, buttoning it as she hurried down the stairs and into the carpark.
He was waiting in the street. An arm’s length away, she stopped short, staring at him. He started back.
“Aren’t you ashamed?” she challenged provocatively. “Stealing a car?”
He grinned, “Been thinking about buying one.”
“Bullshit” she laughed. “You have no money for dinner, let alone buy a car.”
He shrugged exaggeratedly.
"What do you think I am?" she blurted out, flaring briefly.
"An unemployed university graduate who is now a waitress temping around," he said quietly.
"Well, yes," she said, wondering how he knew. "What line of work are you in? When you're not stealing cars."
"I tell you," he said mysteriously. "I am looking for suitable employment right at this moment."
"What did you do before?"
He let the words out with contrived casualness. "I was from the army until I was injured at my foot."
"Guess someone can’t tolerate the rigors of a military regimental life." she said mockingly.
He stared at her coldly. "It was an open wound fracture." He lifted the front part of trouser leg and showed his 4 inch scar on his shin. “Got it from jumping from a two storey high obstacle course. Served the nation and look how I was repaid. An honourable discharge.”
They were in Toa Payoh town now, on the main street, between facing rows of flat-fronted shops and stores and a couple of cafes. Except for themselves, the street was deserted. A scraggly dog shuffled across the street, tail tucked between his legs.
"What do you do for a good time around here," he said, "listen to the grass grow?"
"Not really. Still applying for jobs to repay my tuition loan…..” Shin Yi trailed off and rolled her eyes up. “Until the bank sends me their final warning next month and I will file for bankruptcy.”
He laughed and pointed to his right foot. "Guess I was lucky. I was really good in my academics. But I didn’t see a need to get into university even though I could do so."
"Guess I didn’t need to spend money for a university education only to graduate into unemployment when all foreigners take away our jobs."
They began walking again, not speaking. After a while, Shin Yi said, "Boy, did you really do that?"
“Wanting to steal my mother’s car or purse?”
“Yes. If I don’t get caught……”
"You must be crazy."
At the gas station on the corner, he bought each of them a Coke. They leaned against the soft-drink cooler and sucked on the bottles, letting the fizzy liquid cut the dust in their throats. She watched as he removed the hat and rolled the cold bottle across his forehead. She liked his face, and the quick, uncertain way he grinned.
"What's it like?" she said almost shyly.
"No, stealing things."
He shrugged. "It isn't like anything. I rob people too, especially those foreigners who are in Singapore out to steal our jobs and create tension among Singaporeans."
She considered that. It sounded wrong to her, as if he were making it up trying to impress her.
Annoyance crept into her voice. "Hah! I knew you never robbed someone, you faker."
He stared down into her eyes and she felt something else. The cold strength of him, a threat as if he might do something. Do anything.
A shiver rode down her spine.
A quick movement, reaching under his jacket, and when his hand reappeared there was a .38 revolver in it, glinting blackly in the sunlight. There was a special quality to this gun in his hand and she touched it with the tips of her fingers, gently, lovingly, stroking softly. She wet her mouth and looked up at him.
"Yeah," she murmured. "Well, you got one all right, I guess. But you wouldn't have the gumption to use it."
He searched the street, settling on the 7-eleven grocery store across the way. "You just keep your eyes open." He strode up onto the wooden sidewalk and disappeared inside the store, never looking back.
Shin Yi waited, a new excitement pounding along her nerves, a thickness in her throat, a sick-making anticipation in her middle. It was difficult to breathe.
He backed slowly out of the store after a couple of minutes, the revolver in one hand, a fistful of money in the other. Halfway across the street he looked at Shin Yi and smiled and she couldn't help but smile back, pleased and warmed by his presence, charged by him and what he had done. She yearned to launch herself at him, to roll in the dusty street with him, to feel his strong arms around her to taste his mouth.
Suddenly the grocer appeared on the sidewalk, shouting for help in a Philippines accent. Shin Yi saw the young man raise the pistol and an icy chill took hold of her. A shot crashed out and the bullet smashed into the sign, above the store. The Pinoy grocer retreated out of sight.
Shin Yi's new friend watched him go, laughing; then he turned and held out his hand to her. Together they ran down the street to the edge of town. A car was parked in the shade of the last building. A gesture sent Shin Yi into the front seat while he swiftly and efficiently lifted the hood and found the proper wires to cross.
"Hey!" she called. "What's your name, anyway?"
The wires joined, he slammed down the hood. "Chee Meng." He got in beside her and started the car, racing the motor.
"I'm Shin Yi," she shouted, in order to be heard. "Pleased to meet you."
Chee Meng grinned and gunned the car into motion, accelerating swiftly to ninety, speeding them on their way together.
She couldn't wait. The excitement stabbed deep into her bowels and she was all flesh and desire and only he could fulfill the strange dark cravings she felt.
She was all over him, mouth working fiercely across his flesh, onto his ear, his neck, hands reaching under his shirt, feeling the tight flesh of his belly, moving lower. He twisted and squirmed under her, fighting to control the car, foot heavy on the accelerator.
She grabbed for the steering wheel and yanked hard, sending the car off the road among some trees. He hit the brake and the car jolted to a stop.
She was at him again, unintelligible sounds rasping back in her throat as she plunged herself atop him, forcing him backward, reaching, searching, straining to find and take what he alone owned for her.
"You," she got out. "You ready?"
"Aren't you ready? Well, get ready."
She fumbled with his clothes. "C'mon, honey. C'mon, boy... let's go... let's…."
"Hey! Hey, wait . . . quit that now, cut it out. I said, cut it out!"
He shoved her away, abruptly and painfully, slamming her against the car door. She glared at him, fighting for breath, saw him adjusting his trousers. He climbed out of the car.
What happened? she asked hers
"Look," he said with forced casualness. "I don't d that. It's not that I can't, it's just that I don't see no percentage in it. I mean there's nothing wrong with me." he ended defiantly.
"Damn" Shin Yi said, trying to pick out her thoughts. Her brain was a whirling sump and she wasn't certain of what she felt; rejection, disgust—both, perhaps, and a great deal of fascination. She'd never met anyone like Chee Meng.
She hesitated, "You better take me home now. My mother should be home by now from work."
He slid behind the wheel and closed the car door. "Wait." He reached for her.
She jumped out of the car. "Don't touch me!"
"If all you want is a stud service," he shouted after her, "then get on back to your job hunting as a bank relationship manager and seduce all the men and stay there for the rest of your life."
She stopped running and listened as the words poured out with almost evangelical fervor. "You're worth more than that, a lot more, and you know it, and that's why you come along with me. You could find a lover boy on every corner in town and it doesn't make a damn to them whether you're waiting tables or picking cotton, so long as you cooperate. But it does make a damn to me."
She turned to face him. "Why?"
"Because you're different. You're like me and you want different things." She took a step back toward the car and the words came out of him faster now, more intense. ' 'You and me traveling together, we could cut clean across this country and Malaysia, too, maybe dip into Thailand or whatnot.”
Again that craving was upon Shin Yi, now stronger, more intense, crazily swinging, a weird dark tempo beating in her chest. "When'd you figure that all out?" she said huskily.
"First time I saw you."
'"Cause you may be the best damn girl in Singapore." She stared at him. "Who are you, anyway?" she said softly.
He opened the car door. "Get in." She did.
They drove in silence until they came to a roadside McDonalds. Once inside, and settled in a corner, Chee Meng began to talk about himself, not for long, but enough so that she understood who he was and where his roots found nourishment.
He had been born in 1999 in Bishan, Singapore, another mouth to feed in a large family of poor factory workers. Just folks. He had begun stealing in his teens even though he was eligible to make it to Nanyang Technological University, and it was while robbing a gas station that he was caught and the University rejected his application. It meant the penitentiary for two years, to be released for good behavior but on the condition that he must finish his military conscription. Finished, he pointed a finger at her.
"Let me take a guess about your background," he said.
"I'll bet," she challenged.
The grin came and went. "Let me see . . . You were born somewhere around 1999 . . . got a small loving family, right? . . . You went to school, o' course, but you didn't take to it much 'cause you were a lot smarter than everybody else anyway. So you were deceived that there were good jobs after graduation so you studied really hard and graduated with good second class upper honours…….. Now ..." His brow ridged as if he were deep in thought. "When you are sixteen ... no, make it seventeen, you decided to study hard to get into the course you think could make you a lot of money."
"Banking and finance," she put in quickly.
"Right. Banking and finance. And you liked banking and finance because you thought that Singapore politicians won’t privatize our own state assets and won’t open up our sector to the global market."
"Wall street." Shin Yi said it matter-of-factly.
"And the politicians opened up the banking sector and created mass unemployment by attracting foreign banks like Citibank, Standard Chartered or UBS who would only hire 10% of their staff from Singapore, the rest being from other countries. And they ask you for job interviews and sometimes you go and all they ever do is hire more cheap foreign labour and depress our salaries - . and you go home and sit in your room and think, and how will I ever get away from this?"
And now, she told herself silently, measuring him closely. Now she knew how and when. Chee Meng was the answer and the time was now. Now.
“And then our President tells us to be a hawker, to be a crane operator and that there is no need to study so hard to achieve success in our career……..” Chee Meng spouted.
The McDonalds waitress came over with their food. Chee Meng looted up at her, gaudy with makeup, spit curls plastered to each side of her forehead. His gaze went back to Shin Yi, to her golden spilt curls. He said nothing until the waitress was gone. Then, pointing at the curls, "Change that. I don't like it."
She nodded once, reached for her hand mirror, and brushed the curls back into her hair. Chee Meng nodded approval and she smiled and began to eat ravenously.
"God," Chee Meng said. "You're a knockout."
Dusk was settling over the countryside when they emerged from the cat e. Shin Yi followed Chee Meng towards the car they had stolen. He walked past it to a newer, more colorful model, a greenish-yellow sports coupe.
"Hey," Shin Yi said, pointing. "This is the one we came in.”
"Don't mean we have to go home in it."
Shin Yi woke alone and frightened. For a long, terrifying moment she didn't know where she was. Then it all came flooding back. The night before she and Chee Meng had come across an abandoned farmhouse and decided to sleep there. She glanced around the room. No Chee Meng. Where was he?
"Chee Meng . . ." She came to her feet, panic welling up in her throat, "Chee Meng.. ." "Hey, lady."
She swung back, to see his grinning face peering in at her through a broken window. There was a pistol in his right hand.
"Where have you been keeping yourself?" she said, ashamed of her fear and still gripped by it.
"Slept out in the car," Chee Meng replied casually.
"Oh. These accommodations aren’t deluxe enough for you?"
There was that quick grin and she felt reassured. "If police are after us," he said, "I want the first shot. Come on, you got some work to do."
She joined him outside. On the dilapidated picket fence that ringed the house, six old bottles had been propped up. Without a word Chee Meng turned and rapidly fired six shots. The bottles exploded, one after another.
"You're good," Shin Yi said.
"The best. Once a sniper in army, always a sniper in civilian world."
"And modest, too."
"Come on," he said. "Got you all set up over here." She trailed after him around to the side of the house where an old automobile tire was suspended on a rope from the limb of a big oak tree. He handed the gun to her and indicated the tire. "Set her spinning," he said.
Shin Yi nodded. She extended her right hand, bracing it with her left.
She set her lips determinedly and obeyed. She pulled the trigger. The shot went wild and the kick of the revolver sent her reeling backward.
"That's all right," Chee Meng said. "Again. Come down slow with it," He demonstrated, bringing his empty hand as if aiming, leveling off, clicking off an imaginary shot. "Now you…."
Shin Yi followed his instructions, squeezed off a shot. This time the tyre whirled around as the slug tore into it.
"Aren’t you something!" Chee Meng exulted.
Grinning happily, Shin Yi blew smoke from the barrel in exaggerated self-mockery.
"I tell you," he went on, "I'm going to get you a Smith and Wesson, it'll be easier in your hand. All right now. Try it once again.”
Shin Yi sighted on the tire, raised the revolver, and brought it to bear.
At that moment a man appeared behind them.
"How do you do?" he said.
Snatching the pistol out of Shin Yi's hand, Chee Meng whir
"No sir," the man said, suddenly full of fear. "No sir. Now you go right ahead with what you're doing. Just go right ahead."
Chee Meng eyed him warily, assessing.
The soiled shirt and wide-brimmed hat, the worn overalls, the weatherbeaten face. A taxi driver.
"Used to be my taxi," the driver said pointing to his taxi parked a few feet away. Chee Meng straightened up and lowered his weapon. "Not any more. Company will take my taxi away tomorrow after I was unable to pay the daily rental."
The driver moved off toward the front of the taxi, Chee Meng and Shin Yi close behind. There was a decrepit car parked on the road, bulging with household belongings.
"Well, now," Shin Yi said, "that's a pitiful shame."
Chee Meng shook his head sympathetically. It was happening all over, back home in Singapore, in Malaysia and Thailand, banks, big corporations, foreigners taking over, putting them out as if they were less than livestock. Not the proper thing to do to Singapore citizens. He began to load his revolver.
"You're damned right about that, ma'am," the taxi driver said to Shin Yi.
From behind the Ford, another woman appeared, an old woman, and she stood some distance away waiting.
"Me and my mother," the driver said. "Me and her put in our mortgage loan in this apartment up there.” He pointed to his apartment block a few stories up.
“So you all go right ahead. We just come by for a last look."
Chee Meng and Shin Yi watched him go. A growing anger rose in Chee Meng, a deep urgency to strike out, to inflict pain. He whirled and pulled three times at the trigger. Three slugs tore into the foreclosure sign that was pasted on the pillar of the apartment block.
The taxi driver looked back.
Chee Meng offered the gun. The taxi driver looked at it and almost smiled. He hefted the pistol in his hand, slowly brought it to bear. He fired and hit the sign. He glanced over at Shin Yi and Chee Meng, who smiled their approval.
"Hey, Ma," he called to the old woman. "Come on over here."
The woman came closer and Shin Yi took the second gun from Chee Meng and gave it to her. The woman looked at Shin Yi, at her son, and finally at the house. The taxi driver turned and snapped off another shot. A window shattered above it. He nodded and his mother raised the gun she held and aimed carefully before firing. Another window crashed into shards. The taxi driver seamed face broke into a pleased grin as he returned the weapon to Chee Meng, nodding his thanks.
"Much obliged," the taxi driver said. He offered Chee Meng his hand and they shook. "Chan Ah Heng is my name. And this here's my mother Doris."
Chee Meng acknowledged the introductions. "This is Miss Tham Shin Yi and I'm Kwek Chee Meng" He hesitated, an idea leaping vividly to life in his frontal lobes, the excitement of discovery throbbing in his chest. It was right, perfect, and he rolled it around his brain joyfully.
"I rob foreign infested entities and companies and am a terrorist from Occupy Wall Street movement" he added.
Shin Yi and Chee Meng about it a lot during the rest of the day and into the night. Both of them felt the same surging desire, the same awareness that this was for them, that this was what they wanted, that this was right. Right in every way.
"Where is the money nowadays?" Chee Meng asked.
"In the banks," Shin Yi answered, giggling with anticipation. “Both Singapore local banks and foreign banks.”
"Right. And that money truly belongs to the ordinary folks, folks like us, right?"
"And the banks go round foreclosing on people like Ah Heng and that just isn’t fair. "
"Not a bit."
"If a man's going to make a Iiving these days, and all the jobs are being taken up by foreigners, and all the profits go to corporate shareholders and bankers, he's just naturally got to go where the money is."
"That's right, Chee Meng."
"And it's in the banks."
The logic was unassailable and all that was left was to choose their first target and do it. Just do it. They would simply walk in to Changi Business Park, a location where all the foreign banks are located and where all the foreigners from India would be working as software and computer engineers and analysts. Chee Meng would wave those revolvers around a little and take some money and scuttle out of there. Nobody would be hurt. Not one single solitary soul. They were very firm about that.
"No shooting," Shin Yi said a number of times.
"Hell, no," Chee Meng agreed. "Won't … no need to. Nobody's fool enough to kick up a fuss about money belonging to a bank, so it'll all be peaceable and friendly like."
There was one more problem to be settled. "It'll be fun," Shin Yi said, "scaring those Indian foreigners and giving bad public relations to the image of Singapore so that these foreigners will be scared to work and taking their money. I'm just hankering to see the expressions on the faces of them bankers when we come walking in on them......"
Chee Meng stared at her stiffly. "We aren’t walking in on nobody. Least not this first time. I am going to do this by myself."
"Because I say so is why. And because somebody's got to stay in the car so we can make a fast getaway. Right?"
Shin Yi could not argue with that and said so. When she went to sleep finally her disappointment was tinged with anticipation for the experience the new day would bring. They slept in each other's arms like two children, brother and sister, innocent and untroubled.
Chee Meng had selected the town to be hit, and the bank. He had seen it once and recalled thinking that it would be an easy job. The bank was on a corner with little automobile traffic, which would make for a swift escape after the job. All that was needed was a single determined man with good nerves. And Chee Meng was such a man.
By midmorning they were on the road. Shin Yi drove, Chee Meng beside her, hat pulled low over his eyes, hunched forward, staring at the long ribbon of road ahead.
"You just stay in the car and watch and be ready," he said, certain that Shin Yi was frightened, thinking to strengthen her resolve.
Shin Yi gripped the wheel tightly, knuckles white, her face set and tense.
"Right," he said. He took a gun from the glove compartment and put it on the seat next to Shin Yi. "You just be ready if I need you," he said, voice flat and meaningful.
"I'll be ready."
They drove without saying anything for a while.
"Scared?" Chee Meng asked.
"Me?" she said quickly. "No, not me. I have six months of unemployment anger to take out the whole of Singapore."
They drove on.
"Say," Chee Meng said, breaking the silence. "What are you thinking about?"
Shin Yi slowed the car at the outskirts of the Standard Chartered Bank in Changi International Business Park, negotiating carefully. The bank appeared.
"There," Chee Meng said. "There's the bank."
"I see it."
She eased the car up to the curb in front of the bank and braked to a stop.
Neither of them spoke for a moment. In one corner, the food court had a sign that said “Indian Prata Set Lunch at five dollars”. Even the café had to make adjustments to its menu to cater to the Indian foreign nationals working in Standard Chartered Bank.
Shin Yi worked her hands over the wheel. She glanced over at Chee Meng.
There was no mistaking the stiffness on his face, the tightness of his mouth, the glazed look in his eyes. He was frozen in his seat, as terrified as she was.
"Well," she managed. "What are you waiting for?"
One short glance and Chee Meng was out of the car, hurling himself at the bank entrance. Inside, gun in hand, he allowed a beat or two for his eyes to become adjusted, to pick out the lone teller in his cage. The man seemed drowsy, half-asleep over his ledgers. And there were no customers.
It was all wrong, but there was no time for Che
"This is a robbery. Just take it easy and nothing will happen to you. Gimme the money."
The teller raised his head lazily. There was no apprehension on his face and his voice, when he spoke, was easy and conversational. He almost smiled.
"Gimme the money!" Chee Meng snapped.
This time the teller did smile. In a heavily scented Indian accent, he said, "What money? There isn’t money here, mister."
Chee Meng swallowed. What did this mean? His eyes raked the empty cages, again noting the absence of customers, the abandoned executive desks. "What do you mean there ain’t no money?" he said, voice growing shrill. "This here's a bank, ain't it?"
"This was a bank," the teller said. "We failed three weeks ago. I am going to be retrenched soon."
"What? What?" A rising panic gripped Chee Meng.
What would Shin Yi think? She'd mark him down as a failure, a man who couldn't finish what he started, whose nerve went when the going got rough. She would never believe this story unless she heard it for herself. He should have brought her along. Perhaps he should get her, let her talk to the teller herself. There was no time for that. Rage began to build in him. He ducked behind the dividing partition and grabbed the teller by his shirt front, then twisted him around and shoved him toward the front, gun prodding his back roughly.
"Move, dammit man. Move." The words came from between gritted teeth. "Outside."
Shin Yi saw them and stiffened with fear. What did this mean? What had happened to make Chee Meng bring back a hostage? Nothing had been said about taking captives. She saw the anger on Chee Meng's face, the dark, smoldering look in his blue eyes. He jabbed the stranger with his gun, sent him tripping toward the car.
"Tell her!" Chee Meng commanded. "Tell her!"
The man blinked, eyes darting nervously, certain he was in the hands of a pair of lunatics. "As I was telling this gentleman, ma'am, our bank failed last month and ain't no money in it. I sure am sorry about that."
The fear drained out of Shin Yi at once and almost hysterical relief took its place. It was funny, all of it, two Singapore Occupy Wall Street terrorists making like bank robbers and ending up with a bank that was flat busted just like themselves. She began to laugh. Louder and louder.
Chee Meng glared at her, his anger mushrooming, a torrid, frustrating thing. With one swift motion, he knocked the teller to the ground and dived into the car.
Shin Yi released the brake, still laughing. Chee Meng wanted to strike out with words, with his fists. He thrust his gun arm out the window, aiming at the café sign with the “Indian Prata Set Lunch”
Four shots rang out and a small hole appeared in each of the zeros. Seconds later the entire window came crashing down.
The car roared off across the plain, Shin Yi still laughing.
Shin Yi couldn’t stop laughing for long. Every time she managed to quell the laughter the scene outside the bank came back to her, the sight of Chee Meng angry and brandishing his pistol, herding that frightened little bank clerk in front of him, a bank clerk with no bank, with no money. It was funny. A giggle sputtered across her lips.
"Go ahead," Chee Meng said thinly, his anger close to the surface. "Laugh more."
"I can't help it."
"We got $1.98 and you're laughing. I ain't Iaughing.' There's nothing funny from where I sit."
She tried to stop and succeeded for a while. The car sped along the road past mile after flat mile of empty fields, of burned-out corn fields, past deserted farms, through villages that seemed uninhabited.
Now, as they went through one town, Chee Meng checked the main street. There was no one in sight. Up ahead a Pinoy grocery store came into view.
"Pull up," he said brusquely.
"What for?" Shin Yi asked.
His eyes were cold when he spoke. "2 Million Pinoys working in Singapore and a Pinoy shop opened for them to cater for their needs. Sure to have money. Pull over, I said, and keep the motor running."
She did and watched nervously as he climbed out of the car. She had never seen him in this mood before and it troubled her. Like this, he was capable of anything. She wished she hadn't laughed at him. Well, not really at him. Just at the way their first bank holdup had come so undone, nothing about it right. She exhaled softly. Maybe Chee Meng wasn't cut out for this kind of work. Maybe both of them weren't. She glanced at the grocery store. What was taking so long?
When Chee Meng entered the grocery, he had eyes only for the clerk. He failed to see the butcher in the back of the store.
"Afternoon, misterrrrr," the clerk said, letting the “Rrrrs” roll over her tongue in a thick Pinoy accent. "What'll it be?"
"A loaf of bread, I reckon, and a dozen eggs."
"Yes sirrrrr." He fetched the order. "Anything else?"
"Some butter, I guess, and some sliced ham and some sausages. And some vegetables and canned fruit, too." The clerk assembled the items and bagged them, toting up the cost.
“You are not a Pinoy? Not asking for any Pinoy tidbits? How about Sinigang? The butcher can help you prepare it…..”
He punched open the cash register and looked up, smiling, about to ask Chee Meng for the money. The smile froze on his face as he saw the black revolver gleaming in Chee Meng's hands.
"This is a robbery, misterrrrrrr" Chee Meng said, imitating the Pinoy accent back to the clerk. "I'll take all the money in that cash drawer."
The clerk hesitated and Chee Meng reached across the counter, grabbing for the bills. He came up with a handful and grinned happily at the immobilized clerk. This was more like it easy pickings.
Chee Meng never saw the butcher, huge and thick-bodied, coming at him with catlike silence, brandishing a meat cleaver. The cleaver came slicing through the air, barely missing Chee Meng, lodging in the wooden counter. Chee Meng leaped backward, protesting.
"Hey, I don't mean to hurt nobody!" The butcher moved with incredible swiftness for a man of his size and bulk, enveloping Chee Meng in a bear hug around the chest, pinioning his arms, lifting him off the ground.
Fear was a living thing in Chee Meng's gut and he struggled to free himself, to loosen his gun hand. The clerk fought fiercely, making thick grunting noises, ignoring Chee Meng's protests that he meant no harm, bearing him over backward. They crashed to the floor and the bread: whooshed out of Chee Meng. He gathered all his strength for one last attempt to free himself. No use. The butcher tightened his grip. They rolled over and Chee Meng tried to raise the barrel of his pistol to an upward angle. His strength and determination were fast draining away and he grew terrified at the thought of capture, of being returned to prison.
He braced himself against the floor and forced his arm loose and swung hard at the butcher. It did little good. The butcher fought harder. The two men went tumbling across the floor, knocking over a display of canned goods, sending a standing shelf to the floor, breaking bottles.
"Let go!" Chee Meng cried hysterically, struggling wildly. Momentarily he broke away, only to trip and go to the floor, the butcher on him at once. The great arms tightened until Chee Meng feared his chest would burst.
Summoning all his strength, Chee Meng staggered erect, carrying the other man with him, striking out with pistol. He felt the butt crash against the other's face, heard the soft squish of bone and gristle, saw blood spurt out of his forehead. Chee Meng broke for the door, the butcher hanging on desperately.
Both of them went tumbling onto the sidewalk. Frantic now, Chee Meng struck out hard, pistol-whipping the butcher, turning his big fleshy face into a crimson pulp. For a long interval nothing happened; then the strength went out of the big man's hands and he slumped to the ground.
Shin Yi stepped down hard and the car leaped ahead. A moment later they were tearing off across the flatlands again.
"What happened?" she said.
"I didn't want to hurt him," Chee Meng gasped. "I didn't. It was only money. Why'd he have to get in it? Why? It was only some money."
Shin Yi concentrated on her driving.
"Damn him, the big son of a bitch Pinoy. He tried to kill me. I have no eyes in back of my head. What he want to do a fool thing like that for?"
Shin Yi fought the wheel as they made a curve on two wheels, rubber screeching.
"A man trying to get a little food around here and some dumb son of a bitch tries to kill him. It wasn't even a real robbery. Just some food and a little bit of bread. I'm not against him. Didn't he know that? I'm no different than him, just folks. I might've killed him and I didn't want to kill no one. I'm not against him. I'm not."
He looked over at Shin Yi as if expecting her to speak, but she made no reply.
"Damn," he said. "Damn dumb son of a bitch."
After a while, Chee Meng lapsed into a brooding silence that went unbroken as they sped across the seemingly un-changing landscape. Once he dozed and his head sagged forward, only to jerk upright. He glanced sidelong at Shin Yi as if fearing some criticism, wary of sleep as he might have been wary of an enemy. It was the sound of the engine that snapped him back to full alertness. It began to cough.
"What's that!" he muttered. "What?" Shin Yi said.
'The motor. Listen. There. There it is again. There's something the matter with the damn thing."
She listened and frowned. "I didn't hear nothing."
The hoarse sound came again and quickly repeated and the car stopped again before continuing ahead.
The motor continued to give voice to its affliction and there was intermittent stopping in counterpoint.
"You see! You see!" Chee Meng said excitedly, focused entirely on this mechanical problem, and grateful for the diversion. "There is something the matter."
"Can you fix it?"
He glared at her as if about to speak, then fell back in the seat, expression mournful. "We better find us a good garage someplace. Keep a lookout."
Shin Yi looked over at Chee Meng at frequent intervals. The last time he grinned at her and she understood that his usual good humor had returned. The misadventure in the grocery was behind him, almost forgotten and of little consequence. She returned his smile and turned her attention back to the road.
It was just a filling station at a crossroads, ramshackle and in need of a painting. There was no sign of life but as they rolled up a figure stepped out of the doorway of the tiny office, wiping his hands with a dirty rag. Shin Yi stopped the car.
The black sedan drew to a stop in front of the cabin in the motor court. Chee Wee turned off the ignition.
"Ain't going to be a mechanic here," Chee Meng complained. "Not in this off beat-up place."
"Maybe this fellow can help. Or direct us to a first-rate garage." Shin Yi was hopeful, but even her optimism paled at the sight of the man approaching. There was nothing about him to inspire confidence.
He was small, made up of a succession of round protrusions. His bottom was round as if in counterweight to his thrust of chest; and his face was cherubic, pink and gloving. His eyes were circular and large, unblinking and his nose was a red button. His dirty yellow hair was curly and thick and he had needed a haircut many months before.
"How do you do?" he said in a high-pitched voice. 'There's something wrong with the motor," Chee Meng said. He got out and stretched.
'What?" the little round man said.
Shin Yi gave him one of her sunniest smiles. He was not very bright, she decided, hut he was all they had and right now they needed his help.
"We thought you could tell us," she drawled softly. "And put it right, too."
"Well, I don't know." He scratched his head. "What's been happening'?"
Shin Yi mentioned the coughing.
He nodded and opened the hood of the car. "Turn on your engine, please, ma'am."
Shin Yi did. The little round man listened with interest A nervous smile came and went when the motor sputtered, missed, ran on uncertainly.
"You can turn off the engine now, please, ma'am."
Shin Yi did so.
The little round man reached and they saw him disconnect the fuel line. He leaned forward, sucked air deeply into his lungs, blew hard into the fuel line. Chee Meng and Shin Yi exchanged a look of dismay. This bov wasn't going to be of any help, not this way, for sure.
The little man took another breath and blew again, his little round cheeks growing redder. For a moment Chee Meng was convinced he was going to inflate himself and float away and he was struck by the weirdness of the situation. A dull flat noise in the fuel line interrupted the thought. The mechanic straightened up and screwed the fuel line back into place, his round head gently bobbing up and down. He slammed the hood down and locked it.
"You can start up your engine now, ma'am," he said.
Shin Yi did and exclaimed delightedly as it purred smoothly.
Chee Meng slapped his hands together. "Hey, what was wrong, anyway?" he asked.
The other man shuffled his feet shyly. "Air bubble-clogged up the fuel line."
Chee Meng moved around the car so that the mechanic stood between himself and Shin Yi. He stared down at the smaller man. "Air bubble," he repeated softly.
"That's right." The mechanic looked from one to the other with uncertainty. He ducked his head. "I just blowed her away, you see."
A pleased but disbelieving grin broke across Chee Meng's face. "You just blew it away."
The mechanic nodded and belched. An embarrassed blush spread across his cheeks. "Excuse me, ma'am." He looked from under his brows at Chee Meng. "Anything else I can do for you folks right now?"
Chee Meng looked across the top of the round yellow head to where Shin Yi sat in the car. He jerked his head vigorously. Shin Yi got the message and directed her attention back to the mechanic.
"Well, now," she murmured, smiling softly. "I am not sure. . ." She let her eyes ride with no-particular hurry nround the premises. "Say," she went on. "The little red things there, sticking up? Are they gas pumps?"
The mechanic followed her eyes. "Sure," he said soberly.
"Isn't that interesting?" She turned her most brilliant smile on him. "How does that there gasoline get in my little old car?" '
The mechanic stepped forward, anxious to be helpful. He gestured toward the pumps. "Well, ma'am, you see, there's this tank under the ground, and the gas comes up this rube into the pump and into your car, ma'am."
"My, " Shin Yi said throatily. "You are surely a smart fellow. I mean, you sure do know a lot about automobiles, don't you?"
The round man nodded vigorously in assent. "Yeah," he said proudly. "I reckon I do."
"That's a fine thing," Shin Yi said.
"Yes, it is," Chee Meng put in. "A fine thing. A man could he owned a talent for automobiles like you have."
"Well, now," Shin Yi said. "Would you know what kind of a car this is?"
The mechanic considered the question. A pleased smile turned the bow mouth and he patted the hood of the car. "Yes, ma'am. This is a Hyundai cylinder coupe'
Shin Yi shook her head. "No, it isn't"
That drew a quick worried frown. "Sure it is."
Shin Yi leaned forward, eyes fastened to the mechanic. "No," she said with no special emphasis, "this is a stolen Hyundai cylinder coupe."
The mechanic's hand leaped off the hood as if it had suddenly been scorched by the devil's inferno.
Chee Meng took a single step forward and the smaller man stepped back, eyeing his two customers warily, curiosity and fear alternating on his features. He wiped his hands on his greasy blue Levis and ducked his head. The round eyes blinked and looked away, came quickl
"You ain't scared, are you?" Chee Meng said.
The little man shrugged and didn't seem to know what to do with his hands.
"No, I ain't scared. I am more scared of my boss. She’s not in today but located at another place selling second hand cars. My boss is a tyrant. It is time we stand up to oppressive bosses."
"I believe he is scared," Chee Meng said to Shin Yi.
"What a pity," she said.
"Fuck," the mechanic muttered, not looking up. "We sure could use a smart boy who knows a lot about automobiles," Chee Meng said to no one in particular. "You are a good driver, boy?" Shin Yi said.
"I guess so."
Chee Meng measured him. "No, I don't think so. He's better off here where it's quiet and there ain't no trouble,"
"What's your name, boy?" Shin Yi asked quietly. "GC" "What's the GC for?" "Guan Chen"
Shin Yi nodded gravely. "I'm Miss Shin Y and this is Mr. Chee Meng." She paused and almost smiled. We are the terrorists from Occupy Wall Street and we rob foreign assets and terrorise foreigners." He pointed a gun at GC.
GC's little round eyes widened and a nervous laugh trickled across his lips.
"Ain't nothin' wrong with that," Chee Meng said, making his voice hard. "Is there, boy?"
Shin Yi gave an exaggerated sigh. "No, I reckon he is too good a boy."
"Unless, boy," Chee Meng said, "you think you got enough guts for our line of work?"
GC felt a twinge of resentment. These two, with their big talk questioning his courage, his nerve. A man might be only a filling-station mechanic burnt that didn't mean he didn't know his way around, hadn't done things.
"Look here," he said, displaying his displeasure. "I served a year in the reform school."
"A man with a record!" Shin Yi said.
Chee Meng laughed, a scornful sound, full of doubt and insult, a sound that penetrated to some dark, vulnerable place in GC
"Now look," Chee Meng said. "I know you got the nerve to short-change old ladies who come in for gas, but what I'm asking you is have you got what it takes to pull terrorist related activities with us?"
GC's eyes went from her to Chee Meng and back again.
"Sure I could," he said hurriedly, anxious to gain favor with this beautiful girl, the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. "Sure, I could. I am not scared, if that's what you think. I would love to get back at my boss who pays me peanuts for the hard work I did."
''Prove it," Chee Meng said without expression.
They watched him carefully. There was the fleeting whine, the uncertain lowering of his eyes, the toe of his feet scratching earth, and a quick turn.
He walked back inside the office and they saw him open the safe and reached in, to come out with a handful of keys.
Seconds later he was back outside, face giving no indication of his thoughts. He walked up to the car, thrust his hand with a key at Shin Yi, and motioned her to the black sedan car parked a few metres away.
“If you could,” GC said. “Just pay me a few thousand dollars for that black car……. In return, I will make a police report to say that I have been robbed…..” He reached under the table and grabbed a hard disk recorder that connected the closed circuit camera. “Take this with you and make sure you pump a few bullets into it before you discard this recorder away. Just don’t tell my boss.”
Chee Meng let out a long rising whoop of pleasure, pulled open the rumble seat of the coupe. He was more than happy to let GC have the money from Pinoy grocer.
The taxi cab bounced along the narrow dirt road past green slopes and brown fields. Its tires were worn and caked with mud and the body of the car was layered with dust, indicating that it had traveled far and over many unpaved country roads. A main highway appeared ahead and the driver straightened in his seat and squinted anxiously before allowing his scowled face to relax into a pleased grin.
"Won't be long now, Mui Teng. Not long at all."
The woman sitting beside him, the residue of a girlhood prettiness still on her face, made a small sound of assent and continued to study a well-worn copy of 8 Days magazine. Vaguely one hand rose to finger the brown curls that had escaped from under her new hat, a close-fitting helmet of tan straw.
It didn't take much to make Chee Wee happy. He was a big man, strong, inclined to fat, with a roll around his middle and the beginnings of a second chin. And anticipating the reunion with Chee Meng filled him with an immense joy. Chee Wee and Chee Meng had always had this strong sense of family, knowing that they belonged to each other, that no matter the distance between them they were irrevocably joined, part of the same flesh, the same blood.
A short happy laugh erupted out of Chee Wee's fleshy mouth. He began to sing,
"What a beautiful thought I am thinking Concerning that great speckled bird, Remember his name is recorded on the pages of God's holy word.”
There was something about that hymn that moved Chee Wee, that took him back to his childhood, that filled him with awe for the meaning of life—and death—that made him feel kind of strange and . immortal. He continued to sing.
"Chee Wee," Mui Teng said, not looking up from her magazine. She had been reading a story, with pictures, about Fann Wong and how hard she worked to polish her dancing for the moving pictures so that everything she did would be perfect. Mui Teng admired that in a person, especially a woman, because she knew how difficult it was to be perfect, even if you did try all the time. She raised her head and looked at her new husband and smiled kindly. That was one of the things about being a church-going Christian—you learned to forgive people who weren't absolutely perfect. "Chee Wee," she repeated, an almost nagging lilt in her voice.
He patted her knee. "What's that, my darling wife?"
"I want to talk to you."
He nodded vigorously but with no anticipation, Mui Teng, he had already learned during the brief span of their wedded life, was a persistent woman with a strong sense of right and wrong and a pervading desire to keep their lives on the straight and narrow. Well, all right, Chee Wee told himself silently.
"All right," Mui Teng said, her manner broadly coquettish. "Now you did foolish things as a young man which got you fired from your last job, honey-love, but you went and paid your debt to society and that was right. But now you are just getting back in with the criminal element."
Chee Wee frowned. "Criminal element! This is my brother. He isn’t no more criminal that those big heads in the corporate buildings there". Chee Wee pointed to Development Bank Building far on the horizon on the lonely stretch of road.
"Well, that ain't what I heard or read in the papers."
Chee Wee reached out to pat her knee but she moved and his hand came down on the gearbox that rested on the seat between them. He stroked it affectionately.
"Now," he said, "word of mouth just don't go, darlin', you gotta have the facts. Fuck. Chee Meng and me growed up together, slept and worked side by side." He laughed loudly at the recollection.
"Goddammit. I just not gonna work as a security guard because I am an advanced degree holder ... that's final "
"No need to use the Lord's name in vain, Chee Wee," she remonstrated.
After a minute, she spoke again, keeping her eyes fastened to the road ahead. "The thing is, Chee Wee, your brother's a crook."
Chee Wee filled his lungs with air. Two loyalties were in conflict within him: he loved Mui Teng, loved her dearly, but he also loved Chee Meng, and they'd been family a lot longer time. Why couldn't Mui Teng understand that?
"Now you stop bad-mouthing Chee Meng" he said chidingly, as if speaking to a child. "We're just gonna have us a little family visit for a few weeks and then we'll go back to my humble roots and I'll get me a job somewhere." He hesitated and his voice firmed up. "I just need a stable job so that I can s
She looked up at him. "However you want it, lover-man." This time she did not move her leg when he reached for her knee. She lifted the movie magazine and began to read about a new actress named Rui En, who, the article insisted, was destined for quick stardom.
Chee Wee put his hand back on the wheel and began to sing again.
"You sure this is the place?" Mui Teng asked petulantly, hoping it wasn't.
"Sure. Chee Meng don't make mistakes like that."
"It's awful quiet."
Chee Wee grinned and winked broadly. "But not for long, darling" He punched at the horn in a military rat-tat-tat. Then again. The harsh blare cut through the still air.
The door to the cabin was flung open and Chee Meng was framed in the opening. A wild cry of joy broke out of him and he ran for the car. Chee Wee heaved himself from behind the wheel to meet his brother. Arms opened wide, they closed forcefully around each other, and each pounded at the other's back with what seemed like crippling force to Mui Teng. She grimaced.
"Chee Wee!" Chee Meng crowed.
"Chee Meng! You son of a bitch!"
Mui Teng tried to close her ears to that kind of language. She intended to break Chee Wee of that nasty habit as soon as she could. She watched without enthusiasm as the two brothers began to spar with each other, faking punches, blocking shadow blows, striking out in exaggerated slow motion, jabbing at each other's shoulders. Men, she thought, were so physical about so many things.
The sparring ceased, both men sucking air, laughing in short, almost reflexive bursts. "How's Ma?" Chee Meng got out.
"Just fine, just fine."
"Just fine, just fine. Send their best to you."
They stood a stride apart, studying each other. Chee Meng patted Chee Wee's paunch. "Hey, you're filling out there. Must be that food."
Chee Wee guffawed happily. "Hell, no, it ain't! It's taxi driving, brother. You know what they say, long hours of driving a taxi can make you fat." A noisy explosion of sound erupted out of Chee Wee, pleased with his own joke, and Chee Meng joined in.
"Hey, Chee Wee, you are something, the best joke-teller I ever did know."
Chee Wee swung a low roundhouse at his brother's middle. "Hey! You just gotta meet my wife. Hey, honey, c'mon out here now and meet my baby brother." —
Mui Teng climbed slowly out of the car, shielding her eyes from the sun with the movie magazine. She assessed Chee Meng obliquely and her mouth twitched in what might have been a smile.
"How do you do?" she simpered.
Chee Meng reached out for her hand, shook it athletically. "Sure is nice to know you."
Mui Teng rescued her hand just as Shin Yi appeared in the doorway of the cabin. A single glance, then she stepped outside, the screen door slamming behind her. All heads swung in her direction and for an extended interval there was no movement, no sound.
It was Chee Wee who interrupted the tableau. He bounded toward Shin Yi, beaming and jolly, arms outstretched, voicing his pleasure.
"Well, now! You must be Shin Yi!" His arms encircled her in a gentle bearhug, then stepped back. "Now I hear you been taking good care of the baby in the family. Well, sis, I'm real glad to meet you." He hugged her again and Shin Yi submitted. "Say," he said, releasing her. "I'd like for you to meet my wife, Mui Teng."
Shin Yi stared stiffly at the other woman. "Hello."
Mui Teng was equally formal, equally stiff. "Hello," she replied. Mui Teng took one look, averted her eyes, and backed off.
There was a silent moment, awkward and unfilled, and a sense of hostility rose up around them all. It was Chee Wee who shattered the frozen scene.
He shook hands with Shin Yi. He took her hand.
"Well, how do, Mrs. Kwek Chee Wee," Shin Yi finally said happily. "Or can I call you Mui Teng? I sure am pleased to meet you."
Mui Teng rolled her eyes, seeking some avenue of escape from this wild-looking creature.
Mui Teng shook her head in short, quick jerks, edging over to where Chee Wee stood, trying to quell the panic that went seeping into her limbs. This young woman so strange, wild-looking and -sounding. She troubled her. Frightened her. She clutched anxiously at her husband's arm and held on tightly.
Chee Wee noticed none of it, grinning openly, his little eyes glowing in friendship. But Shin Yi missed nothing and decided that there was a lot about Mui Teng she didn't like.
"Hey!" Chee Wee cried. "How about us taking some photographs? Let me get my phone.
Chee Wee hustled over to his car to return in a moment carrying a phone. He busied himself opening it and extending the bellows.
"We're gonna get us some fine snaps," he boasted.
Chee Meng fired a cigar and puffed contentedly
Chee Meng guffawed and faked a roundhouse at his brother's jaw. "Man, Chee Wee, you are too much. Too much."
Chee Wee grabbed Chee Meng by the arm and pulled him over to where Mui Teng stood. He guided Chee Meng's arm around her, pushing them close together.
"Now," he said. "Lemme get one of my bride and my brother."
Mui Teng giggled cutely, too cutely, Shin Yi thought. "Chee Wee! Don't you dare take my picture. I'm just a mess from driving all day."
He reassured her. "Oh, honey, you look real fine."
"You really think so?"
"Sure. Doesn't she look fine, Chee Meng?"
"That's a fact, Mui Teng."
Chee Wee snapped the picture.
"Did you actually take my picture?" Mui Teng said, feigning girlish outrage that somehow failed to enhance her appearance. "Oh, Chee Wee, I declare..."
Chee Wee laughed and went over to Shin Yi, guided her into position next to Chee Meng and Mui Teng. He stepped back and looked into the view mirror.
"Let's have some big smiles, now."
Neither Shin Yi nor Mui Teng softened her expression; Chee Meng alone smiled for the camera.
"Hey, Chee Wee," Chee Meng said, pulling out his revolver and doing a pose. "Get one of this."
"Hold that," Chee Wee said, snapping. "Chee Meng, now you do one of me and my missus."
Chee Meng aimed the camera while Chee Wee put his arm around Mui Teng. "That does it," he said. "Now let me take one of Shin Yi."
She grinned at him and took the cigar out of his mouth and thrust it between her own teeth at a rakish ankle. "Okay, how's this?"
Chee Meng laughed.
Chee Wee laughed.
Mui Teng watched coldly.
Chee Wee appeared in his jeans and jacket. "That's terrific, Shin Yi," he said.
Chee Meng handed the camera to Shin Yi "Here you take some pictures."
"That's right," Chee Wee said. "It's time me and my baby brother had us a little talk."
"Don't be long, now, Chee Wee," Mui Teng called after them. "You know how I hate to be alone without you."
The two men went into the cabin and Chee Wee closed the door behind them. Here it was dim and conspiratorial, the only light seeping from around the edges of the drawn shades. The two men stole looks at each other, swung half-punches, and toed the floor.
"Hey, Chee Meng."
"Chee Meng." Chee Wee kept his eyes averted. "It was you or him, wasn't it?" "Huh?"
"That guy you killed. I mean, you had to do it, didn't you? You had to."
There was no disguising the anxiety in Chee Wee's tone. He was telling Chee Meng clearly what he wanted to hear, what he wanted the truth to be.
Chee Meng ducked his head. He wanted to please his older brother, to protect, him. He made a deprecatory gesture.
"You know me, Chee Wee. He put me in a spot, so I had to. The Pinoy didn't have a chance."
"But you had to," Chee Wee insisted.
"Yeah," Chee Meng agreed.
"I had to. Besides he is a foreigner. Sometimes we do these to send them a strong message."
Chee Wee punched Chee Meng's shoulder lightly, pleased with the explanation. Then, confiden
"Whatever you say, big brother. Hey, she talk you into going back to a job after you left army?"
Chee Wee couldn't conceal his embarrassment. He had hoped Chee Meng hadn't heard about that. "Yeah, but how to find a job in such hard times?"
Chee Meng shrugged it away. "There are jobs but strictly meant for foreigners. Our politicians do nothing to help us."
"I appreciate it."
"Yeah ... say, what do you think of Shin Yi?"
"She's a real peach."
"Yeah ... so's Mui Teng."
"Yeah. She's a City Harvest Church pastor’s daughter but she's okay and I love her a lot."
"Sure. You married her, didn't you?"
There was an extended pause and they gazed at each other, then turned away, each trapped by his own emotions, his own melange of thoughts that refused to be isolated and spoken.
For each of them there were words best buried and forgotten, best not voiced, and each wore his inhibitions like a suit of armor. The silence continued, thick, ponderous, a strain, too much to bear. It was Chee Wee, the natural enemy of silence, who destroyed it, clapping his hands together and letting out an Indian war whoop.
"Whooeee!" he yelled.
"Whooeee!" Chee Meng echoed.
Again the silence and again it was Chee Wee who ended it,
"Yea." he said, supporting the words with all his energy. "Boy, are we gonna have us a time!"
"We surely are!" "Yessir. A good time."
Chee Wee hesitated. "What are we gonna do?"
"Well, how's this ... I thought we'd all go up to Malaysia. The police looking for me there. We'll hole up someplace and have us a regular vacation. All right?"
Chee Wee looked up. "No trouble, now?"
"No trouble," Chee Meng said soberly. "I am not looking to go back to army."
"Hey," Chee Wee said, his high spirits returning. "What's this I hear about you joining the Occupy Wall Street movement?"
"That ain't the truth but half of it. I did it so I could get some justice done to us. The headquarters phoned me up last week about organizing a global wide protest next month to teach those corporate greedy pigs a lesson or two about human suffrage and dignity."
Chee Meng went to the door and opened it. "Isn’t life grand?" he laughed over his shoulder, before ducking out into the sunlight.
It was a good day, bright Chee Meng and Chee Wee agreed that life was fine and that they didn't intend to be separated again. At least, not for a while.
About fifty feet back, trailed another second car with Shin Yi, Mui Teng. They drove off, laughing, all four of them.
The days and nights passed swiftly and unmarked as they spent most of their time driving along back roads or in dingy rooms in motor courts. The three of them slept in the same room and at first it was fun and comfortable, sort of family like, until Shin Yi began to grow tense.
It wasn't that she didn't like Chee Wee.—she did. But his snoring kept her awake and besides she wanted to be alone with Chee Meng, to be able to do those things a real woman did with a man, to a man, to make him want her the way she wanted him.
She couldn't understand that about Chee Meng, about his not craving her, her body in the same way all the boys did back in school. She remembered how it was when she was studying and mugging in the library and all those big old rough boys coming in and funning with her, laughing all the time, their eyes saying what it was they wanted, what it was she had for them, and some of them said it with their hands and with words. And sometimes.
But it was Chee Meng now, only Chee Meng. She loved him fiercely and desired him more than she had ever desired anyone or anything. To look at him evoked longings in her she had never before known and she ached, ached, to be filled with him, to give him everything that was hers to give. It was important, she told herself, that they be alone, that they begin to live in a natural way for a man an. d a woman. She would talk to Chee Meng, explain how she felt, and he would understand. Chee Wee would simply have to sleep by himself and with Mui Teng.
Her chance came sooner than she expected, the next day when they stopped off in a roadside cafe for lunch. The two of them were seated in a booth in the rear, Chee Meng able to watch the door from his position. But he and Shin Yi were concentrating on Chee Wee instead.
Chee Wee was industriously preparing his food. With methodical thoroughness he sprinkled sugar over everything, spreading a thick layer of the white granules over the beets, the potatoes, the meat. Shin Yi could remain silent no longer.
'Chee Wee, what are you doing? Why do you do that?"
Chee Wee put the sugar shaker aside and began to eat.
"Why not?" he said.
"It's just disgusting, that's why."
Chee Wee chewed with great relish. "Not to me it ain't."
Shin Yi grimaced. "But . . . but it makes everything sweet"
Chee Wee grinned up at her. "Yeah, I know." Shin Yi leaned back in her seat, an expression of despair on her face.
"Oh, damn!" Chee Wee exclaimed. "What's wrong?" Chee Meng said. "No mayonnaise."
Chee Wee slid out of the booth and went down to the far end of the counter. Shin Yi waited until he was beyond hearing before speaking.
"Chee Meng," she said, "why does he have to stay in the same room with us?"
It was as if Chee Meng failed to hear the question. His face remained concentrated, his eyes narrowed in thought. He reached for the sugar shaker, spread a thin field of white
His brow ridged in tight focus.
"Why, Chee Meng?" she persisted.
"In the same room with us?"
She took his hand and lifted it to her cheek, cuddled her face against his palm. "It's just that I love you so much, Chee Meng."
"You're the best damn girl in Singapore," he murmured, meaning it.
Just then Chee Wee returned, a jar of mayonnaise clutched in one first. He looked down at the table in dismay. "Hey, you spilled all the sugar."
Chee Meng began to eat. "This is the layout for tomorrow Thailand."
"Thailand!" Chee Wee said, sliding into the booth. "Gosh, that's four, five hundred miles from here!"
"'So what! Thailand might have been any one of a hundred similar towns but still…… “
People were talking about the political posters that were beginning to go up around town, photographs of President Tan Jin Yang and there were even some Philippines born Presidential candidate Marvin Arroyo; no Pinoy with a way of talking with an accent was going to get many votes in Singapore, that was for sure, people said. But about the 2 million Pinoys in Singapore may vote for him and it may just be enough to swing him into power.
No one paid much attention to the big touring car that rolled down the street and stopped in front of the bank. Nor did anyone take notice of the young couple who got out, no different from the folks living around Toa Payoh.
Chee Meng bent and looked through the window at Chee Wee who was behind the wheel. "Keep it running and be ready to go."
"Yeah, Chee Meng." Chee Wee smiled.
Shin Yi and Chee Meng moved off toward the entrance of the Biopolis, a brown mosaic tiled building with research offices on the floor above. Biopolis is an international research and development centre located in Singapore for biomedical sciences. The building is dedicated to providing space for biomedical research and development activities and promoting peer review and collaboration among the China born researchers who are on foreign talent visitor passes to work in Singapore.
Chee Wee didn't watch them. He was too busy looking for a convenient parking space. There, exactly what he wanted. A car parked halfway up the street behind him and pulled out. Chee Wee shifted into reverse and gunned the touring car back.
He eyed the space and decided that it was just large enough to accommodate his car. It was a tight
Inside the research institute, matters were proceeding smoothly. When Shin Yi and Chee Meng appeared they saw that only one Singaporean guard was on duty, a scrawny little man whose best years were behind him.
Chee Meng very calmly shoved his pistol in to the guard's face and relieved him of his weapon.
"All right, folks," Shin Yi announced in a friendly voice, “All you PhD holders listen up. This is a holdup so put up your hands, please, and do as you're told."
Arms shot skyward and eyes widened and one woman dropped her purse in fright and another uttered a small muffled shriek.
“Dig into your pockets and throw towards us your wallets and purses. No one would get hurt.”
The lady researchers were speedily accommodating, shoving stacks of purses towards Shin Yi.
The men dug deep into their pockets and began to throw their wallets to the front so that Shin Yi could fill the sack she carried.
"That's it, Chee Meng," she announced finally.
"Right." He smiled. "Now you folks just stay calm and quiet while we leave. Once we get out of this foreigner infested building, why, you can make all the fuss you like."
He motioned for Shin Yi to precede him, then ducked after her into the street. Squinting in the bright sun, they ran for the spot where they had left Chee Wee and the touring car. Neither driver nor car was in sight,
"What the hell. . . !" Chee Meng broke out. "Where's the car?"
Shin Yi's eyes darted about anxiously. "There! Down the street!"
"Let's go!" Chee Meng shouted to Chee Wee "Let's go!"
Chee Wee slammed the car into gear, twisted the wheel, and struggled to shoot out of the parking space. There wasn't room enough. He slipped into reverse, backed fast, turned hard on the wheel, and shot forward again. He was jammed in tight. Back and forth he went now, banging bumpers with the car in front and the one in back, struggling frantically to wheel the touring car out into the roadway.
"Come on!" Chee Meng bellowed, waving frantically, looking back over his shoulder at the bank, expecting armed pursuit at any moment.
"Come on! Get it out!" He gestured to Shin Yi and they broke for the car and dived into the back seat even as Chee Wee struggled to free himself from the parking space.
"Come on!" Chee Meng cried. "Get it out of here! Let's get moving before the police show up!"
Chee Wee swung the wheel hard and bore down on the accelerator. The big car lurched forward and there was the sound of scraping fenders.
A security guard came running up to the bank and the guard pointed to the car up the street. The blue-clad officer went for his gun, began shooting.
"Get out of here!" Chee Meng screamed.
The car swung into the middle of the street and careered wildly, Chee Wee fighting for control. As they came alongside the road, a dignified, white-haired man in his shirtsleeves and a celluloid collar leaped onto the running board, pounding at the closed window. Chee Meng recognized him as one of the security guard from the building.
"Stop!" the man cried. "Stop this car!"
"Get off!" Chee Meng shouted. "Get off before you get hurt! Whose side are you on? Singapore or China?"
"Oh, my God," Shin Yi gasped. “Why is this Singaporean security guard protecting all these foreigners in Biopolis?”
"Chee Meng, do something."
"Get away!" he shouted, voice crackling. He brandished his pistol. "Get off!"
The man pounded at the glass with his fist and in punctuation a shot whizzed overhead. From behind came the wail of a police siren. They were being followed.
It was too much for Chee Meng.
The oppressive sound swelling inside his skull, the rising excitement and terror, the distorted face on the other side of that glass, so close and threatening recalling another face from deep in his past. A thin scream of despair broke out of Chee Meng and he turned his pistol on the man and fired.
An exploding sunburst of glass and the face turned into a horrible bloody mask. For an endless moment it hung there, a disembodied apparition, terrifying, the end of life, the violent visage of death. The face disappeared and Chee Meng fell back, moaning.
Behind the wheel, Chee Wee fought a continuing battle with the car and with his nerves. He hadn't expected anything like this. And it was all his fault, putting the car into that too-small space. What had he been thinking about? He glanced up at the rear-view mirror. A police car was careering after them, red flashes marking gunshots. All at once none of it was fun, none of it glamorous or exciting. But there was no time for such thoughts. Not now. Now was the time to escape, to elude their pursuers, to find some sanctuary. Somewhere.
They had no more than a few minute's lead over the police as they raced through the town. It was Shin Yi who saw it first, realized that this was their chance to escape.
"Turn off, Chee Wee!" she cried. "At the next corner."
He did and Shin Yi led the way out of the car.
"Come on. Follow me."
Without question, they accepted her authority, hurrying back around the corner to the moving-picture theater in the middle of the block. The marquee read, “Jack Neo’s Army Daze”
"We're going inside," Shin Yi said. "They'll never think to look for us here."
"Fuck," Chee Wee mumbled. "I have seen this picture in the army before. Not a great picture."
They found seats in the rear of the orchestra, Shin Yi on the aisle, Chee Wee one seat away, Chee Meng in the row behind. Chee Wee scrounged down and attacked the candy bar he had purchased from the vendor in the lobby.
"We're lucky," he announced in a hoarse whisper. "It just started. You didn’t missed much."
Shin Yi focused on the black-and-white shadows on the screen, a row of dancing girls in white shorts on a lush set, tapping their way up and down a curved staircase. And Zoe Tay was singing, "We're in the Money." Shin Yi hummed along with her.
"I just love musicals," she tossed over her shoulder at Chee Meng.
He shook his head nervously, his eyes drawn back to the entrance doors. He felt for his pistol, jammed down in his belt. If anything happened. He changed his position and glared at the back of Chee Wee's head.
"Fuck," he said, voice tight with rage. "You gotta be poor in the head. You know what you did?"
"I wasn't thinking right, Chee Meng."
"You almost got us all killed, you know that? Killed."
Chee Wee turned and smiled what he hoped was a winning smile. "That security guard was the only one that got killed, Chee Meng. You sure did him good."
"You. . . !" Chee Meng struggled to keep his voice down. "Count of you…. I killed a man. Murder. .. you too. And he’s Singaporean!"
"I'm sorry, Chee Meng. He deserves to die to. We told him to get off. And he risked his life to protect those China born PhD researchers."
"Dumb ass stupid."f
Chee Wee turned again, nodded in full agreement. "Dumb ass stupid, that's right."
Chee Meng lifted his hand as if to strike him, slapped limply at the back of Chee Wee’s head. "Ever do a dumb thing like that again, and I'll kill you, boy!"
"I mean it, boy," Chee Meng added.
"Hush up," Shin Yi said to Chee Meng. "You boys want to talk why don't you go outside?"
They had gone out of their way to reach this particular motor court, and Chee Wee wondered about that. Generally they took a room at the first one they came to toward dusk. Not this time. This time Chee Meng had known exactly where he wanted to go, had brushed aside all objections.
Once they were situated, Chee Wee wondered some more why it had had to be this motor court. There was nothing special about it.
Just a collection of nondescript cabins around a parking area. And the rooms were no different, the same unpainted walls, the same cheap furniture, the same hard
He wished Shin Yi would change the station though. She was listening to Taylor Swift and Chee Wee got nothing out of those romantic ballads sung in that kind of reedy voice.
"How come we come to this place?" he asked.
Chee Meng looked over at him and grinned. "Because I said so."
"Oh. But why?"
"Because I'm going to meet my big boss here, is why. She is on his way right now. I told him where I'd be at and said to come on along."
"Suppose she doesn't come?" Chee Wee said.
Chee Meng's face darkened. "Angel Abi Chua will come."
At that hour, thirty-three year old China born student Sun Xu hurried into a red brick apartment house and knocked sharply on the door of fiancée, Sha Lanjie. He was worried about Lanjie, an attractive, dark-haired National University of Singapore graduate student. Sun Xu had found a note in his room from Liu Qian, a pianist from the Conservatory. She didn’t show up for choir practice this afternoon. A warm outgoing girl, Lanjie had worked part-time as a musician singer in the Conservatory.
Now, when there was no reply to his knock, Sun Xu used key she had given him to open the door. He saw her at once.
He could not help seeing her. She lay directly within his line of vision, sprawled nude on her back on her convertible sofa bed in the combination living room, her legs apart, her right leg on the bed, her left hanging over the edge between bed and wall. Her wrists had been tied behind her with a black silk scarf glittering with sequins. A blood-stained nylon stocking and two handkerchiefs tied together were knotted about her neck; there was blood on her chest and neck; a cloth was over her mouth; a lace blouse had been draped about her shoulders.
Almost paralyzed with horror, Sun Xu managed to walk to the bed and stand over her. Was she dead? He pulled away the cloth over her mouth. A second cloth had been stuffed into her mouth. He pulled that out. Her mouth was open. Her eyes closed. Her body lifeless.
Though it appeared that Lanjie had been strangled, death had come as a result of stabbing – twenty two times, four in the throat, eighteen in the left breast where the stab wounds described an unmistakable bull’s eye design – a large circle enclosing a smaller circle with the final stab wound in the centre. The ‘decorations’ about her neck appeared to be precisely that. None of them had been tightly enough to cause death. A bloody knife with a four inch blade was found in the kitchen sink. She had been dead for forty-eight hours. Sunday was the last day she had been seen alive. At 8 am, her neighbour across the hall heard Lanjie practicing several arias, later that Sunday morning
Lanjie was to receive her master’s degree in computer engineering in June.
The pattern was the same – the nylon stockings, the body’s position, the victim’s background – all from China. Only the stabbing was different. Some detectives and police superintendants theorized that Lanjie might have developed such powerful throat muscles from singing that the murderer, unable to render her unconscious at once, had seized a knife and stabbed.
Only that was different – and the fact that Lanjie had been exploring a subject that might have brought her into the world of the murderer.
That May of 2020, with the strangling toll at three, all China born foreign nationals working or studying in Singapore, Police superintendent Roy Eng had dinner at the home of his uncle and aunt, Dr and Mrs Eng Minghao .
Roy who now worked the 8pm to 3am shift in the Tanglin Police Headquarters with his partner Jim was one of the city’s most skilful void deck men – so called because he specialised in the void deck alleys, the dead end streets, the courtyards and backwards of apartment houses.
In pitch darkness he knew his way in and out of basements, how to negotiate fire escapes, roofs and parking lots; such was his knowledge of the void decks and of what routes a fleeing man might take that more than once, responding to an alarm from a man, mugger or purse snatcher, while other police rushed to the scene, Roy raced through a back alley, vaulted a fence, and was standing, waiting in the shadows, for the thief to run into his arms.
A heavyset, earnest man of forty-three, Roy followed his calling with the fervor of the truly committed. Save off the time he spent with his family, he devoted every waking hour to his work.
He had been one of the ten detectives chosen to attend the Singapore Anti-Terrorist Seminar, by now he considered the China Murderer his personal enemy. The murders in Singapore have spread to China, Australia, United States and Europe and was doing public relations damage Singapore.
“I can see him,” he’d tell his colleagues; he’s sitting there, sneering at me, challenging me. Just try and catch me,” He’s saying.
Although he might talk of other matters to persons outside the department, the China Murderer was rarely out his thoughts.
Now over coffee, his aunt turned to him.
“Roy, you are still on the strangulation cases, aren’t you?”
She said, “Well, I think I know someone who knows who the China Murderer is.”
Roy stared at her, thinking. How could anyone know who the China Murderer is and not once in all these months come forward and tell us? Aloud he said, “Who is it? Can you contact this person?”
Mrs. Eng promptly telephoned Mrs. George Stratton, wife of a psychiatrist at Singapore State Hospital at Woodbridge, a mental institution. Roy could hear the voice on the other end. "I don't know if this man will talk to your nephew. He tried to help the police once before, but they wouldn't listen—he won't have anything to do with the police anymore."
Roy said emphatically, "Tell her I'm willing to listen to anything he has to say."
Ten minutes later the phone rang. It was for Roy.
Phil said, "Look, anyone who can help us we're grateful to. I'll be at work tonight at seven-thirty. If Dr Stratton could drop in, I'd really appreciate it."
How did his aunt know about this? Roy asked her. She explained that Mrs. Stratton was an old friend. Some time ago while they were playing poker, the lawyer spoke to Dr. Stratton about his amazing friend who seemed to know all about the China Murderer. Only the other day Mrs. Stratton happened to mention this to Mrs. Eng, and so she was now passing it on to him.
At eight o'clock when, as Phil surmised, he had been sufficiently briefed, Dr Stratton himself arrived. He turned out to be a short, heavyset man with huge shoulders and dark brown eyes. He was partially bald. He appeared to be in his early forties. He spoke with a perceptible lisp, but there was no hesitancy in his words.
"Now, before I begin, I want to make certain things clear," he said. "I'm not saying I can prove anything I'm going to tell you. All I can say is that I have ideas for which I don't have a normal, usual explanation. They come to me from some well in my mind—at first it seems I'm remembering them—but when I analyze it I realize I don't really know why I'm getting the ideas or how they come to me."
He smiled. "Now, maybe they don't make sense to me but they might make sense to you, and that's why I'm here." If he was asked point-blank, he added, he would have to say ljes, he did have an idea who the China Murderer was and what he looked like.
"Please tell us," said Phil.
Dr Stratton nodded. "I picture her as fairly tall, bony hands, pale white skin, red, bony knuckles, her eyes hollow-set.
The China Murderer, Dr Stratton went on, had "many problems. She probably beat up her own mother cruelly—she was an idiotic, domineering woman."
"How many murders do you think he committed?" Phil liked.
"Oh, not more than four, maybe five," Gordon replied. Could Mr. Gordon tell him something about the strangljngs? Say, the first one?
Would the China Murderer, driven to kill three China born women because each represented in his madness the foreigners she hated, also be driven to kill Gong Li, aged forty, a China pei-du study mama. Peidu mamas (陪读妈妈), or study mamas are women who accompany their children to Singapore to receive pr
The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore possesses records that suggest that there are at least 7,800 study mamas of various nationalities, with two-thirds of the 6,800 study mamas in Singapore in July 2005 coming from China. Of these 6,800 study mamas, only 1,000 have been issued with work permits.] The majority of the working study mamas are employed in the service sector.
Che Wenning, twenty-four who is part of a younger table tennis athlete being groomed to be the next Olympic star due to represent Singapore in the future Olympic Games and touted as the next rising star to another China born athlete Tian Fengwei; And now Sha Lanjie, also twenty-three but she is a graduate student.
Or might these younger women have been killed by someone else, and for other reasons? Might not one man have strangled the forty year old older woman Gong Li?
The committee was increasingly coming to this conclusion. It would appear far more logical to separate the victims into two groups—in Dr. Stratton words, the Old Woman, and the Girls.
As Dr Stratton put it in a report issued later, the majority of the committee agreed that one man probably had killed the Old Woman. He would be "Mr. S."—the Strangler. As to the others—the Younger Girls—they probably were not slain by Mr. S. but by one or more men or women, likely to be found in the circle of the Girls' acquaintances, most probably "unstable members of the Singaporean xenaphobic community" who had tried to make their acts resemble the stranglings of the Old Woman as reported in the newspapers. The more one considered this theory, the more persuasive it seemed.
The Clementi area was a neighborhood frequented by China nationals. Every night was a China night. It was colorful, bizarre, offbeat section of Singapore. "If a Singaporean were to walk down Clementi Street everyone would turn to look at him as he is considered a foreigner in Singapore," one of the detectives liked to say.
For whatever it meant, before Che Wenning moved to Singapore from China, she had roomed in a Toa Payoh motel, near the Singapore Table Tennis Federation; among her neighbors were the owners of one of Singapore’s most popular table tennis stars Li Jiawei and Tian Fengwei who won the Gold Medal in 2008 Beijing Olympics and is now effectively a millionaire. A gold medal in Olympics means a million dollar prize money.
As to the character of the man or women capable of the stranglings, Dr. Stratton pointed out that he and his colleagues at most could only hazard a few guesses toward a "common profile." Generally, he explained, the murderer contains within himself "an encapsulated core of rage" directed at an important figure in his early life—usually a dominant, overwhelming female.
To cope with his rage he engages in powerful, sadistic fantasies in which he kills this figure. The murderer differs from other psychotic killers in his ability to keep his terrible daydreams to himself. He keeps quiet about them: he exhibits no odd behavior. Thus he is able to move among friends and fellow workers without calling attention to himself. Chances were that he might appear bland, pleasant, gentle, ingratiating—even compassionate. Because of the training given him by the hated female figure he would most likely be neat, punctual, polite—in brief, the personality often seen in confidence men "and in many normal lower middle class men." No one would think of him as "crazy."
What, then, would trigger his crime—cause him to kill?
Certain stresses that would bring about sadistic impulses too great for him to cope with.
The loss of his job due to retrenchment, workplace bullying by foreigners, probably from China; anything that contributed to a loss of self-esteem, such as having been told to queue up in front of China foreigners to withdraw money from an automated bank teller machine even though he is Singaporean ……… anything that made him feel a loss of masculinity or loss of ownership as a Singapore citizen. That could result from a late marriage to a China born woman who expected him to function as an adult, although such a man would most likely find himself marrying a second mother.
Whatever the case, he would find himself in a deepening depression from which he was able to emerge only by a sudden explosion, a violent venting of his hate, frustration, impotence: in short, murder, the destruction of the terrifying female image, but murder in the special ritualistic, fetishist manner of his illness, both sadistic and loving. Because each murder solved nothing—the specter was not eliminated, it would rise again—he was doomed to repeat the crime again and again.
What kind of mother would he have? "A sweet, orderly, neat, compulsive, seductive, punitive, overwhelming woman”
"The China Murderer grew up to feel that China women were a fearful mystery," Dr. Stratton speculated. He might have attempted sexual relations with women but was successful only if he could imagine himself humiliating, beating, and torturing them.
"It is an easy matter to strangle someone from behind, enough to induce unconsciousness, with a forearm grip." Or he could clout them on the side of the neck with the edge of his hand. He would be at least thirty—perhaps older; strong enough to carry or pull heavy women about the room; neat and orderly (he left no fingerprints, probably wearing gloves at all times); probably single, separated, or divorced; a man "who knew how to kill efficiently, who was attracted by neat, pleasant old women with fair complexions and firm flesh. He left his victims in such shocking positions not only to degrade and debase them, but also to make it appear that they tried to entice him—a tribute to the masculinity he desperately wished he possessed.
Lieutenant Roy took on his new assignment grimly. His interest in the legal aspects of crime detection had led him to take three years of criminal law courses at Singapore Law School, but he had been too busy to complete his studies. He had been involved in investigations, often on his own time. He had taken the murders in his stride until the death of rising table tennis star Che Wenning. He had been outraged by the others, but when he saw what had been done to Che Wenning—a year older than his own daughter—"I wanted to smash him. I wanted to hit him."
In the beginning he had been inclined to write off the murderer as one more psychopath who would be quickly captured, but as the search continued and no lead came to fruition, he confided to a fellow officer, "My biggest fear is that he'll turn out to be someone we could have picked up long ago—but we haven't been adding the right facts together."
Roy moved into action on three fronts. When he was appointed on July 20, he was at once held a full-scale review of everything done so far—a meeting lasting long after midnight, attended by all high police officials from Singapore. Also present were technicians—police photographers, stenographers, DNA and fingerprint forensic experts,—who had been on the murders or worked on the evidence.
Perhaps one of these men might have observed a clue, however insignificant; perhaps he nurtured an idea, a way to proceed, that he had hesitated to suggest because protocol restricted these matters to the detectives themselves. Here was his opportunity to unburden himself, to bring out the notes and memos he might have made.
Friday, March 17, just before dusk, the elusive dark-haired figure (most likely a man in sweatshirt hood) was almost caught on CCTV the night when Che Wenning was murdered. There had been a series of housebreakings in the area and six police cruisers were on the alert for the burglar. Probably after winning prize money from the Commonwealth Games and Olympics, the burglar was expecting the China born table tennis players to buy expensive gold jewellery to reward themselves.
It was a few minutes after 12:30 A.M.; She dozed off for a moment. When she opened her eyes, a shapeless figure stood in the bedroom doorway, staring at her. It was of medium height, its eyes hidden behind huge green aviator's sunglasses, its dark hair combed back, wearing a dark waist-length jacket and green slacks with a hood covering the head. "Don't worry," it said quickly, "I am not here to rape you—" But as he spoke
She managed to find voice enough to say, "You leave this room at once!" She struggled to sit up in bed.
It pushed her down, hard, and she screamed. She felt the blade of a knife against her throat. "Not a sound, you realize that you will be sacrificed for our cause," it warned. As she lay there all but paralyzed, it stuffed her underwear into her mouth, and using her pajamas and her own clothes, tied her in a spread-eagle position on the bed, each ankle tied to a bedpost at the foot of the bed, her wrists to those at the head.
"You will be quiet for ten minutes"—it warned, then added apologetically, "I'm sorry," and smothered her face with a pillow.
But she had looked at it. She would never forget its face. It was that of a woman.
Sergeant Leo Khaw, cruising in one car, heard a call over his radio: "We're chasing a woman who just ran into the Toa Payoh." Sergeant Khaw, finding himself at that very intersection, jumped out and was about to vault a fence when he heard a gunshot.
The figure had dropped a two-foot-long screwdriver with a bright yellow handle. Skeleton keys and a jackknife were found but no prints were on them.
Why had he done these things? What was the purpose of breaking into Che Wenning’s home, murdering her by strangling and yet stealing no money or belongings from her apartment?
Visiting the girls on the Singapore table tennis team gave him a big kick. A murderer who derived some kind of pathetic sexual satisfaction from strangling China born women?
Later that evening, while Chee Wee bathed himself, Chee Meng sat on the edge of the bed cleaning their guns. Broken down, each part was carefully wiped off, then a light coat of oil applied before the weapons were reassembled.
Shin Yi stood in front of the sink and studied her face in the mirror. Having reached a decision, she wiped off her lipstick and began to do her mouth over again, shaping it carefully. Finished, she tilted her head to one side, then the other, assessing her handiwork. She turned to face Chee Wee, who was leaning against the sink, lighting a cigarette.
"Look at me," she said gently.
He interrupted his ablutions. "Yeah?"
"Do you like it?"
"What? Like what?"
He stared without blinking. "Sure. I guess so." "I mean, the lipstick. I put it on differently. Not so much. A bit lighter and a different shape. "
"Oh. Sure, I see. It's very nice."
"What do you think of me?" she asked idly.
"Uh . . . well, you're just fine, I guess. Uh . . . well, course you're a real good shot . . . and . . . uh . . . well, sometimes you look pretty as a painting."
Shin Yi turned back to the mirror and studied her face again. Yes, she decided. It was true. She was very pretty. And this new way of making up helped a lot. She brushed at her black hair, arranging it so that it fell softly behind her ears. There. That gave her a softer, more womanly appearance. She liked that.
"Hey, uh, Shin Yi," Chee Wee said. "Could you get me that washrag there? Toss it over, please."
Automatically, she went to the towel rack and pulled the washcloth off. She took two steps toward the tub and was about to flip the cloth square to Chee Wee, when she hesitated. A slow, insinuating smile lifted the corners of her mouth and her pale blue eyes narrowed. She held the washcloth out at arm's length, let it dangle teasingly.
"Why don't you come get it?"
Shin Yi waved the washcloth the way a toreador waves his cape. Chee Wee stared at it fixedly.
"Why you come get it?"
He started to shove himself erect, then he realized that to do so would expose his nakedness to her. He blushed and fell back in the water.
"Aw, Shin Yi," he said lamely. "Come on, give me, will you please?"
"Here it is," she taunted. "All you got to do is come get it. Don’t you have the strength to climb out of that there bathtub?"
"It isn’t that”
He ducked his head. "Fuck lah," he mumbled. "You know."
She grinned. Slowly, very slowly, one leg reaching after the other, she moved closer to the tub, eyes fixed on him all the time.
"I'm going to bring it to you myself," she let out very quietly.
He saw her coming, saw that she meant to come close enough to stand over him, saw that the water offered no screen to his nakedness. He brought his knees up and tight together in a swift movement that sent waves breaking along the length of the tub.
"Aw, Shin Yi, give it here."
"Sure, Chee Wee. That's what I'm going to do."
She was within arm's length now and Chee Wee cast around frantically for something with which to shield himself. Nothing was available. In one quick motion, he reached out and yanked the washcloth from Shin Yi's hand. The maneuver caused a great splash and Shin Yi jumped back to keep from getting wet.
She stared at Chee Wee, scrounged down in the tub like some gross sea creature afraid of the air, and wondered what in the world she could have had in mind. Chee Wee was not for her, a lump of a man, no challenge and no promise. His very presence was demeaning to her and to Chee Meng.
"You fucktard," she struck out harshly. "What would you do if we just pulled out some night while you were asleep? Did you ever think about that?"
He stared up at her, eyes rheumy and soft with anguish. "Aw, I wouldn't know what to do. But you wouldn't do that, Shin Yi. You couldn't, could you?"
Shin Yi felt weary all at once, a weariness born of some indefinable inevitability about all this, about what Chee Wee had said, about her relationship with Chee Meng, about the way they were living. Where was the promise of that first day, of that moment when Chee Meng had robbed the Pinoy grocery, of that wild, crazy ride afterward? Something was wrong and she yearned desperately to repair it She looked down at the tub.
"That's right, Chee Wee," she said with resignation. "We'll always be around to take care of you."
She took a last drag on her cigarette and flipped it into the nib, unable to laugh as Chee Wee scrambled out of the way. She went back into the other room, slamming the door behind her.
Chee Meng was still perched on the bed laboring over his guns, mostly assembled and gleaming. There was an air of quiet preoccupation about him as if he had been thinking thoughts alien to him, reaching into deep areas of his being not often explored. He looked up as Shin Yi entered.
"I want to talk to you," he said evenly. "Sit down."
She hesitated, stirred by this unfamiliar facet of his personality. She was used to a Chee Meng who was happy and laughing or alert and physical, ready to move to action, or an angry Chee Meng. But not this one. Not this quietly determined man. She lowered herself to the edge of the bed.
"This afternoon," he said, voice low as if reaching back into his memory and finding it painful. "This afternoon we killed a man and we were seen. Now nobody knows who you are yet, but they're going to be after me and anybody who's running with me. Now that's murder now and it's going to get rough."
Shin Yi chewed her lower lip and nodded but said nothing. After a beat, he went on.
"Look," he said haltingly, picking his words with care. "I can't get out, but right now you still can. You say the word and I'll put you on the bus to go back to your mama. 'Cause you mean a lot to me, honey, and I won’t going to make you run with me. So if you want, you say the word, hear?"
Tears formed in Shin Yi's eyes and she tried to blink them away, seeing Chee Meng as a distant, wavering figure, distorted but oh, so beautiful. She shook her head stubbornly.
"Why?" he persisted. "Shin Yi, we aren’t going to have even a minute's peace."
Shin Yi dried her eyes and tried to smile. She didn't like him this way, all glum and serious, making out as if the future held nothing but trouble and suffering for them. She knew better than that. Just knew it.
"Fuck," she said, placing a smile on her newly defined mouth. "Ain't you the gloomy thing!"
He took her hand and held
A laugh burst out of her. Death held no fear for Shin Yi. She was after all, unemployed, with no future and had financial difficulties since the collapse of Singapore’s economy.
Death was something folks talked about, something that happened to old people and sick people.
To other people, not her. Not Chee Meng. Another laugh and she raised Chee Meng's hand to her cheek.
"Who'd wanna kill a sweet young thing like me?" she teased. “At most, I do a few years jail but not the death penalty. The law in Singapore is always more lenient towards Singapore women. You forget about the Women’s Charter Act?”
He smiled at her innocence, at her loveliness, at her failure to understand. She was the best damn girl in Singapore. Absolutely the best, he pointed out with wry humor, "Well, you are no sweet young thing. You are an artful wicked person…… I like that quality….."
"Oh, Chee Meng, I can't picture you with a halo, and if you went to hell I reckon you'd rob the devil blind, so he'd kick you right on back to me."
The words conveyed to Chee Meng the depth of her feeling for him and he was moved by it. He leaned over and his mouth came down on hers, gentle, searching, unsure. Her arm circled his neck and he allowed her to draw him down on the bed. Her lips parted and her tongue danced wetly against his teeth. A rising passion flickered in his groin and a soft moan trickled out of him as he adjusted himself on top of her.
They rolled over. There was a hardness digging into her. She shifted her position, reached, and brushed a couple of guns to the floor. Her arm went back around him. Seconds later she was guiding his hand to her breasts.
Chee Meng found it difficult to breathe and his brain seemed to tilt and pitch inside his skull. A deep darkness enveloped him and it was as if he was tumbling through endless space, striving for some saving handhold and finding nothing. Down, down, down he went, toward some foreordained disaster.
He broke out of her embrace and heaved himself erect. There was a coarse thickness in his throat and his head was still spinning. His heart thumped irregularly in his chest and his hands were damp and hot. He moved to the window to stare unseeingly through the dirty glass.
Shin Yi watched him, looking so beautiful in silhouette against the window, kind of sad, lost, and almost... holy. She loved him more that moment than ever before and wanted him in a way she had never wanted him before. She settled back down on the bed, her head resting on one of the guns. Slowly, she turned until her cheek pressed against the cold, hard barrel, her gaping lips against the muzzle. A spasm rode through her body and another and she waited for it to pass.
They had set out for Marine Parade, early that morning in Chee Wee's car, along the main highway. Though traffic was light at this hour, Chee Meng drove carefully.
"No sense having some policeman hang a ticket on us for speeding, big brother," he had explained.
Chee Wee had guffawed at that and slapped his knee. "One thing we don't want is trouble with the law," he agreed.
That had been earlier, when they started out. Now, cruising along a pleasant stretch of road through gentle hills, Chee Wee was regaling his brother with a succession of jokes. Chee Meng made a fine audience—always had, in fact. He listened in silent anticipation and responded enthusiastically on cue.
For a brief second there was silence inside the car, Chee Wee watching Chee Meng in anticipation. Then the younger man exploded into loud laughter. His hands released the steering wheel and the car swerved wildly over to the wrong side of the road. Chee Meng managed to straighten it out, still laughing, tears forming rivulets down his smooth cheeks.
Chee Wee clapped his brother on the back. "Now listen to this one, Chee Meng. A song from Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball. Our theme song from the Occupy Wall Street movement.”
The atmosphere in the second car was starkly different, the silence oppressively thick and larded with animosity. Shin Yi was driving, hunched forward, hands tight on the wheel, mouth set stubbornly, a cigarette angling aggressively from between her red lips. She glared at the road ahead as if it was an enemy, something to attack and conquer.
Mui Teng sat in the front seat, also, but against the door, having removed herself as far as possible from Shin Yi. Her eyes watered from the cigarette smoke and her nose twitched disdainfully and she sent silent signals across the distance that separated them ordering Shin Yi to extinguish the offending cigarette. It did no good. Finally, Mui Teng conceded defeat and rolled down the window, turning in that direction, breathing deeply, anxious to cleanse her lungs with some good, clean country air.
In the back seat, Chee Wee was curled up, feet higher than his head, staring sightlessly at some close point in space, oblivious of the two women, unaware of the tensions that separated them. Chee Wee was happy, as usual. A random thought wiggled around in the depths of his brain, rose to a more transparent level, and finally surfaced. The small mouth twitched joyfully.
"I have’t never been to Marine Parade before," he said.
"Oh, shut up," Shin Yi snapped,
Chee Wee face lengthened and he fell quiet. After all, he hardly said anything at all. Soon the resentment washed out of his face and he withdrew into that deep solitariness where he existed most of the time.
There was still a considerable portion of the afternoon. When they arrived in Marine Parade, they had no trouble in finding the address he wanted. He drew the car over to one side and parked and watched as behind him did likewise.
"All right," he said. "You know what to do."
"I arranged everything, so just say it the way I told you."
And where they sat, looking past the tree had house fronting the street, they could tee down the driveway, which ended in a double garage; above it was an apartment. A dapper man in a white shirt, a bow tic, and a new straw hat stood in the entrance to the driveway playing with a set of keys.
"That figures to be the man," Chee Meng said. "The rental agent."
Ruck nodded, got out of the car, and walked across the street.
"How do you do," he said to the man in the driveway. "You don't happen to be from the Angel Abi Chua Realty Company? Your boss is Angel Abi Chua?"
"Indeed I am. And you must be Mr. David Wan?"
"That's damned sure," Chee Wee said, offering his hand.
"Well, I'm pleased to meet you, Mr Wan." He extended one hand and dangled the keys. "Everything is ready for you, just as we discussed it." He cleared his throat and arranged a diffident smile on his thin month. "I believe that we agreed on the phone to one month's rent in advance."
"Right." Chee Wee reached for his wallet and counted off some money. "Here it is….."
The rental agent took a step toward the garage apartment. "I'll show you the premises."
"No need to," Chee Wee said hurriedly, taking the keys from the other man. "Mighty good of you to yourself this way...."
"Nor at all. I hope you enjoy the apartment, Now yon just call mc if you need anything. Any help 1 can offer..."
"Matter of fact, there is something. Anyplace around that'll deliver some groceries?"
"Sure. Katong Laksa just around the corner. Just call 4337."
Chee Meng glanced up and down the street, signaled to Shin Yi, and began to unload their luggage.
Chee Wee led tin way into the apartment, carrying Mui Teng in his arms, as befitted a recent bride. The others came right behind, burdened down with suitcases.
"This is all right," Chee Meng said. "Sure is," echoed Chee Wee
"C'mon," Shin Yi put in irritably. "Let's get things lightened away." She headed for one of the bedrooms, Chee Meng following,
Mui Teng was more interested in the kitchen. She made a slow tour of the room, hand in hand with her husband.
"Oh, look, Chee Wee," she cooed girlishly. "It's so clean. And look at this here fridge, not an icebox." She yanked open the door and her expression altered radically when she spotted a cur
Chee Wee had detached himself from his wife and was speaking into the telephone. "Hey there. Katong Laksa? The number? Oh, yeah, 4337..."
Chee Wee spoke into the phone. "Well, I want to give you an order, a big one. Can you deliver right away? All right, then. How about some pork chops? Eight pounds ought to do ... and four pounds of red beans . . . and a can of coke and iced coffee. . ." He laughed. "That's it, Nespresso coffee . . . and some eggs, a couple of dozen ... some milk and eight bottles of brandy"
Finished unpacking, they all gathered in the living room Chee Wee made himself comfortable in the big soft chair, his shoes off, and was soon engrossed in a newspaper. Mui Teng wandered around the room, touching this, eyeing that, spying dust in corners, fingering curtains and fluffing pillows. Across the room, Chee Meng was busy checking the action of his guns, reloading them carefully after wiping each bullet clean. Chee Wee was lost in the glamorous pages of a movie magazine. Shin Yi sat staring into space wishing something would happen, offended by this tranquil setting.
"This sure is nice," Mui Teng murmured.
No one answered.
She came up behind her husband and looked down at his thinning locks. "Ain't it nice, lover?" He grunted absently.
"My," Mui Teng' said, pitching her voice girlishly high.
"You sure do need a haircut. You look like a chow ah beng." She ran her fingers through his hair.
Chee Wee shook his head as if in protest, but he laughed with pleasure. "Now you stop messing with my hair, now. Let me read my paper in peace, Mui Teng."
"Just like an old man," she said. "Got his nose stuck in the paper, doesn't pay any attention to his poor little wife."
"Mui Teng c'mon now."
It was too much for Shin Yi. She heaved herself erect, tension stiffening her body. Her eyes caught Chee Meng's and the quick movement of her head along with the tight look of disgust on her pretty face made him know that she wanted to talk to him alone. He trailed her into their bedroom, closing the door behind him.
Shin Yi turned swiftly, reaching for his hair, rumpling it with mock ferocity. "Oh, Daddy," she cooed in an unmerciful imitation of Mui Teng. "You sure do need a haircut. You look just like a little ol' hillbilly boy, I do declare. Oh, mercy me, oh, my stars..."
Chee Meng glanced nervously at the door. "Hush up, Shin Yi? They're right in the next room."
Shin Yi swung away from him. "Fuck, there's always somebody in this room, the next room, every other kind of room. We will never be alone."
Chee Meng tried not to show the annoyance he suddenly felt. "That is no nice way to talk about my brother. Tomorrow, you will be meeting my boss Angel Abi Chua. Nice if you could at least try to be pleasant."
"I am not talking about your brother or your boss," Shin Yi said, falling into her imitation of Mui Teng. "If it was just your brother, I wouldn't say a single word. It's that Mui Teng. .."
"Well, now, she's Chee Wee's wife and..." The coarse sound of the doorbell cut him short. He stiffened and his hand went to the gun in his belt. An oath broke out of Chee Meng and he flung the door open. Chee Wee, Mui Teng, were standing looking nervously to him for guidance.
"Who the hell is that?" Chee Meng said.
"Take it easy," Shin Yi said, moving past him. "It must be the pizza delivery man. You all sit around and have yourselves a real good time," she drawled, "and just leave everything to Shin Yi." She went down the stairs to the front door. "Who is it?" she said.
"Groceries, ma'am," a voice answered.
She opened the door. A slender youth stood there, a big bag of groceries in each arm. She gave him her best smile. "Well, we sure are glad to see you. I was about to starve to death. How much do I owe you?"
"Six dollars and forty-three cents, ma'am."
She counted off the money, gave it to him, and reached for the brown bags.
"Them bags is heavy, ma'am," he said. "Let me carry them up the stairs for you."
"No, thanks," she said curtly. "I'll take them."
He shrugged and handed them over and watched her struggle up the stairs with the heavy burden. A puzzled look came over his boyish face. People were funny, the things they did sometimes, and didn't do...
It was two hours later. They had eaten, the food helping to relax the tensions, to replenish their drained energies. They sprawled around the living room, all except Mui Teng, who was happily fussing in the kitchen, preparing for the evening meal.
Shin Yi, who had been industriously writing in an iPad, one of those speckled black-covered electronic books that schoolboys use, looked up.
"Anybody interested in hearing a poem?" she asked shyly.
"Is that what you been doing?" Chee Meng said. "Writing a poem?"
"I never know you could write poetry, Shin Yi," Chee Wee said, straightening up in admiration. Shin Yi cleared her throat. "It's called 'The Ballad of 99% Suicidal Poor'
She paused, made certain she had their attention, and began to read. She glanced up at Chee Meng, who grinned proudly. She turned back to the notebook and began to read softly.
"Our institutions are too big; they represent not the best but the worst. Power corrupts; attracts the worst and corrupts the best. ... Refuse to participate in evil; insist on taking part in what is healthy, generous, and responsible. Stand up, speak out, and when necessary fight back. Get down off the fence and lend a hand, grab a hold, be a citizen - not a subject or victim."
"Boy," Chee Wee said. "You write that all by yourself?" Her face tightened.
"Still you can't always judge the story"
Chee Wee couldn't restrain himself. "Yeah," he broke in. "We are the story. We are making history in Singapore!"
One penetrating look from Shin Yi and his mouth clamped shut. She took a deep breath and went on.
Slowly, very slowly, and very quietly, Chee Meng lifted himself out of his chair. Listening, enjoying every word, finding silent pleasure in Shin Yi's talent, in the sweet sound of her voice, he moved behind her, placing each foot carefully, anxious to do nothing to shatter the mood.
Outside the apartment there was also movement, equally quiet, equally anxious to disturb nothing. At least, not yet.
Two police cars pulled up to the curb just out of sight of the garage apartment. A lieutenant led his men out of the cars, giving a brief command to the driver of the first car, who eased his vehicle forward so that it blocked the entrance to the driveway.
The lieutenant signaled his men to take up positions, to find suitable cover before moving in. They obeyed, men ready for anything, guns drawn, faces grim and determined. The lieutenant checked his people and was dissatisfied. He motioned for a couple of men to move forward, closer to the garage itself, and one other to take up a position with an unobstructed line of sight to the apartment entrance.
In the apartment, Shin Yi was still reading "The Ballad of 99% Suicidal Poor." Concentrating on the words, Chee Meng stepped away, over to the window. He looked out. A sudden movement caught his eye, a flash of police blue, a gun hand extended, a gleaming badge. He blinked in disbelief. It couldn't be. They had been so cautious, careful not to attract any attention.
Chee Meng swore.
"Look here, Chee Meng," Shin Yi began.
"It's the police," he ripped out.
The words sliced through the air, to linger, a persistent echo, rising and falling in a penetrating wail that impelled them all to action. Guns leaped into hands and oaths broke out and there was the brittle shattering of windows.
"We can't let them take us!" Chee Meng cried, squeezing off the first shut.
At once all was chaos, a hysterical stoppage of time, all crashing sound as hammers fell against firing pins, pins driving fiercely into the caps of bullets. There were commands, hoarse cries, shouts of anger, of fear, of pain.
Mui Teng, in the kitchen,
Chee Meng leveled on a blue chest in the drive way. Fired twice. The blue man catapulated backward. Dead. Another policeman ran across the driveway. C W. gunned him down. Shin Yi blazed away at a place in the shrubbery and saw a body plunge forward.
"We got to get out of here!" Chee Meng cried,
" They've got the driveway blocked off," Shin Yi yelled.
"We got to try!"
"I will go first!" Chee Wee said.
He ran for the front door, the others close behind. Once outside. Chee Wee ducked into the garage, firing as he went. The others were at his heels.
"Get in the car!" Chee Wee yelled.
He went back outside, crouching, shooting at anything that moved. A policeman stepped into the open, took aim. A shot from the hip. The cop toppled over and lay still. Firing as he moved, Chee Wee scuttled down the driveway to the police car that blocked their sole route of escape. Miraculously, no bullet even grazed him. He reached inside and released the handbrake, shoving hard at the car, watching it roll slowly down the incline and out of the way.
During all this, Mui Teng, still screaming, fled the apartment and went running away, untouched by the storm of bullets around her, desperate to escape the crescendo of sound and death, weaving blindly down the tree-lined street.
In the garage, in the car, Shin Yi sat anxiously behind the wheel, Chee Meng beside her and Chee Wee in the back seat, both shooting wildly.
"Now!" Chee Meng cried. "Let's get out of here!"
Shin Yi gunned the car and it shot ahead, the rear door on Chee Wee's side open. At the street, she stepped down ferociously on the brake. The car screeched to a stop and Chee Wee leaped head-first into the back, and they were off again. Now the police left their hiding places, to fire after the car, and two of them went down in the answering volley.
Shin Yi squinted at the street ahead. A wavering, weaving figure appeared, running loosely as if all its joints refused to mesh, as if its muscles and tendons had abdicated their strength.
It was Mui Teng, still screaming.
"Let's get her!" Chee Meng ordered.
Chee Wee glanced out the back window. "They're coming after us, and fast."
"Keep shooting!" Chee Meng said grimly. He opened his door.
Shin Yi maneuvered the car close to Mui Teng, then smashed down on the brake.
Chee Meng reached and grabbed, pulled the hysterical woman inside. A second later they were speeding away. Behind them, a police car was closing fast and the ominous whistle of police bullets whirred dangerously close.
They were speeding through open countryside now, the two cars careering wildly from one side of the road to the other, bullets whizzing by. It was Chee Wee, firing out the rear window, who ended the chase. He put a slug through the windshield of the pursuing vehicle, a slug that killed the driver instantly. The police cruiser veered sharply off the road and crashed head-on into a tree.
Chee Wee turned around. "They ain't following us now," he said coolly.
The words barely penetrated Chee Meng's brain. His foot continued heavy on the gas pedal and the speedometer hovered past 90. Behind him, pressing herself furiously against Chee Wee, Mui Teng moaned and cried, mumbling incoherently.
Shin Yi held herself very still, trying to close out the sound of the other woman. Finally, able to tolerate no more, she whirled around, face distorted, eyes blazing.
"Dammit!" she bit off. "You almost got us all killed! You useless woman! You are too slow! We could have abandoned you!"
Mui Teng began to sob louder. "What did I do wrong? I supposed you'd be happier if I got shot."
"Yeah," Shin Yi said thinly. "It'd save us all a lot of trouble."
"Chee Wee," wailed Mui Teng. "Don't let that woman talk to me like that."
Chee Wee grimaced. His nerves were still drawn tight; yet here he was caught in a delicate situation between his new wife and his brother's girlfriend.
"You shouldn't have done it, Mui Teng," he said, keeping his voice soft, trying to soothe her. "I mean, we're together, all of us, and we got to stay together, see?"
She gazed up into his face. "Please, Chee Wee," she implored. "I didn't marry you to see you get all shot up. Please, Chee Wee, let's go. Let's get out of here and leave. Make him stop the car and let us out."
Chee Wee's eyes were somber and he turned to the front, staring at the back of Chee Meng's head.
"Chee Meng," he said gravely. "Stop the car."
Without a word, Chee Meng obeyed, drawing over to the side of the road. Chee Wee got out and motioned for Chee Meng to join him. Side by side, they moved across the shoulder onto the grassy slope that led into a stand of birch trees. Each of them felt the emotion of the other, emotion that bound them, and now threatened to rip them apart. Each of them understood instinctively that this moment was a crisis and each of them wanted to do nothing that would sour familial ties.
Chee Meng stopped about six feet from the line of trees. He scuffed the earth, unable to look at Chee Wee. His voice, when he spoke, was almost inaudible. Soft. Polite.
"Chee Wee, you can't go and leave me. Not now."
"Oh, boy, Chee Meng . . . you sure screwed me good."
"You can't leave me, Chee Wee."
Chee Wee kicked at a cloud of loose earth. He shook his head regretfully. "You told me time and again there wasn't going to be no trouble. And now all this has happened."
Chee Meng walked in a tight little circle, head down.
Chee Wee said, "I promised Mui Teng I'd change my ways."
Chee Meng stopped circling. "You can't leave."
Chee Wee considered that. "Hey, Chee Meng," he summoned, voice very soft.
Chee Meng lifted his head. He never saw the roundhouse right Chee Wee threw, the big fist catching him alongside the jaw, putting him flat on the grass. He lay without moving.
After appraising his fallen brother for a suitable interval, Chee Wee helped him to his feet. He brushed dirt off his back, looped his arm across Chee Meng's shoulders, and sighed.
"Okay, Chee Meng. I reckon you're the boss."
They drove cautiously for the remainder of the day and into the next afternoon, hitting the dusty back roads, anxious to attract no attention, to fade from official sight. They tried to figure out how the police had found them, why the people had been interested in them. They found out when they came across an mailbox with a newspaper sticking out of it. Chee Meng pulled alongside and Chee Wee, in the back seat, appropriated the paper. He began to read.
"Hey, y'all," he said, voice rising jubilantly. "Listen to what it says here. 'Chee Meng, suspected Occupy Wall Street Terrorist, fled before a growing army of police today after a gun battle on the streets of Marine Parade which saw the death of three policemen. . .'"
Chee Meng said nothing but a pained expression set in around his mouth. "Go on, Chee Wee," he said quietly.
Chee Wee continued to read. "Acting on a tip from a delivery boy, who said he suspected a bootlegging operation going on in a second-story apartment.."
"Well, ain't that delivery boy a snitch?" Chee Wee said mildly.
"The whole thing," Mui Teng muttered. "A mistake."
Chee Wee went on, "'….. police found themselves engaged in combat with the notorious Chee Meng gang. Lieutenant Roy Eng expressed belief that among the gang was Chee Meng's brother, Chee Wee, recently released retrenched from Motorola Singapore and disgruntled with the world'
Chee Wee broke off. "Shoot," he growled.
"Go on," Shin Yi said.
"A third woman was unidentified. Lieutenant Roy also positively identified Shin Yi as the woman in the gang. Slain were police constables Peter Lim, 35, Kian Heng, 27, and Carl Ng, 30,
"Chee Meng," Chee Wee interrupted. "We ain't going to see a restr
Chee Meng nodded in relief. There was an increasing pressure his bladder. He pulled the car into a wooded area on the far side of a quiet lake and stopped. A moment later he was out of the car, vanishing into the thick greenery.
Chee Wee turned back to the newspaper.
None of them thought to look around, to stay alert to possible danger. And so none of them noticed when a car pulled to a quiet stop on the road. Nor did any of them see the tall police officer get out as he moved stealthily toward their car until he was close enough to hear Chee Wee's voice continuing to read.
Chee Meng finished relieving himself and started back toward the car. He moved with no particular speed, enjoying this pastoral interlude, listening idly to the low drone of his brother's voice, trying to think ahead, plan their next step. They would have to find someplace to lay over, some safe, out-of-the-way place. He stepped out of the woods and went cold.
Ahead of him, no more than twenty feet, gun in hand, was the impressive silhouette of a police officer. Chee Meng drew his pistol and brought it to bear, eyes narrow. A part of him seemed to stand off and watch, as if he were a player in a Western movie. Here they were, the good guy and the bad guy smack in the middle of the main street of town, about to fast draw each other.
"Pinoy!" he rasped.
Richard Sangalang spun, knees bent, .45 searching for the target. Fingers tightened on triggers and two shots crashed out, almost simultaneously. Richard grunted and the pistol went flying out of his hands. He straightened and rubbed his numb right hand, eyeing Chee Meng as he moved forward.
The others came rushing from the car, guns ready, but it was all over.
"Wow!" Chee Wee gushed. "What a shot, Chee Meng!"
"Christ almighty," Shin Yi crowed. "I never a Pinoy police officer serving our Singapore nation before! Good shooting like that, boy!"
Chee Meng and Chee Wee took hold of the tall police officer and pulled his arms behind his back, using his own handcuffs to immobilize him. They backed him violently over the rear of the sedan, roughing him up. Chee Wee picked up the .45 and held it aloft, a trophy of victory.
"What are we going to do with him now that we got him?" he said. “He’s a police officer too.”
Richard gave no sign that he was affected by any of this or that their words penetrated in any way. His strong, seamed face remained impassive and his far-sighted eyes stared straight ahead. His handlebar mustache added to the sense of self-sufficiency and power of the man.
"Well," Chee Wee said in mock courtesy, his politeness exaggerated. "Ain't this something new. Us entertaining a genuine police law enforcer? Pinoy some more! And foreign talent! This is Singapore funniest home video!"
Chee Meng leaned forward, grinning tightly, holding the muzzle of his pistol under the Richard’s chin. "Say there, daddy. This here little lady is Shin Yi and you are with the OWS terrorist network. I reckon you heard of us."
Richard gave no sign that he had heard, the big face implacable, the full mouth firmly closed, registering no emotion.
Chee Wee gave a low bow. "We're mighty honored to have an honest-to-God police enforcer with us. Now aren’t you honored to be with the OWS gang?"
Again no reply.
“Chee Meng. That is no way to talk to a police officer…..” Shin Yi spoke. A tinge of disgust wore on her face. “Just let him go……..”
Chee Wee went on, "How are you today? Shin Yi, this bastard probably married a Singaporean wife to get Singapore citizenship. And look what happened after he got Singapore citizenship? He became a police officer to go against us!"
Richard stared into space.
"He never once was a Singaporean. I heard that in Philippines, an ex-Filipino can always get his home country citizenship after he leaves Singapore. " Chee Wee put in and explained to Shin Yi.
Chee Meng measured the man. "Can't you speak at all? Didn’t you like to yell at us when we were at home?"
"Listen," Chee Wee said to Shin Yi, "we don't want you to get the wrong impression of us. We about the most polite folks in the world. And just as friendly as you, aren’t we, Chee Meng?"
"Sure we are. Say, Chee Wee, let's us show the world here how friendly we are. Let’s all take our picture with him, just to be neighborly. We never even once took a photo together as police officer and terrorist."
"That's a terrific idea. Now is the best time."
"We can take pictures and send the pictures to the newspapers," Chee Meng added. "Wouldn't you like that?" Chee Meng sided closer, looking the tall man over.
Chee Wee fetched his camera phone and posed Chee Meng and Shin Yi, Mui Teng and Chee Wee on either side of Richard, pressing close to the man, showing their guns, grinning and making comic faces, while he snapped away. Chee Wee snatched the police officer’s badge from his chest, pinned it to his own shirt.
"Look here. I'm still a police officer. Show your respect to me. Even though I married a Singaporean legally, it was still a fair deal. I got a job in Singapore."
"Well, now," Chee Meng said. "I'm mighty proud to have our Singapore police force hire a foreign talent like you to be as part of the family.”
There was no response. "C'mon, Aren't you never going to say anything?"
"Bet I can make him talk," Chee Meng injected, pushing closer to Richard.
"Go ahead, Chee Meng," Chee Wee urged. "Make him talk."
Chee Meng thought he saw a flicker of something in the big man's face. Distaste? Fear? He laughed thinly.
"Make him talk, Chee Meng. He’s a homophobe. He hates faggots."
Chee Meng stepped up to Richard, ran his hands lightly over the broad chest, across his stomach, back up again, stroking lightly at his throat and his crotch.
"Take your hands off me!" Richard said with low intensity.
"There!" Chee Wee laughed. "He can talk. I knew it."
"Me, too," Chee Wee guffawed. "I knew it too."
"What are we going to do with him?" Shin Yi said, suddenly losing interest in this game. “Please stop this game.”
But Chee Meng wasn't finished. There was a strange kind of pleasure to be extracted from this, an alien excitement, and he wasn't yet prepared to let it go. He stretched until his face was close to the Pinoy and in a swift motion his mouth came down, smashing against his full lips, forcing himself upon him, into him, his tongue alive against his teeth, his pecs are flat and hot to his chest, his belly pressing against his loins. At last he pulled back, breathless and aware of the tingling passion spreading under his skin.
“Whose side are you on? Philippines or Singapore” Chee Meng purred, acting like a lady infatuated with Richard. “Aren’t you Singaporean too? Why do you want to stop us when in fact, we are trying to send a strong message to foreigners, foreign enterprises and those greedy corporate bigwigs not to mess with the 99%?”
Chee Wee laughed loudly.
“We are helping you protect the future generation from being robbed of opportunities…..”
For a long, thick second, everything was still; then Richard reached back into some deep well of privacy and spat his loathing into Shin Yi's face.
She gasped and fell back.
Chee Meng erupted with frightening intensity, grabbing Richard by the shirt front, whirling him around, reaching for his gun, intending to pistol-whip the helpless man. Chee Wee snatched the gun away. That failed to stop Chee Meng, who had gone wild, was swinging both fists at the police officer, cursing him, shouting imprecations at the top of his voice. Only his own raging anger kept him from doing real injury to the handcuffed lawman.
Richard fell backward to the ground and rolled as Chee Meng launched a kick at his exposed side and his groin. He missed and fell himself, scrambling after the other man. Together they went sliding and slipping down to the edge of the lake, neither able to gain purchase in the thick ooze in the shallows.
Chee Wee came after them, and clutching at Chee Meng, trying to pull
Chee Wee saw his intentions and moved to help, working the boat free, shoving it into the lake, where it floated silently upon the still waters, his big rugged face peering back at them over the side. The boat had two holes at the side, near the rudder. Water seeped in quickly.
"Remember us!" Chee Meng shouted. "The OWS gang. Singaporeans sent us to murder you! We'll send those pictures of you to the newspapers so everybody'll know what good friends we are. Oh, yes, you remember us!"
They took hold of Chee Meng and Chee Wee, and moved him back toward the car. Before getting in, Chee Meng turned to Shin Yi and smiled wanly. "Foreign fucker," he murmured. "He wasn't any fun at all."
"No," she agreed very softly. "It’s no fun at all. Let’s stop this.”
They drove away without looking back and so failed to see the police officer sitting erect in the boat, the bony face set, the pale eyes glittering with hatred and the desire for revenge. His handcuffs ate deep into his wrists as he started sinking slowly into the deep waters.
They kept running, spending extended hours in the cars, sleeping in fourth-rate motor courts in out-of-the-way laces where they were unlikely to be spotted. Soon it came evident to them all that they could not go on this way for one single, pressing reason—they were running out of money.
To Chee Meng, that meant only one thing and he told them so. "We're going to stick up the Singapore Development Bank," he announced. “It should have money as it was previously a state asset before it was privatized.”
"Oh, no!" Mui Teng gasped.
"Well, now," Chee Wee said mildly, his little mouth curled happily. "That is a good thing."
"What have you thinking about, brother?" Chee Wee asked.
And Shin Yi looked at Chee Meng with pride and pleasure in her blue eyes.
"It's the Singapore Development Bank gold bars spotted on display at their HQ," Chee Meng told them, "some distance back. It looked good to me and I been thinking on it and now I decided. We do it tomorrow. That place is infested with Pinoys as their bank teller staff. If the gold gets stolen, we can re-sell it in the black market and at the same time, send a message to the HR department of the bank."
They parked behind a windbreak dividing two farms that night, taking no chances on being recognized. And the next afternoon, they prepared for the job ahead. Chee Wee and Mui Teng were ready before the others and climbed into the back seat to wait, even while Chee Wee continued to work on the engine, checking every part, anxious that if anything went wrong he would not be to blame.
Shin Yi, neatly dressed as if on her way to an afternoon tea, fussed with her hair, looking into a hand mirror propped up on the fender. Chee Meng stood behind her adjusting the knot in his tie.
"Oh, what I wouldn't give for naturally curly hair," Shin Yi mumbled.
Chee Meng looked at himself in the mirror. "Hey, Shin Yi, you like this shirt or the other one better?" He held up a striped shirt on a hanger.
Shin Yi straightened up and appraised each shirt. "That one" She pointed to the one on the hanger.
"Yeah, you're right."
He unbuttoned his shirt, tossed it aside, donned the other one, tied his tie. He checked himself in the mirror again and approved of what he saw.
Chee Wee came around to where they stood, wiping his greasy hands on his jeans. "Engine's all tuned and ready to go. Say, don't you two look swell, like a couple of dudes."
Shin Yi glared at him disapprovingly. "Chee Wee, are you goin' to go like that?"
"Sure. What's wrong?"
She shook her head sadly. "Boy, you just have to learn to dress right, with a sense of style. Look at Chee Meng."
"Yeah, ain't he something?" Chee Meng slipped on his jacket.
From inside the car, Chee Wee yelled, "Hey, you all! Shake a leg. That bank's goin' to be closed up soon."
"We're coming," Chee Meng said.
Chee Meng climbed into the front seat, Shin Yi beside him. Chee Wee took his place behind the wheeL
"When that bank president goes to work," Chee Meng told Chee Wee, "he dresses to suit his position. And when I go in to take his money, I dress to suit mine."
"Well, let's go!" Shin Yi said. A moment later they were on their way.
Chee Wee stayed with the car, behind the wheel, engine purring and ready to move out. Mui Teng was in the back seat, drawn tight and pale, eyes darting nervously from the bank entrance to the street, seeing every moving figure as a policeman, anticipating disaster.
Inside the bank things went smoothly. Chee Wee led the way, heading directly for the chief teller's cage, Shin Yi moving to the window alongside. Chee Meng brought up the rear, perceiving the entire scene, drawing his two pistols and announcing in a loud, pleasant voice, "This is the Chee Meng gang, folks, so everybody just take it easy and nobody will get hurt."
The customers, at the cashiers' windows, at the loan desk, preparing deposits, all straightened up in place, faces slack with fear, hands rising uncertainly.
"That's it, folks," Chee Meng said. "Get your hands up. Makes it all easier and safer."
Shin Yi heaved the sack she carried onto the counter and smiled at the teller in a winning fashion. "Fill them up, please."
The Pinoy teller, a lady with a prim, disapproving mouth, hesitated. Shin Yi gestured with her gun. "I said fill them up."
"Oh, yes. Yes, Miss. Right away."
Chee Wee ducked behind the partition and pushed one teller aside, emptying the cash drawers, moving from one position to the next.
It was the prim-mouthed teller who, certain no one was watching her, stepped toward the alarm button, reached tentatively. At once something cold and ominous touched her bare wrist. She shuddered and turned, to see Chee Wee leering at her disapprovingly.
"Now, ma'am, if you was to touch that button we'd have an awful lot of company and we ain't prepared to entertain just now. I reckon you understand."
The thin head bobbed energetically and the thin mouth worked, but no sounds came out.
From his position near the front door, Chee Meng was able to see everything, the people in line, the executives at their desks, the bank guard, hands held at shoulder level and still wearing his pistol, a Singaporean with a handful of bills clutched in one thorny fist.
"That your money," Chee Meng said, "or the bank's?"
The Singaporean stared back unafraid. "It's my money, mister, hard earned, too."
"Keep it then. We rob from the rich and give to the poor."
Chee Meng's eyes roamed beyond the Singaporean to where Shin Yi was shoveling cash into her sack. Everything seemed to be going well, but he wished they would work faster.
"Speed it up," he called.
That was the chance the bank guard was waiting for. His right hand flashed to his gunbelt. Out of the corner of his eye, Chee Meng saw the movement. He whirled and fired in one motion. The hat atop the guard's head spun wildly and fell to the floor. The guard swallowed hard and his face went white.
"Next time," Chee Meng said matter-of-factly, "I'll aim a little lower…. To your crotch."
"Not gonna be a next time," the guard muttered hoarsely.
"Let's finish it up," Chee Meng called. "I'm about ready," Chee Wee called. "Shin Yi?"
She flashed a quick grin. "I guess I got all I can handle. Any time you're ready, Chee Meng." "All right, then. Let's go."
They backed toward the entrance. Shin Yi went first, Chee Meng and Chee Wee covering her exit. A well-dressed middle-aged China looking lady with a look of offended propriety on her chiseled face clutched an expensive beaded handbag to her ample bosom. As Chee Wee passed her on his way out, he snatched the purse away. The lady gasped.
"Thank you, ma'am. That money is meant for Singaporeans and not for you to keep" he said, and was gone. Chee
Seeing them, Chee Wee threw the doors of the car open and the gang went sprawling inside. Chee Wee hit the gas and they zoomed off down the street.
Chee Wee tossed the handbag into Mui Teng's lap. "Happy birthday, honey," he cooed.
She smiled a pleased smile at the unexpected gift. "Why, lover, that was awful sweet of you to remember . . ."
Shots crashed out behind them and Mui Teng screamed and jammed her fingers into her ears as Shin Yi, Chee Meng, and Chee Wee began firing out of the windows.
They reached the edge of town before the wail of a police siren reached them, closing fast. Chee Meng busied himself reloading his revolver.
"Kick it in the pants," Chee Wee said. "That's the law crowding behind us."
And back at the bank, the guard, collar open, holding his pistol in his right hand, seemed to be enjoying himself. A crowd had collected around him.
"Then he saw me going for my gun," the guard repeated for the fourth time. "Chee Meng himself, I mean. And suddenly I was staring into the face of death!"
"But you never faltered," cooed a lady teller.
He nodded solemnly. "I am doing my duty and I done it."
A photographer raised his camera. "Just look this way."
The guard nodded amiably, buttoning his collar and smiling into the lens.
"You trying to kill us?" Chee Wee said, turning a reassuring expression in his wife's direction. She had her eyes squeezed tight and her fingers still deep in her ears.
"Watch where you're driving," Chee Meng said.
A shot whizzed past. Another.
"Those police are closing in," Shin Yi said.
In the police cruiser, the two blue-clad men turned grim visages toward the car they were chasing. Each of them was aware of the importance of the gang they were chasing, of what it could mean to make such an important arrest. The man beside the driver hawked his throat clear and snapped a shot after the fleeing car.
And back at the bank, the bank president, a well-fed, portly man stood with his arm across the guard's shoulders pointing to a bullet hole in the wall. The photographer's flash exploded and the bank president removed his arm.
"All right, there's work to be done around here. Time's money, y'know. Time's money."
Chee Wee leaned out the back window and took aim on the police car. He fired twice, pulled his head inside.
"Missed, dammit! Car jiggled my gun hand."
He didn't look at her. "Chee Wee is doing the best he can."
A shot sounded and the slug ricocheted off the rear fender. Mui Teng screamed.
"Oh, shut up!" Shin Yi bit off. "Shut up!"
And back at the bank, the woman whose purse Chee Wee had taken was talking to a reporter.
"Let me see, now," she mused in her China accent. "There was my coin purse, of course, and a half-ounce of gold rings, an excellent brand, and there was . . ." Her hand went to her mouth and she blushed. "Oh, my goodness!"
The road was narrow and seemingly endless as it sliced through corn fields eye-high. No one had spoken for a long time. It was as if a deep and somber reaction to the tension and trepidation had at last set in and only time would bring them back to where they normally existed. It was Chee Wee, unperturbed and happy, who broke the mood.
"How much money you reckon we got, Chee Meng?"
"Yeah, Chee Meng," Chee Wee put in. "How much?"
Chee Meng took a long, thin cigar out of his pocket, bit off one end, and spat it out the window. Carefully, shielding the match with both hands, he puffed until the cigar was lit. He blew a great cloud of smoke and behind him Mui Teng coughed her displeasure.
"Let's see what we got," he said. "Pull over."
The car swerved to the side of the road, bounced across me ditch, and came to a stop on a stretch of open ground alongside the cornfield. They all got out and sat in the shade of an Angsana tree and Chee Meng dumped all the money in a pile. He looked at it without enthusiasm.
"Hell," he said. "That ain't much, is it?"
Chee Wee clucked sympathetically. "Times are hard."
"Crime doesn't ever pay," Mui Teng said righteously. “Even if it means stealing from foreigners.”
Shin Yi glared at her but said nothing.
"Well," Chee Meng sighed. "Let's get to it,"
He made himself comfortable on the running board and began to deal out bills as if dealing a poker hand. "This one's for Chee Meng Chee Wee," he said, laying down a bill. "And this one's for Chee Wee Chee Meng . . . Shin Yi Shin Yi . . . and Chee Wee Now one more time . . . Chee Meng, Chee Wee . ....Chee Wee .. . Chee Meng . . . Chee Wee . . . Shin Yi . . . “
Watching, her mouth turned down in a tight, disapproving purse, Mui Teng stood up and walked over to one side. With a quick jerk of her head, she brought Chee Wee hurrying over.
"What is the matter, honey?" he inquired. "Is something the matter?"
"Look at that," she husked out angrily. "Look at what that brother of yours is doing. Not giving me a thing, not a solitary thing."
Chee Wee shuffled his feet. "I told you I'd talk to Chee Meng and I will. First chance I get."
"Now," she insisted.
"Now is the time."
Chee Wee stepped forward, Mui Teng at his shoulder. He placed in ingratiating smile on his face. "Uh . . . Chee Meng? Say, Chee Meng?"
"Yeah, Chee Wee." Chee Meng continued to count.
"You see, Chee Meng . . . well ... I been meaning to talk to you about this."
"About what, Chee Wee?"
"It's Mui Teng ..."
Chee Meng looked up. "What about Mui Teng?"
"Well, Chee Meng, I been thinking. She should get her share."
Shin Yi's face became mottled with rage. "What!"
Mui Teng realized that she would have to rise to her own defense and did so with unaccustomed spirit. "Well, why not? Say, I earned my share! Same as everybody. I could have got killed by the laws same as everybody. Besides, I could have got snakebite sleeping' in them woods all them nights."
Shin Yi snorted her distaste. "Any snake bit you, he'd get poisoned."
Mui Teng swung around. "I declare you're the meanest woman I ever knew."
"And you're the dumbest," Shin Yi shot back.
"I may not be the smartest woman in the world, but I am no cheap tramp!"
"Come on, stop it," Chee Meng said.
Chee Wee smiled and said; "Let's all be friendly."
It was no use.
The rage in Shin Yi had been collecting for too long, a rage and frustration that targeted on Mui Teng. She reached for her gun and leveled it at Mui Teng. "Okay, you bitch! How'd you like me to pull this trigger?"
"Hey," Chee Wee yelled. "Put that gun down!"
"Please, Shin Yi," Chee Meng added plaintively.
It was Chee Meng who ended it, and triggered something else. He leaped to his feet, face livid, eyes squinting hotly. "I've had about all of this here temperament I am going to take, Shin Yi. Now you just put that gun down and be quiet, hear!"
Shin Yi's eyes skipped from face to face. No sympathy was evident anywhere. Clearly everyone had turned against her, transformed her into a stranger in an alien world, unloved, unwanted, and suddenly she had to get away, had to find some safe place among people she could depend on.
"All right," she bit off. "I know when I'm not wanted." She fought for breath. "You can all go to hell."
She reached into the back seat of the car and pulled out a paper sack stuffed with her clothes. Furiously, she swung away, tripping, swearing, moving on.
"Where do you think you're going in the middle of nowhere?" Chee Meng called after her.
"I'm going home to my mother!"
They all laughed at that, even Chee Meng. And that solidified Shin Yi's resolve, her frustration, and her anger. She broke into a run, darting into the corn field.
"You're making a fool out of yourself!" Chee Meng shouted.
There was no answer an
Chee Wee looked at him. "Aren’t you goin' to go after her, Chee Meng?" he said worriedly.
Chee Meng lit a cigar and puffed it contentedly. "She'll be back in ten minutes," he said confidently.
But she wasn't.
An hour passed and Shin Yi did not appear. There was no laughter now and a crease of concern appeared between Chee Meng's eyes. Whatever had been troubling Shin Yi, he hand had done nothing to ease her torment. He held himself real responsible for the continuing conflict between her and Mui Teng. After all, he told himself, he was in charge of them all and made decisions for them all. He glanced at his watch for the tenth time in the last two minutes.
"Where the hell is she? She should've come back by now."
"Ahhh," Chee Wee drawled. "That Shin Yi, nothing can do her harm."
"Well, where is she?" Chee Meng stood up and pounded his fist into his other hand. "Okay, let's take off. Everybody in into the car. We're going to find Shin Yi."
"Anybody see anything?" Chee Meng said.
No one answered. They drove on. Chee Meng peered in that direction. "It's her!"
Not waiting for the car to stop, Chee Meng leaped out, dashing into the field, calling her name. At first sound of his voice, Shin Yi broke into a run but he soon overtook her.
"No," she gasped. "Go away, Chee Meng. Leave me be. I'm through with you ... all of you."
"Shin Yi wait!"
"I... am .. . going... home ... !"
She ordered her legs to move faster but the muscles refused to obey. A weakness flooded her limbs and the paper bag filled with clothes fell to the ground, breaking open. Her things were scattered over a wide area. Gasping for breath, she struggled ahead as Chee Meng came pounding up behind her. She avoided his initial lunge but her foot hooked into something and she went sprawling, out of breath, weak, helpless. Deep, racking sobs, spasms of despair, shook her entire body.
Then he was there, embracing her, covering her face with kisses, murmuring soothing sounds, stroking her hair, ignoring her protests, telling her how much he cared, how important he held her to be, his growing need for her, how scared and empty he was without her.
"Hey, Shin Yi ... hey, hey, hey, baby, don't cry, baby, hey, Shin Yi ... hey, that's better, now ... hey, hey now, baby..."
She fought to speak but the words lodged in her throat.
"Don't ever do that again, Shin Yi," he murmured. "You really scared me."
"I ... I mean it, Chee Meng. I want... to see my . . . mother. Please. Please, Chee Meng"
He kissed her mouth to quiet her. "Yes, sweetheart, yes."
"I want to see my mother."
Arrangements had to be made. Chee Meng was convinced the police were keeping a watch on the Shin Yi family, waiting for the Chee Meng gang to show up. Phone calls were not to be made as the telecommunication companies could trace their whereabouts and strategy mapped and it was eventually agreed to meet in the open, where it would be impossible to be ambushed, so if necessary an escape could be made.
The entire Shin Yi family showed in a field to the north of Toa Payoh, a field not far from the good road, as if coming together for a picnic, with food and drink and all the children. The day was not good for a picnic, gray and overcast, with a thin rain falling from time to rime.
Shin Yi didn't care. There was her mother, Zakiah Tham, older and tired with new lines in her face, the sad eyes a little sadder, but alive and well.
And there were the others. Shin Yi's sister, younger and proud of her sister's exploits. "Here you are, Shin Yi. We been cutting and pasting everything about you"
And always Zakiah, quiet and dignified, eyes a little regretful behind steel-rimmed glasses, hands veined and freckled, clasped rightly, too tightly, at her waist.
And, too soon it was time to go, Chee Meng said. Shin Yi bit her lip and looked at him imploringly.
"A while longer, Chee Meng?"
He shook his head. "It's been too long, now honey. Too chance."
She nodded and embraced her mother. "Oh, mother, it was so fine to see you again. You look just wonderful. You take care of yourself, dear!"
Shin Yi's mother stepped back and studied her daughter. Her glance went to Chee Meng, unblinking and with an awful calm that Chee Meng found disturbing.
"Chee Meng Chee Meng," she said without emphasis. "Shin Yi was always a wild child, but everything she did wasn't bad, not by a jugful. Maybe you know the way with her. But I'm just scared."
"Oh, mother .. .*'
"I know I'm just an old woman and I don't know nothing,. .."
Chee Meng gave her a reassuring smile. "Mrs. Shin Yi, don't believe what you read in them newspapers. Why, if we done half that stuff they write about we'd be millionaires. This ain't no play game for us. It's business, Mother. You know hard times is on us, and this is the way we know best to make money."
"I understand what you're saying, Chee Meng. But even you can work as a dishwasher despite your high academic qualifications. It’s still a decent living.”
He went on. "I wouldn't risk Shin Yi just to make some money. So you don't worry your mind about it any more."
"Well, I do worry."
Shin Yi hugged her mother. "Oh, mother, you don't want to do that. It's like Chee Meng says—he take good care of me. You should be on our side. Tell me ma, has our politicians and the union done anything to protect our welfare? They only protected the organisations and employers but not us."
Zakia pondered. Indeed, life has become tougher to live ever since the incumbent President made a mess out of Singapore’s economy.
“Ma, the press and police treated me as if I was some kind of terrorist but yet, I felt like a hero. Well for the first time in my life I felt like somebody. I felt like a person. It was gratifying to be a hero to some people.”
"We'll be quitting this just as soon as the hard times are over," Chee Meng said encouragingly. "I can tell you that. Me and Shin Yi were just talking the other day and we talked about when we'd settle down and get us a home."
"And I told Chee Meng," Shin Yi said. "I couldn't bear to live more than three miles away from my precious mother."
Zakia stared at her daughter with no change of expression. "No, you won't. You do that, Shin Yi, and you'll be sure enough killed dead by the law in twenty-four hours. So you just keep moving, running, for as long as you can. Yes sir, that's what you better do."
No one said anything as the old lady shuffled away. Nor did either of them notice that it had begun to rain again. Harder this time.
Days ran into days and weeks into weeks and the gang discovered no resting place and what money they had went quickly, the price of life acutely inflated to those on the run. They slept where they could, ate where they felt safest.
Chee Meng drove slowly through a quiet residential neighborhood. Here the streets were lined with trees and the houses substantial, a place where people never broke the law, never concerned themselves with the police or guns, never worried about money. Shin Yi thought that it would be nice to live in such a neighborhood. Chee Meng gazed out the window, enjoying the warm spring night, as if they were all out for a little sociable drive.
"Chee Meng," she said.
"Don't you reckon we ought to be out on the road somewhere, getting out of this country, at least?"
"Sure. After a while."
'What are we waiting for?" Chee Wee put in.
"I figure this car is too well-known by now," Chee Meng explained, still searching the street. "It's time we got ourselves another one, one not identified to us."
Chee Wee agreed. "That's a good idea, Chee Meng. And look there, up ahead. There's two good-looking machines in front of that there house."
Chee Meng drew up behind the first car and killed the motor.
He led the way out, looked over each of the cars, one a coupe the other a sedan.<
"This one, I reckon," he said, indicating the sedan.
"It ought to be able to get up a good speed," Chee Wee said. "'Especially after I get to work on the engine."
"Let's get in," Chee Meng ordered.
Bhaghya Chitra was a round-faced man of no particular distinction. His smile was quick and fleeting, and his eyes were never still for very long. He explained that by saying that he was interested in seeing everything. But at this particular moment Chitra had eyes only for Jyothi, his fiance
They were seated in the swing on the porch of Jyothi's parent's house, locked in each other's arms. Chitra approved of Jyothi. True she was twenty-eight, a little old to be unmarried back in her home country in Chennai, India, but he didn't care. She suited him. She had a kind face and a firm slender body which he had been allowed to explore with greater freedom recently. Not that Jyothi was a loose woman. Not a bit. She was good, one hundred percent, and would make him a wonderful wife, the kind of wife a man in his position needed.
He kissed her now and her lips quivered under his and parted slightly. His hand stroked her side, came to rest under her armpit, his thumb touching the soft swell of her breast A highly stimulating experience, Chitra told himself. He moved his hand. Just a little.
"Oh, Jyothi," Chitra breathed. "Oh, now . . . now, dear..."
"Sweet thing... so sweet..
"Eugene, I really shouldn't let you. Not yet Not until *we're husband and wife in the sight of man and God ..."
"That'll be soon enough," he husked, shifting closer, bending over her, nuzzling her neck.
She giggled and looked past his ear to the street. She watched with mild interest as the other car drew up behind her daddy's coup. Who could that be, coming home at this hour? She wondered idly. She saw the people get out of their car and decided they were strangers. She watched as they strolled past the couple and stood looking at Chitra's car, then got inside as if it were their own. Jyothi pushed Chitra's hand away.
"Aww," he protested.
"Say,isn't that your car?"
His head turned. "Sure." The car began to move away from the curb, picking up speed. Chitra leaped to his feet. "Hey! That's my car! Hey!"
Chitra hurdled the railing edging the porch, went sprinting into the street, yelling after his fast disappearing car, shaking his fist in anger. Jyothi came up behind him.
"What are you going to do, sweetheart?" she said.
"Go after them. C'mon, we'll use your father's car."
"But..." she protested.
He cut her short. "You drive!"
She drove well, hands firm on the wheel, in total control of the speeding coupled and of herself. "We're gaining on them! There they are, up ahead."
"Go faster," he urged. "Those punks! Wait untilI get my hands on them."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'll tear them apart! Steal a man's car right from under him. I'll smash every one of them."
"You're very brave."
"When I get my hands on those kids ... I'll show them. I'll really teach them a lesson."
They were no more than fifty feet behind the other car now and gaining. Chitra urged her to greater speed.
"Force them off the road, and I'll give them something they deserve, a sound thrashing."
"What if they have guns?" she mused aloud.
His eyes swung violently from side to side and a brief smile lifted the corners of his mouth. He paled. "You know what I think?"
"That it wouldn't be fair, me beating up on those kids. We better get the police and let them handle this."
"All right, sweetheart."
"Turn around and head back to town. We'll go get the police."
"Well, turn around," he said peevishly. She did so.
Up ahead, in Chitra's sedan, Chee Wee had been watching through the rear window. He chuckled contentedly. "They stopped chasing us," he said, twisting around, making himself comfortable. "They turned around."
"Oh, that's too bad," Chee Meng said mischievously. He thought for a moment. "Let's go take them!"
Chee Meng executed a U-turn in one swift, smooth maneuver, stomped down hard on the gas pedal. The distance between the two cars began to shrink at once.
In the car, Jyothi peered into the rear-view mirror. Her eyes widened. "Oh, my God. They're coming after us."
He looked back. "Step on it ," he shot out, a rising panic in his voice. "Step on it!"
"They're gaining on us," Chitra said. "Go faster! Go faster!"
"I've got the accelerator on the floor now. It won't go faster."
"What are we going to do, Jyothi? I mean, if they catch us, and they have guns, I mean."
The sedan came up alongside, kept pace, while the members of the OWS gang looked in on Chitra and Jyothi, who carefully kept their eyes on the road in front of them. Abruptly, Chee Meng pulled ahead, forced the car over to the side. Both cars screeched to a halt.
Jyothi and Chitra watched as Chee Meng and the others got out and strolled back toward them. Terrified, Chitra rolled up his window, indicating Jyothi was to do likewise.
A menacing sight. Pressed around the coupe faces distorted against the windows and the windshield, were five people, grinning madly, brandishing weapons. Chee Meng pointed a pistol at Chitra and made an exaggerated motion of shooting. Chee Meng grinned, and his friends laughed, and Chitra managed a wan smile himself. It disappeared quickly.
Chee Meng gestured with his pistol. "C'mon, get out!" Neither Chitra nor Jyothi moved.
"Get out, I said."
"What are we going to do?" Jyothi asked.
"Do?" He looked at her in disbelief. "Why, we're going to get out of the car."
They came out, hands raised and shaking.
"Hello," Chitra said. "Hello, everybody. Hello. Hello."
Chee Wee smiled. "How do you do, folks."
Chee Wee swung back bringing the shotgun to bear. His finger pressed down on the trigger and shot past Chitra. The force of the blast knocked Chitra straight up and off the ground, hurling him backward through and slammed shut the car door. Chee Wee waited until the sound of the shot bullet had quieted before he spoke.
"What are we going to do with them?" Chee Wee asked.
Chee Meng considered the question. "Let's take them along." He pointed to the sedan with his pistol.
"Get in there."
Chitra's car was crowded. Chee Meng drove and Shin Yi sat next to him, Chee Wee alongside her. Chee Wee, Mui Teng, Eugene, and Jyothi were jammed into the back seat. To make matters more uncomfortable, the road they were on was rough, unpaved, sliced with ruts and potholes. But neither Chitra nor Jyothi was prepared to object.
As for Chee Meng and his friends, they were pleased to have some company, different faces, people from another world who could talk about other things, introduce a diversion however temporary and brief.
"What's your names?" Chee Wee said.
"Well, how do you do? A couple from India who is here in Singapore to take over Singaporeans" Chee Wee said. "We're the OWS gang. That there is Chee Meng driving and I'm Chee Wee."
The blood drained out of Chitra's cheeks and he and Jyothi clutched desperately at each other.
"Look," Shin Yi said warmly. “Don't be scared, folks. You're just folks like us. Only that you are India, with jobs while we are jobless."
Chitra saw a ray of hope as he tried to downplay the differences between India and Singaporeans "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, that's the truth. Just folks."
"I expect you been reading about us," Chee Meng said over his shoulder. "In the newspapers."
They answered simultaneously. "Yes," Chitra said.
"No," Jyothi said.
They glared at each other.
Chitra spoke with emphasis. He was sure he knew the proper strategy to save themselves from this mad crew. "Yes" he said. "Yes, we have, too, been reading about
Shin Yi laughed at the confusion. "Well, you two must be in love, I bet."
Chitra lowered his eyes and nodded shyly, then more vigorously.
Chee Wee clapped him on the back. "Well, now, boy, when you gonna marry the girl?"
They all laughed at that and the tensions began to wash away. They drove on and as time passed a feeling of comradeship was born. Chee Wee began telling jokes, building up to his favorite dot com joke. This red dot, which is worn by many Hindus, is a sign, that the person wearing it has recently visited a temple and worshipped there.
"…..So then the software IT companies started hiring cheap engineers from India just because they are the first ones to start dot com. For the red powder, take either your middle or ring finger, and apply a small dot of the red powder on your forehead…."
Chitra laughed loudly and Jyothi joined in as they knew that the only way to survive was to mock themselves. To join in mocking foreigners. From the others, there was only silence; they had heard Chee Wee tell the story too many times before.
Shin Yi wanted to keep Chee Wee quiet. She turned to Jyothi, smiling in a friendly fashion. "How old are you, honey?"
"Thirty-three," Jyothi answered without thinking. She stiffened. There was no missing the look of surprise and dismay on Chitra's face. Jyothi knew she had committed a serious error.
Later, they stopped at a McDonalds drive-through and Jyothi and Shin Yi brought out their dinner—sandwiches, drinks, side orders of French fries. They ate in the car, almost a family picnic, light and airy, a sense of belonging, a private society hurtling through the black night.
"Now, let's see," Jyothi said. "I ordered some French fries, didn't!?"
Chee Wee passed them along. "Here you go."
"Take it easy on those French fries," Chee Meng warned gaily. "Isn’t that right, Chitra?"
Chitra studied his hamburger. "This isn't mine," he said finally, a note of annoyance in his voice. "I ordered mine well done. Now who's got my hamburger?"
Chee Wee, his mouth stuffed, checked the burger in his fist. "Oh," he muttered thickly. "Is this supposed to be yours?" He extended the half-eaten burger in Chitra's direction.
Chitra viewed it with distaste and realized it would be a mistake to mess with Chee Wee. "That's okay. Forget it."
Chee Meng laughed at Chitra's discomfort. Chee Wee, chewing his food with animal vigor, guffawed loudly. "I sure am having me a good time!"
"Me too," Mui Teng said.
"How about you folks?" Chee Wee said to Chitra.
"Sure am. Best time I ever had."
"Me, too," Jyothi said.
"Aren’t vou glad we picked you up?" Chee Wee said.
"Sure," Chitra said. "This is the best time I had in years. Honest."
Chee Meng chuckled. "Hey, maybe y'all ought to join up with us, become members of the OWS gang."
That drew a delighted sound out of Chee Meng. "Ha! Wouldn't they be surprised back home to hear that? Chitra a part of the notorious OWS gang! We accepted a foreign talent in our ranks!"
Jyothi faked a giggle with pleasure at the thought. "Imagine! Fuck all foreign talents! That includes me!”
“What would our President Tan Jin Yang say if they heard that?" Her laughter came in waves, each shriller and louder.
"Oh, God!" Chitra gasped, tears beginning to stream out of his eyes. Chitra was a really good actor in faking a response. "They'd throw a fit! And that Philippines born president candidate Marvin Arroyo will withdraw his campaign!"
"What do you do, anyway?" Shin Yi put in, laughing.
Chitra fought for breath, his laugh fading. "I'm a bank relationship manager," he said.
The inside of the car went quiet, an ominous stillness. For a long interval no one spoke. Only the sound of their breathing was audible. It was Shin Yi, taut, anxious, speaking from between clenched teeth, who said it for them all.
"Kick them out of here! NOW!"
That's all they seemed to do, speeding from one place to another, and always there was an invisible cloud pressing down, stirring them to some dim awareness of what lay ahead. And what lay ahead was being shaped by what they had left behind, a trail of robberies and killings, of outraged citizenry too happy to report their whereabouts to the police, their names and faces as familiar as movie star's.
Shin Yi and Chee Meng. First billing was always theirs. And the small but known supporting cast. Chee Wee and Mui Teng. Plus a fifth, unidentified woman who is now identified as a China strangler.
Behind them also was a tall police superintendent, bitter and dedicated, a man with a committed glitter in his far-seeing eyes, a man whose handlebar mustache gave him the look of an avenger who would not be denied. A man tormented, unable to live with mockery. A man yearning to repay those who had made of him a laughingstock before the inhabitants of his special world. So he came on, after them, asking questions, phoning ahead, checking local police, bus stops, motor courts, roadside diners. Wherever they might have paused to rest or refresh themselves. And no matter where they went, he learned of it and came after them.
They felt safe enough in Lim Chu Kang, a town not too different from so many others they had seen and passed through. It was a still place, life moving at a measured pace, and little ever happened to excite the citizens. Or the police force. Least of all, nothing like the OWS gang. Bank robberies and killings were events to plague other towns. Here, in the heartland of Singapore, people went from day to day knowing what to expect of their lives, of their neighbors, and a man marked only the truly important days, like the National Day and Christmas and Thanksgiving. The days that mattered.
They all gathered in one of the cabins. Chee Wee lounged in one of the overstuffed chairs, Mui Teng in another just across from him, Chee Meng and Chee Wee sprawled across the double bed, each lost in his own thoughts.
And Shin Yi paced the room. There was a special quality to her movements, a feline thing, fluid and reaching, as if all her forces, emotional and intellectual, were gathering in one place, a tight fusing of all needs and desires, a tightening band that stretched almost beyond tolerance.
She stopped, gazed balefully around. "What is this, a public room?"
No one replied and she swore tightly. She pointed at Chee Wee and Mui Teng.
"You two got your own room, why don't you go there? Stay there. By yourselves."
Chee Meng sighed and heaved himself off the bed. "Relax, honey, don't be so jumpy. Here. Why didn't you lay down and take it easy? I reckon we're all a little testy."
Chee Wee looked lazily at Shin Yi who had remained standing in the middle of the room. "What's bothering her?" His normal good humor was absent.
"What's bothering her?" he said, directing himself to Chee Meng this time.
Chee Meng turned away. He wanted to avoid any arguments. They had all been together too long and he wished they could separate, at least for a while. That was worth some hard thinking, to figure a way. "Lay off, Chee Wee," he said mildly.
Chee Wee wasn't having any of that. His nerves were rubbed raw. Mui Teng had been at him almost constantly to leave Chee Meng, to go and live with her daddy, to join him in the church. Damn! That wasn't for Chee Wee. But not this either, this hanging around doing nothing, cooped up in tiny cabin rooms, always hiding from the police. And that Shin Yi! She was okay except that sometimes she got to feeling too big for her britches. Face it, Chee Wee told himself, she was only Chee Meng's girl, not even properly married and all. He snorted disparagingly and jerked his head in her direction.
"What's bothering her?" he repeated harshly.
"Nothing," Shin Yi snapped off. "Nothing that being away from you and that wife of yours wouldn't fix in a big hurry."
Chee Wee straightened up. "Now look here..."
"You can't talk about me that way," Mui Teng objected. "I am not a piece of dirt or something!"
"That's exactly what you are," Shin Yi shot back.
Chee Meng felt he had to speak up befor
"You can go to hell!"
"Listen, Shin Yi..."
"Don't you tell me what to do, Chee Meng."
"Well, damn!" Chee Meng said. "Well, dammit it all to hell! You can both go jump in the lake, both of you." He swung away, striding over to the far wall, pressing his forehead against the cheap wallpaper with all this strength, the veins in his neck bulging.
He counted silently to ten, and ten more. The resentment oozed out of him and he went over to Shin Yi and tried to kiss her. She turned her face.
He grinned, that boyish grin that always stirred her, made her want to embrace him and pet him and hold him against her bosom. She ignored him. He put his thumbs in his ears and made a silly face, crossing his eyes, waggling his fingers, his tongue popping in and out of his mouth like some idiot marionette gone beserk.
She glared at him. "Stop it, Chee Meng. Let me alone. Just don't bother me, hear!"
He swallowed an angry retort and swung away. The silence was oppressively thick and worrisome. It was Chee Wee who shattered the mounting tension. He sat up and stretched, yawning noisily, almost oblivious to what had been happening.
"Damn," he said, "I'm about to starve to death. Isn’t anybody else hungry?"
There were affirmative murmurs from the others.
"That's a good idea," Chee Meng agreed hurriedly. "I saw a Starbucks a few miles back. Who all wants to go get some food?"
Mui Teng stood up, head held proud and defiant. "I will. I'm sure getting plenty tired of sitting around here and looking at your long faces anyway."
"You can't drive," Chee Wee said. He made no move to get out of his chair. '
"That isn’t all she can't do," Shin Yi muttered.
"Now look here," Mui Teng began.
"I'll go with you, Mui Teng," Chee Wee said without enthusiasm. "I'll drive for you."
"What's everybody want?" he asked.
Chee Meng said, "Just five chicken dinners. That's all."
"And something for dessert," Chee Wee added, grinning.
Chee Wee looked at Chee Meng, who nodded.
"See if they got peach ice cream," Chee Wee said. He patted his bulging paunch lovingly.
"Don't worry, lover," Mui Teng said. "I'll find you some ice cream. I'm going to take good care of my man."
Shin Yi snorted in disgust and turned away. The door closed signaling the departure of Mui Teng and Chee Wee. All at once a sense of loss came over Shin Yi and she was afraid she was going to cry. She walked swiftly into the other room, slamming the door, dropping onto the bed, kicking off her shoes, rolling onto her stomach, trying not to think, not to feel, making her brain a black void, willing herself to sleep. It refused to come and she pounded her fist against the mattress in frustration.
Her mind reached back to her room in her mother's house. It was no different now, the same sense of being restricted, caged, unable to breath, a grounded bird, her wings clipped. She wanted ... oh, how she wanted. But ... what?
"Baby, what's wrong?"
She rolled over. Chee Meng was standing there looking down at her. That worried crease between his eyes. She stretched out her arms and he came to her. His body was strong, well-muscled, and the weight of him on her was deeply stimulating. She hejd him tightly and her middle reached, rolled, and twisted, and her lips parted and went up to his. The kiss was long, warm, penetrating, different in some unnamed way than ever before.
Her arms tightened and one hand slid down the small of his back onto his tight flat bottom and she moved against him with a driving insistence and he responded as he never had before. She guided his hand to her breast. His fingers were strong but gentle and a starburst of sensation stirred just under her nipple and spread swiftly, a churning emotional pool traveling along the length of her to that private place which she longed to offer to Chee Meng. He lifted his mouth away from her.
"Listen," he murmured.
"Hush, now. Just kiss me again."
"You know how I feel..."
She placed her hands carefully, one on each side of his face, and reached up for his mouth again, found it and after a brief interlude, let her tongue caress his lips, circling the oval of his mouth, touching the backs of his teeth, dancing along the hard ridge of gumline, finding the sensitive inner cheek. A soft moan sounded back in his throat and he rolled onto his back. She went after him.
"We shouldn't be doing this," he said. "It isn’t proper."
"I love you, Chee Meng."
"And me you, Shin Yi. Still that don't mean we got the right to be rutting around like a couple of hounds in heat."
She grinned and her fingers traced the line of his jaw. "Maybe those dogs know something without us telling them. ..."
A silent struggle was going on within, and she could see it. He shoved himself erect, turning abruptly away. "This isn’t right."
"It is, Chee Meng. As right as anything could be."
A spasm coursed through his strong body. He went to the far wall.
"You don't understand," he said, after a silent minute.
"I love you, Chee Meng. Isn't that enough?"
He filled his lungs with air and tried to close his mind. A thousand different thoughts skittered around inside his skull, memories that were best forgotten, pictures evil and disturbing. There was one single, recurrent image. His father and mother, together naked in bed, bodies straining and thrusting, his father pounding his mother hard and painfully.
The sounds, the pitiful plaints of a woman soft and vulnerable, the pain, the indignity, the violence done, and later the recriminations, the talk of failure, of the closeness of something dear but never fulfilled, of repeated experiences that left her empty and yearning for what never was.
Chee Meng had vowed, long before he knew what it was he was vowing, long before he could understand, that he would never pain a woman, never fail to provide what a woman he loved wanted. And to insure that he would never fail, it came to his mind that there were things best left undone.
There had been a girl when he was sixteen. She had been older by two years, years larded with experience and knowledge. And she had taken him behind the sports field in back of the grade school and taught him how to kiss, how to caress a girl, and the excitement in him had swelled and become unbearable until he wanted to scream. Then she had made those sounds, small pitiful sounds deep in her throat and her body had writhed under him as if in protest and he knew that he was causing her pain. He had twisted away, distraught, edgy, almost angry, stood up, ignoring the plaintive look in her eyes, averting his face so he could not see her spread legs and her pale white belly and the shadowed wedge that drew him and repelled him at the same time. She had spoken his name once, low and pleading, and he had pivoted away, alternately walking and running all the way home. And was safe.
He grunted but could not face Shin Yi. He loved her too much to do her any harm, any injury. "Chee Meng, come back to me." "You don't know what you're saying."
"I love you and I want you, Chee Meng." "I can't. We mustn't."
There was the sound of the bed creaking and her footsteps, a soft padding, and he sensed her at his shoulder though she made no effort to touch him.
"It's been a long time since that first day, Chee Meng. Remember? I was standing at the window looking out thinking I was about to go out of my mind when I looked down and there you was about to steal my mother’s car. You remember?"
"You remember how I looked to you that minute, that exact minute?"
He exhaled silently. "I remember."
He swallowed. "You weren't wearing clothes. Nothing at all."
"Was I pretty to you, Chee Meng?" "You were beautiful." "Tell me."
"I was able to see your breasts."
"You were... beautiful "
"I haven't changed, C
Her hand came to rest on his shoulder and moved lower, fingers caressing his spine. She lay her cheek against his back.
"I love you, Chee Meng."
It was building in him, desire, the need, the ache to hold her, to feel her softness against his own flesh, to taste her mouth. Clumsily, unsure, he swung around and their mouths closed on each other.
When they broke she was fighting for air and laughing.
"C'mon," she said. "C'mon."
She had his hand in hers and was tugging. "This way, sweetheart, this way, to the bed."
He held back. "Shin Yi ... I'm afraid."
"Me too," she laughed. "Me too. We'll be afraid together and whip our fear together."
He wet his mouth and allowed her to lead him. She sat on the edge of the bed and began to unbutton his shirt. Her mouth found his naked chest, lips working, moist and warm, and her tongue a blazing probe. Her hands fumbled with his belt.
"Shin Yi, I don't want to hurt you."
"Oh, my love. You won’t going to hurt me, not a single solitary time."
"How can you know?"
She smiled and brushed at his hair. "I know."
He knelt and they kissed, sweet and lingering. Gradually, a slow ascent beginning somewhere behind his navel, a climb to peaks never before known and there was a tingling on his skin as if a thousand dancing flowers skipped their way up and down his limbs, along his torso. He shivered in delight.
In anticipation. In fear.
She was undressing him, fingers unhurried and certain, steady, so as not to give alarm. He stood naked and wanted to conceal himself, to hide from her view, but she held him and soothed him and loved his flesh and brought it back to life and shored up his manhood, keeping his passion vibrant and strong.
After a while, she stripped off her own clothing, rapidly, afraid to be apart from him for too long. Then they were together, mouth to mouth, breast to breast, belly to belly, arms and legs entwined, hands reaching with curiosity and affection.
"Oh, Shin Yi, I never knew..."
"Let me show you, darling...."
"Oh, yes, my love. That way. And here, here, too, like that. Oh, perfect."
"It's almost too... much...."
"Too much and not enough .."
Her body arched and strained upward against him and he worked against her flesh, forcing her back onto the mattress. It was all thick emotion and feeling, spreading into the furthest reaches of every limb, seeping into vital organs, a quickening tempo that throbbed deeply and sent the blood pounding behind their eyes. A pendulous quality to it all, a heavy, demanding, insistent thing that would no longer be denied, that made itself known erupting from a dark secret place in him, a distant shadowy melody with its singular rhythm and harmonics. All was reaching and taking, and finding certain hollows, moist and mysterious, giving, getting, a thumping, at once gentle and savage, unlearnable except in this school.
"Shin Yi! ..."
"I love you!"
"I love you!"
"Oh, no. Don't. Don't wait. No waiting. Just . . . give . . . me. Give . . . me . . . everything. Give . . . splash me . . . all. . . you. Give .. . give ... oh, yes, baby, give ... to... me..."
He screamed into her mouth.
He stood by the window and gazed sightlessly into the bright daylight. A warm flood seemed to break over him in slow, successive waves, and he allowed it to happen.
"Shin Yi," he said quietly, not turning.
She lay naked under the sheet, curled and twisted, hair thick and female over her face, breasts heavy, all woman. Contented. Full.
A long stride took him alongside the bed. He spread his hands helplessly. "Was it. . . right? I mean, right." "You're beautiful."
A boyish agitation filled his mouth and made him stutter. "No. I mean, right. It's important that it be right. I mean, you have to tell me so I can know and learn for you. It's important."
She came up on one elbow and a lazy smile bent her mouth. Lidded eyes swam into focus. "No woman ever had a man so right. The rightest."
"You've got to tell me."
She held out her arms. "Come and I will."
And this time he didn't have to ask.
"This sure is nice."
Mui Teng glanced sidelong at Chee Wee at the wheel of the car and turned away. She took a last drag on her cigarette, tossed the butt out the window.
"I mean, us riding along together this way. We never did get much time to talk," Chee Wee went on, his manner open, friendly.
“Things I heard you say to Chee Wee or Chee Meng, I figured we got a whole lot in common."
Mui Teng shifted around in her seat and stared at the little round man. Maybe he was right. Maybe they did have a lot in common. He wasn't like Chee Meng, so tough and distant. Or Shin Yi, mean and cold.
"How do you mean, in common?" she said cautiously.
Chee Wee shrugged. "Don't know. Just trying to be friendly, that's all."
She was vaguely disappointed. She needed a friend, someone to talk to, share her concerns with, someone who would understand. Sudden irritation with Chee Wee flashed through her.
"Slow down?" she barked.
"I'm only doing forty-five."
Tension had been mounting in Mui Teng and it seemed worse today, a swelling pressure that allowed her no peace. She lit another cigarette and puffed anxiously.
Chee Wee smiled at her. "You sure are smoking all the time lately."
"Oh, God. . .." Mui Teng let her head drop into her hand and a sad sigh came out of her. She closed her eyes and tried not to think, to forget where she was, what had been happening to her.
Chee Wee looked at her. After a moment, he directed his attention back to the road. A bright look came into his little eyes, the look of discovery. Chee Wee had had an idea.
"Hey! Mui Teng!"
She made a small sound but didn't move.
"I got an idea."
"Yeah?" she said wearily.
"Why didn’t you go back home to your papa?"
Her head came up and she gazed at Chee Wee with new interest. "Oh, Chee Wee, if only I could," she burst out. "If I could just do that one thing! Oh, there's no telling why this all happened." She shifted around so that she faced him directly. "Did I ever tell you that I was a preacher's daughter?"
"Well, how about that! I never knew that."
She shook her head vigorously. "Well, it is a fact, an absolute true fact."
A smile curved Chee Wee's mouth and remained there. "Hey!" he said, after a while. "What church is City Harvest Chuarch affiliated with?"
"Baptist, of course." She puffed on the cigarette. "Oh, and he thought the world of Chee Wee, my daddy did, even knowing that Chee Wee was serving time in jail. That's the kind of man my daddy was. He forgive him for that 'cause he paid his debt to society."
"We were Disciples of Christ."
"I mean, that's the Christian way. Forgiveness and love and all."
The car swung to the right and stopped. Chee Wee turned off the engine and looked at Mui Teng patiently. "Why did you stop?" she asked. "We're here, the chicken cafe."
"Oh," she said. Then, with irritation: "Well, let's go inside."
The restaurant was long and narrow, a wooden counter running its length. Only a few people were at the counter when Chee Wee and Mui Teng entered, one of them was a police deputy in dusty khaki's. He glanced up automatically at their appearance but showed no further interest and went back to his food. Mui Teng went over to the take-out counter and put in her order, fiddling nervously with her purse while she waited. Chee Wee stood a few feet away, oblivious of his surroundings, lost in some wo
"Here, ma'am." It was the counterman, extending-a brown paper bag containing Mui Teng's order. She searched through her purse.
"Hey, Chee," she said, voice brassy and insistent, "I haven’t got my money. Give me some?"
The deputy looked over without lifting his head, chewing methodically. Women! he thought wryly, watching the byplay.
Chee Wee opened his jacket in order to get to his back pocket and his money. The deputy stopped eating. There was no mistaking the black butt of a .38 pistol jutting up out of Chee Wee's pants. The deputy lowered his eyes. When he heard Chee Wee and Mui Teng leave, he looked up.
The chicken dinners helped. The food satisfied their hunger and helped calm jangled nerves. By the time night came on, they were ready for bed. There was a new kind of excitement in each of them, a continuing high note of energy and anticipation that refused to be stilled.
Only the soft glow of the lone bedlamp illuminated their bedroom. Shin Yi was on the bed in her nightdress, her knees drawn under her chin, smoking, concentrating hard. Chee Meng reclined next to her in his undershorts, head resting in his hand, a cigarette drooping out of the corner of his mouth, squinting against the plume of smoke.
"Oh, veah," he said playfully. "Only you look like one, though. You haven’t got no meat left on your ribs."
With that he launched himself at her, fingers massaging her ribs. A rising whoop of laughter leaped out of her and her body arched as she tried to twist away from him.
"Stop, Chee Meng! Stop! Chee Meng, stop. Chee Meng!"
He kept at her and they thrashed around on the bed, limbs entwined, laughing wildly. Soon she was tickling him and for them both there was a new freedom, this physical thing between them, so warm and personal, so innocent and intimate. A new thing, strange still, but growing.
"Hey, now! Will you two just shut up? Can't I get some sleep, darn it?" It was Chee Wee, sitting up in his place in the big chair across the room.
His words had no impact on Shin Yi and Chee Meng. They continued to giggle, to roll around on the bed. Chee Wee snorted in disgust and got out of the chair, taking his pillow.
"A man can't get any rest around here," he complained. "I am going to sleep out in the car where I can get some peace and quiet."
He reached for the blanket, letting it drag along the floor behind him, shuffled toward the door connecting the room with the garage. As he passed in front of the window, it was filled with a great, blinding light. Chee Wee blinked and fell back.
"What the hell...!"
Chee Meng sat upright. No longer was he laughing. He reached for his pants. "It's the police!"
The alert deputy at the chicken cafe had done his job well. A few questions around town, visits paid to this motor court, that rooming house, until by a process of elimination the right one was located. And now this.
Six police cars were ranged across the lawn outside the cabins occupied by the Chee Meng gang, the cars crowded with armed police officers. Four of them advanced across the expanse of grass, guns ready, walking with that cautious stiffness so natural to men crowding close to death. They edged up to the cabin in which Chee Wee and Mui Teng slept. One of them knocked loudly.
"Open up, this is the police!"
Chee Wee and Mui Teng sat upright in bed. He reached for his gun, about to throw the challenge back at them. Mui Teng's hand shot out, clamped over his mouth before he could speak.
"The men are on the other side!" she called out
It worked. The four lawmen edged their way across the lawn, past the connected garages, toward Chee Meng and Shin Yi's cabin. They were no more than twenty feet from the cabin door, when the brittle crash of a breaking window alerted them.
"Watch out!" came the warning cry.
It was too late. Blasts of gunfire broke open the night and one officer went tumbling to the ground. The others ran for cover.
Inside, Chee Wee and Shin Yi were at the windows, firing steadily at the police cars, at the lawmen scattering into position.
"We got to get out of here!" Chee Meng shouted. "That's our only chance! I'm going in after the car!"
"Okay!" Shin Yi called, still firing. Two lawmen fell to the ground and two more went racing for shelter. Out of the night, without warning, came a blinding light. She shielded her eyes.
"What the hell is that!" Chee Wee cried.
She tried desperately to see. "It's an armored car!" she yelled. "The bastards are using an armored car! Shoot it down, Chee Wee! Shoot it down!"
They began to fire, Shin Yi blasting away with two pistols, Chee Wee using a Thompson submachine gun. The volley shattered the window of the armored car and the vehicle veered as the driver, badly wounded, slumped over the wheel. His body pressed down on the horn, sending an eerie blast into the night air, blaring in counterpoint to the crackling gunfire.
In the garage, Chee Meng checked the Browning Automatic Rifle cradled in his arm before moving to the door, a door trembling under the impact of bullets breaking it apart. With one quick movement, he flung it open, triggering the automatic weapon at the same time, loosing a stream of bullets at the glaring lights outside. He ran back to the car and jumped in. One hand was on the steering wheel, the other on the bar, shooting through the open window, as he drove the car into the driveway, the battle raging all around him.
Slugs whizzed past but he kept shooting back. The door of the cabin flew open and Shin Yi and Chee Meng came charging out, firing into the night. Crouching, they made it across the open space and into the car.
"Where's Mui Teng?" Shin Yi cried.
"We going to leave them?" Chee Wee shouted.
"There!" Chee Meng yelled. "There they are! Keep shoot-ing!"
The door of the other cabin had opened and Chee Wee and Mui Teng, holding a mattress in front of them for protection, inched out. With his free hand, Chee Wee fired at the police.
"C'mon, Chee Wee!" Chee Meng yelled. "This way!"
They tried to move faster, but the mattress was heavy and running was difficult. Bullets thudded into the mattress and one went on through and struck Chee Wee. He screamed in pain and toppled over. Unable to hold up the mattress alone, Mui Teng fell too.
"Chee Wee's hit!" Chee Meng cried. "I'm going after him!"
"You'll get killed!" Shin Yi protested.
He was out of the car and running low and fast, slugs whistling past, digging up clumps of grass at his heels. In a single motion, Chee Meng heaved the mattress aside, grasped Chee Wee under the arms, and headed back for the car. A hysterical Mui Teng followed, screaming.
"They shot Chee Wee! They shot him!"
The volume of gunfire was deafening now and it seemed impossible that any of them could survive the intensive field of fire being layed down by the police. The car shuddered under the thud of slugs but somehow Chee Meng got the engine started and from a standing start the car leaped ahead like a crazed stallion, the speedometer swinging madly toward sixty before they were halfway down the driveway. A deputy appeared in their path with a double-barreled rifle.
He leaped aside at the last second, firing as he fell. One bullet hit the side window, shattering the glass into thousands of tiny slivers. Mui Teng fell back, screaming, hands over her face.
"I've been hit! I've been shot!"
A piece of glass had lodged in her eye. Something warm and wet oozed up between her fingers and that set her to screaming again.
"I'm bleedin'! I'm going to bleed to death!"
No one paid any attention. They were too busy shooting at the squad cars that swung out in pursuit. The car careered crazily along the highway, Chee Meng fighting for control, his senses reeling, trying to understand what had happened, how the police had found them, at the same time struggling to think ahead, to find a way out.
He managed to put some distance between them and the trailing police and the shooting stopped. He crouched forward, clenching the wheel tightly, peering into the night, hunting an avenue of escape.
"He's your brother," she muttered plaintively. "Help him. Please don't let him die."
Mui Teng sat among this misery and sobbed silently, the submachine gun cradled in her lap.
"Keep quiet!" Shin Yi screamed. "All of you!"
No one listened to her.
"I think we've lost them," Chee Meng said.
Some thirty minutes had passed since they had begun their run. The inside of the car was comparatively still now, broken by only an occasional moan from Chee Wee. Mui Teng held her face in her hands, rocking piously but making no sound.
"We can use another car," Chee Meng muttered. "Keep your eyes peeled."
They went speeding down a pleasant suburban street, past large, comfortable houses, nobody speaking.
"There!" Shin Yi said finally. "On the right." "You get it and follow me," Chee Meng ordered. "Okay."
Chee Meng braked the car and got out, climbed into the other vehicle, a new and expensive touring car, backed it out of the driveway, and fell in behind Chee Meng. In tandem, they drove off.
Chee Wee lost track of time. Alone in the stolen limousine, he steered with one hand, crying all the time, muttering his fears, his confusion. He had never thought it would be this way, all the shooting, the killing, the pain and the blood. He hadn't meant it to be this way at all.
Neither had Chee Meng. All the fun had gone out of it long ago, all the glamor. Only the fear remained, the sense of being hunted, tracked down, being forced into some blind alley with no escape. His lungs burned and he yearned to lie under the high speckled sky and breathe fresh country air.
"We better stop somewhere," Shin Yi said to him. "We got to rest." She glanced into the back seat. "Chee Wee is hurt bad, Chee Meng. Real bad. And Mui Teng, too."
He grunted. They were on a back road now and speeding past a row of high, leafy shadows. Swinging around a curve, he spotted a wide, flat field. It looked peaceful and quiet, a lush meadow surrounded by a ring of trees, a dense forest.
"Here," Chee Meng said. "We'll stop here."
The two cars swung into the field, headlights slicing through the dark, circling as if scouting the terrain, bouncing to a stop at last near the middle of the meadow. Slowly, reluctantly, almost, as it afraid to leave the somehow sanctified and secure confines of the cars, they staggered onto the grass, helping each other.
In the glare of the headlights, they were able to look at each other. Half-naked in pajamas, in nightgowns, in pants, glistening with sweat and blood. Dirty. Weary. Terror carved into faces so recently young.
Chee Meng eased Chee Wee out of the car and laid him on the thick grass. Chee Meng knelt and tried to do what he could for his brother. A single glance at the gaping wound in Chee Wee's skull told him that for Chee Wee there was nothing to be done.
Chee Wee, semiconscious, moaned and muttered something. Mui Teng sank to her knees, still clutching at her eyes, praying with mournful hysteria.
"Oh, dear God, please help us! Dear father in heaven, get us out of this and Chee Wee will never do another bad thing in his life. I promise you, God, he'll be good..."
Shin Yi stood off to one side staring at the tableau. Mui Teng joined her.
"He don’t have a chance. Half his head is blown off."
"Shut up," she said kindly.
It was then that Mui Teng screamed, the piercing lament of a stricken beast, "My eyes!" She screamed again. "God! I think I'm blind." She began to cry hysterically.
Shin Yi went over to the car and came back with a pair of sunglasses. She put them on Mui Teng.
"You'll be all right, Mui Teng," she murmured.
"Please," Mui Teng cried.
"Please, get us to a doctor. You got to. We'll die here."
Shin Yi straightened up and her voice was edged with a tough realism. "Can't go to a doctor now. We’ve got to get out of this mess."
"Chee Meng," Mui Teng called. "Chee Meng, please get us to a doctor. We're going to die."
"I can't do that, Mui Teng," he said quietly. "It's just too dangerous."
"He's your brother!"
Chee Meng looked down at Chee Wee. His mouth firmed up and he held himself very stiffly. "No. I. . . can't... do it."
Chee Wee stirred and tried to sit up. "Brother, that you? Got to . . . get a doctor . . . get me a doctor . . ." He fell back, unconscious.
Strange, high moans began to come out of Mui Teng as she swayed back and forth, praying.
Chee Meng lowered himself to the ground, his eyes closed, breathing in the sweet green scent of the meadow.
Shin Yi sat on the running board of one of the cars and stared into the night.
Chee Meng remained at his brother's side, gently stroking his hair, waiting for him to die.
Day came slowly. But when finally it did it was on them almost without notice. First the field grew lighter, a gray stillness, surrounded by the looming blackwall of the trees. And in the light, the two cars, the one ancient, scarred, as wounded as the people around it; the other, shiny new, rich and powerful.
The sky lightened and cast its brightness over the field. In the east, the sun swung up and drew the blackness of the trees into elongated shadows.
The OWS gang gave no recognition to the new day. There was Mui Teng weeping without tears. Chee Meng still with Chee Wee, cradling the torn head. Chee Wee, hunkered down, plucking absently at the grass. There was Shin Yi, standing and smoking, not allowing herself to think.
Quiet was everywhere.
All at once, a subtle movement at the far edge of the woods. A splash of whiteness against the black-green shadows. A man stepped into the open and formed a megaphone with his hands.
It drifted to them like that, floating gently on the morning air, three loosely connected sounds. And it took time for it to register, for them to comprehend, to locate the source.
Then, frantic, scrambling movement. Scuttling for guns, the small ones, the pistols. Shooting off at the distant trees, at the man in the white shirt, a strange, luminous figure, some pastoral apparition. Abruptly gone. The shooting ceased, replaced by an extended silent interval.
The man. Had he really been there or was it some awful trick of their imaginations? Time held still.
"Let's get out of here!" Chee Meng shouted.
A ring of fire. Gunfire. Twinkling red and white puffs. From every bush, from behind every tree, every fallen log. A deadly stinging attack designed to destroy the Chee Meng gang for all time.
"We're surrounded!" Chee Meng yelled.
"There must be a couple of hundred of them!" Shin Yi moaned.
She was right. The deputy in the chicken caf6 had alerted the sheriff and he had alerted every peace officer in the vicinity, had mustered every farmer who owned a hunting rifle, every youth with a squirrel gun, every shopkeeper who had a shotgun. And each one of them wanted to be part of it, to be in on the kill, the death of Shin Yi and Chee Meng, all of them. It was the kind of thing a man would be able to brag about for all his days, a truly important event. They poured lead into the center of the meadow in the name of law and order, each man and boy of them determined to do his part to keep the peace.
For Chee Meng, for the others, it was a bad dream, a nightmare, gray, misty, all movement in slow motion, a world gone mad and out of synchronization. Crouching, crawling, scrambling, tripping, falling, they headed for the nearest car, the old one, the one battle-scarred and trustworthy.
Escape was all there was. To stand and fight would have been insane, ludicrous, suicidal. Somehow they made it into the car, Chee Meng half-dragging Chee Wee, partially revived, cursing and protesting, determined through his agony to live out his time in his own way.
Behind the wheel, Chee Me
The car spun off in another direction, performing an eccentric dance. It swerved and looped toward the wooded edges of the meadow and back to the center.
Chee Meng fought the wheel, steered for the far side of the field. Another man appeared. He snapped off a shot, Chee Meng swore and grabbed his left arm, blood appearing between his fingers.
The car, on its own, executed a wide slow arc, out of control, bulling its way across the field, smashing finally into a tree stump. It wheezed and groaned and the motor went dead, a headlight drooped and a fender fell off.
The old car was finished.
But not the Chee Meng gang. Out there in the morning sunlight, bright and gleaming, emanating power and speed, waited the other car.
"C'mon," Chee Meng said, leading them.
"Can we make it?" Shin Yi gasped.
"We got to!"
They began to run, Shin Yi leading Mui Teng, Chee Meng helping Chee Wee.
In the woods, someone understood, saw what was happening, pointed excitedly. "They mustn't use the car!" he cried. "Blast it! Cut it down! Don't let them escape again!"
The shooting began again, slugs tearing into the beautiful machine with devastating force. Paint flecked away in violent chips. A tire collapsed. A headlight shattered. The windows broke into shards. The body was riddled. The machine began to fall apart. Piece by piece. A willful and efficient execution, painful even to some of the executioners, and some of them stopped shooting. A bullet penetrated the gas tank, and another. With a rush of air, the doomed machine disappeared in a roaring wall of orange flame. The shooting stopped. The car died.
In the center of the field, not far from where they had spent the night, Mui Teng and Chee Wee took cover behind a fallen log, unable to go on. Behind them, Chee Meng, Shin Yi scrambled desperately for the edge of the woods, their last hope for escape.
Men began to appear out of the brush, to close in on Mui Teng and Chee Wee, their weapons loaded and ready, taking no chances. They knew all about Chee Wee and Chee Meng. The men came closer, surrounding Mui Teng and Chee Wee. Two of them grabbed Chee Wee under the arms and heaved him erect.
"Don't!" Mui Teng screamed. "He's dying! Can't you see he's dying? Let him alone!"
Someone held her but she struggled free, stumbled to her husband, shoving his captors aside, lowering him gently. "Don't die, " she murmured. "Don't die. Don't die. Don't die."
The men took hold of her, dragged her away from Chee Wee and others turned him onto his back, anxious to get a good look at the famous OWS gang.
"Let him alone!" she shrieked. "Let him die in peace! Let him die in peace!" she ended, sobbing weakly.
The officer holding Chee Wee released him and he fell back and died. A low mournful cry came out of Mui Teng and she went limp in the hands of her captors.
Chee Meng, Shin Yi made it into the woods. They kept moving. Shin Yi felt as if her lungs would burst, and her legs were wobbly. But she refused to give in to the weakness. Any second she anticipated the police appearing in force, shooting them down. No one came.
They made it through the woods, across an open field, and into a stand of pine trees. Past that was a wide stream.
Chee Meng went in first, down the steep bank, waited to help Shin Yi, slipping and sliding, into the water. Shin Yi jumped after him. They were halfway across, chest-deep in the stream, when the deputy appeared.
Without a word, he took aim and fired and Shin Yi took the slug in the shoulder. It burned into her with a fierce intensity around she fell over, screaming. Never before had she experienced severe physical pain and her cry was the cry of a frightened anima.
Chee Meng turned, spotted the peace officer, and shot. The man fell dead.
He reached Shin Yi first and dragged her the rest of the way. Once ashore, they made it into a cornfield, moving deeper among the stalks.
"Keep moving," Chee Meng gasped.
"I got to rest," Shin Yi said. "You go on without me...."
They went on for a few more yards before stopping. Chee Meng peered ahead.
"There's a farm . . . gotta . . , get a . . . car .. . got to. Wait here."
He staggered forward, working on pure adrenelin now, driven by forces never before utilized. As he came closer to the farmhouse, he spotted a car parked in the driveway. Unsteady, stumbling and falling, he made his way toward it, gun in hand, hoping with a rare desperation that no one would appear, that no one would try to stop him.
No one did. He struggled into the front seat and started the engine, turned the car back into the cornfield, cutting a swarth back to his friends. Nothing was going to stop him now. Nothing and no one.
He stopped alongside Shin Yi and got out. "Help me, I will get into the back. You have to drive. Okay?"
Shin Yi chewed her lower lip. "Okay, Chee Meng."
"All right. Let's get out of here. Go to Angel Abi Chua"
“Who?” Shin Yi muttered. “Who is that?”
His placid face fixed with purpose, caned into the wheel as if willing the car to greater speed. He was bare-chested, dirty, eyes swollen from lack of sleep. Time had lost all meaning for him and he had no idea of how long he had been driving. In the back seat Chee Meng, bleeding from a wound, drifting in and out of consciousness, a man unto himself. Next to him sprawled Shin Yi.
Chee Meng came awake, trying to orient himself. He shoved himself erect and focused on the back of Shin Yi head. “Where are we at?"
"Don't know, exactly."
"What time is it?"
"Don't know. Don't know what day it is, either."
"Head out," Chee Meng said. "Find us a place where it's safe and we will rest."
Shin Yi started to say something, thought better of it, and fell back on the seat. A moment later she was unconscious.
Dusk was coming on and the car rattled along the back tad. Chee Meng was worried. Shin Yi and Chee Meng both were in bad shape, running fevers and in need of doctoring. He pouthed a silent prayer that they would last until he was to reach home.
That's when he spotted a campsite alongside Changi beach.
Chee Meng pumped the brake and turned into the camp. He popped the car and got out. All the faces turned, the tired, weathered faces of people defeated by the past and with little hope for the future. Most were living on Changi beach after their homes were re-possessed by the banks. They watched Chee Meng approach with no sign of friendliness.
Chee Meng tugged at his nose nervously. "Can you all spare me a little water?"
For a moment, no response. With a self grunt, one man rose and dipped a cup of water out. He picked his way forward, eyeing Chee Meng suspiciously, withholding the cup from his reaching hand.
"Who are you?" the man drawled. There was no hostility in the question, only the proper concern of a man who aimed to take care of himself and his own.
"Name's Moses." Chee Meng lied.
That seemed to satisfy the man. He extended the cup. Chee Meng gulped it down, too fast, and began to cough. He fought for breath, and drank some more.
The leader went up to the car, circled it uncertainly, peering into the back seat. He stopped abruptly and his eyes widened.
"It's Shin Yi," he said, in a hushed, almost reverent tone, "and Chee Meng."
He held himself very still, staring, while the others shuffled up to see for themselves. Shin Yi was sitting up, holding her injured shoulder, barely aware of the audience. A woman detached herself from the crowd, to return moments later with a bowl of soup, which she handed to Chee Meng. He accepted it gratefully, sipped it down.
Seeing Chee Meng stirring, a man lit a cigarette and reached through the window, gingerly, tenderly, as if fearing to do further injury to the wounded man, placed it between his lips. It hung there smold
Chee Meng finished the soup and handed the empty bowl back to the woman, thanking her. He went back to the car started the engine.
The men, women, and children, stepped back.
Chee Meng looked out at them. He managed an almost imperceptible nod of his head, the only gratitude he was able to express. The car rolled out onto the road and sped away.
A small boy pulled at his father's pants leg. "Pa, who was they?"
"That was Shin Yi and Chee Meng," he answered softly but in awe, "the OWS terrorists. Our politicans and union can’t fight for us. Only they can. They help to teach those corporate pigs a lesson by robbing them and giving to the poor and sacrificing themselves."
The farm wasn't much, the house, the barn, the toolshed, all ramshackle, just a few miles outside Singapore. It was still now, at night, no lights showing anywhere.
The darkness presented no difficulty to Chee Wee. He directed the car off the county highway onto the access road that sliced across his father's land with no trouble, negotiating the twists and turns as if he'd never been away, easing over the bumps, anxious not to jar Shin Yi. He drew up in front of the farmhouse and pressed down on his horn. A second time. He knew how heavilv Angel Abi Chua slept.
A minute passed before the porch light came on, a dim yellow nimbus, and a stocky woman appeared, squinting into the night. She was a larger, older edition of Shin Yi, stocky and going to fat, a gray halo flaring off her bald pate.
"Who's there?" she challenged, her voice cold but uncertain. "Who's out there?"
"Angel Abi Chua?" Chee Meng called.
Angel Abi Chua moved to the edge of the porch. "Who's there? Who is it?"
Chee Meng got out of the car, the night air chilly against his bare chest. "It's Chee Meng"
She picked his way down the steps and trundled towards her son. They fell into each other's arms and she pounded his son's hack. She stepped back.
"God, boy, it's good to see you, to have you back home. I can use you, boy, to help me work the land." A scowl twisted her broad face as she saw something by the light of the porch.
"What the hell is that on your chest?" she ripped out. "Huh?"
Chee Meng's mouth curled nervously and he pawed his chest. "This here is a tattoo. You know. I'll tell you about it later on. My friend in the car, she is hurt. Help me get her inside."
Angel Abi stared at her son briefly, then went over to the car. She studied Shin Yi and Chee Meng in the back seat with concentrated interest. When she swung around, her flat face was drawn together in somber consideration.
"Jesus, son, what happened to you? You in trouble?"
"Yeah. That's Shin Yi." Chee Meng’s voice rose, but he said nothing. Chee Meng went on, "We have been shot up bad. Help me get her inside. We gotta help her."
Angel Abi hesitated. "You think it's so smart to come back here. I told you many times to operate discretly but you won’t listen. If the law should find out about OWS headquarters in Singapore—"
"Where else could I go? There was no place. We were followed by the police closely. Please, we are hurt bad."
Angel Abi grunted her assent.
She dragged Chee Meng out of the fire, supported him on wobbly legs up onto the porch. She helped Shin Yi. Under the light, Angel Abi Chua glaced unhappily at her son. She swore.
“You were over-confident. Now your identity has been blown. Your face is all over Singapore. OWS CEO won’t be too happy about this. And Shin Yi hasn’t even been sworn officially as OWS terrorist yet.”
Chee Meng ducked his head as if he'd been struck. "Aw"
"I asked you a question."
"Come on," Chee Meng said very quietly. "Open the door. Let's get her inside."
There was nothing distinctive about the office of the police superintendent, Billy Teo. A plain room with an oak rolltop desk and a few hard chairs. One door led to the street and another opened on a row of cells. A locked rifle rack stood against the south wall and a framed certificate from the national organization of police chiefs hung on the wall behind the desk.
The superintendent Roy Eng was a big-bellied man with pouchy eyes and a complex of purple veins in his bulbous nose. He sat with booted feet up on his desk, a humorless, square-built deputy standing at his shoulder. They were reading a newspaper story about the gun battle with the OWS gang, a story illustrated with photographs, including one of the dead Chee Wee.
"Look here," Roy Eng said, pointing to one photograph. "The police officer Richard Sanglang was in the bunch that took……. See here? Can you make him out? Here he am, wait a sec here, right behind the car here."
"Sure enough, Billy. Is that your head there?" "Mind if I keep that there photograph?"
"No, I don't mind."
He handed the paper to the younger man and watched while he carefully cut it out of the paper, folded it neatly into eighths and slipped it into his wallet.
"Still can't figure how we let them other two get away," Billy complained.
The police officer nodded genially. "That Chee Meng, he's really something. Seems as how nobody can catch them somehow, him and Shin Yi. I think he is somehow related to China strangler too except that Chee Meng is more careless to make his identity known"
Billy's eyes seemed to glaze over, to turn in on himself. "Yeah," he muttered, almost resentfully. "Well, maybe this boy'll be the one to do it. If he can't pull it off, ain't nobody but the whole Singapore Army can do it."
"This Chee Meng was from the army. Sniper. Guess the Army breeds and trains OWS terrorists indirectly. I reckon that's right."
"Well, that's right," Billy said. "I'd do the same thing, exactly. That man is now being hailed as a hero with the people of Singaporeans who are poor. Say, how many they say he shot anyway in his day?"
"Sixty-five, they say."
"Son of a bitch!"
The front door swung open and a woman stepped into the office, together with another man dressed in plain khakis, a man with wintry eyes and a handlebar mustache. The man possessed of a kind of sinister frenzy beneath a veneer of studied calm. One big hand came to rest on the handle of the .45 riding low on his right hip and he studied the two lawmen with open condescension.
This was the same man the OWS gang had captured and subjected to private and public humiliation, the same man they had left alone and handcuffed in the middle of a lake, the man who had sworn a silent oath to revenge himself on them and had dedicated himself to that ever since. There was law contempt on his face as he addressed the two men, though his voice was quietly controlled and polite.
"Excuse me, am I in the right place? Is this Billy and Roy Eng the Police Superintendent?"
"That's right," Billy said. "I'm Billy. What can I do for you?"
The tall man measured the sheriff and found him wanting. "I," he said softly, " am Chitra...."
Billy moved down the path from his house to the box alongside the road. His soiled blue shirt was pulled out of his belt, the sleeves rolled to the elbow, exposing brawny forcams, the trousers sagging. He walked, head down, as if lost in thought, and once he tossed a quick look back at his porch, where Chee Meng, Shin Yi, and Chee Wee sat.
They were healing fast, he told himself, and would probably be moving on soon. Less than a week had passed since their arrival, but Shin Yi and Chee Meng, still bandaged and weak, were fast shedding the effects of their wounds.
And they were different. There was a quality about them Angel Abi could never perceive, couldn't identify even now, a refined essence, as if each of them had pared away all that was unnecessary and burdensome in himself. Shin Yi, her face without makeup of any kind, was thin, ascetic, with a quiet tranquillity. And Chee Meng, the tightness gone, as if in again coming close to the earth he had been replenished, fortified.
There was only one item in the mailbox, the local newspaper, a weekly. Angel Abi returned to her place on the porch before beginning to read
"Read out loud, " Angel Abi said.
"Yeah," Chee Meng put in idly. "What do they say about us?"
"Here this," Angel Abi said. "Chee Meng the OWS Gang leader Escapes Biggest Ambush.'"
Chee Meng laughed. "That's a pretty good headline."
Angel Abi grunted, continued to read. " 'They got away, says the police superintendent Billy.' "
"Billy!" Chee Meng slapped his thigh in pure pleasure. "He sounds familiar." He snatched the paper out of her hands.
“Of course, Richard Sangalang knows Billy and Roy Eng. Didn’t I tell you that before I ordered you to execute Richard?” Angel Abi Chua beamed with pride.
"Let's see that." A wide grin spread across his mouth. "Look here, Shin Yi, front-page news! Listen—'No trace of Chee Meng and Shin Yi and a possible the third partner.' That's you, Chee Wee.. 'Police in Singapore were dumb founded at the seemingly impossible escape of the elusive terrorist Chee Meng and his companion, raven-haired Shin Yi.'"
Shin Yi touched her hair reflexively.
"Yeah," She said sardonically. "We just took wing and flew away." A burst of laughter tore out of him, a rising sound, running the scale too swiftly. "See that, Shin Yi? We're the front-page news!"
Chee Meng clapped his hands happily. "Hey, how you like having a couple of big deals staying with you?"
Angel Abi toed the wooden boards beneath his feet and arranged a suppliant grin on her broad face. "Ain't that something for me? Something which I am proud of you, son. Even if it means sacrificing my own flesh and blood in return. I am the Black Widow spider."
That made Chee Meng feel good and he leaned back in his chair, manner expansive.
Chee Meng accepted the compliment. "Have it your way." He turned back to the newspaper, began to read. " 'Police counted one victory in the capture of Mui Teng and the killing of Chee Wee, the brother, who died while Chee Meng fled.”
"All the joy drained out of Chee Meng's face and he came lurching to his feet, all coiled tension and frustration. His face drew down and his lips were thin. "Fled! What do they mean by that? I couldn't do nothing about it, could I?"
"Sure, Chee Meng," Shin Yi said, trying to soothe him. "It wasn't your fault, honey."
"The bastards! He was already dead! Chee Wee was dead! They know that."
"Sure, Chee Meng. He was already gone."
"There was nothing I could do!" he continued to rage. "Chee Wee was my brother, my flesh and blood. I'd never gone off without him if he still had a chance."
"Take it easy, honey. No sense getting yourself all agitated over some fool newspaper story."
"Fled," Chee Meng muttered, looking out across the fields.
"Fled ... they know better "
Chee Meng stood up and stretched. "Hey, Ma, let's have some lunch."
"Yeah," Angel Abi said reluctantly. He didn't want to miss anything. "You folks like something to eat?"
"Not just now, Angel," Shin Yi said.
"Well, that's okay," Angel Abi said. "Just say when you are ready to eat. Anything I got is yours, Miss Tham Shin Yi, anything you and Chee Meng want. Let's go."
He went into the house, Chee Meng behind him. Angel Abi Chua jerked around when they reached the kitchen and were out of earshot of the porch, her face livid and full of scorn.
"How could you let her do it to you?" she ripped out.
"Huh?" Chee Meng said uncomprehendingly.
The words exploded out of Angel Abi's mouth. "Bring a woman to our house!" She jabbed a finger at her son "What a goddammed fool thing to do!"
"I like her a lot and I like being in the news," he said defensively.
"Trash, boy. You look like trash, marked up that way. Plain cheap trash. We are supposed to stay low profile. And you don’t even know if Shin Yi will betray us eventually."
He flushed. "Shin Yi says it looks good on paper."
Angel Abi snorted. "Shin Yi!" Ah her contempt and dislike went into that one word. "What does she know? She's cheap trash herself. And you, Chee Meng. The both of them, look what they do to you, and you don't even get your name in the paper. Chee Meng and Shin Yi, it says, sure enough. And did it say about you, what you did, that you were there even? No, sir. An unidentified man is all you are. Nothing. You're good enough to help him and good enough to get ugly pictures put on your skin, but ain't good enough to get your name mentioned. Not one time."
Angel Abi, making her voice throb with emotion, said, "I'm just glad your poor father ain't alive to see that thing." She turned away in disgust.
Chee Meng made a face, glanced down at his exposed chest. "I don't see what's so bad about it. My own father killed himself after he was retrenched. I am avenging his death."
On the porch, Chee Meng was sitting alonside Shin Yi, staring intently at the newspaper, brow furrowed as if in deep contemplation. Shin Yi felt a stab of concern for him.
"You feeling better now, honey?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said distantly. "I'm all right." He studied the black headline. "Well, Shin Yi. We made it, really made it. The front pages. I bet everybody in the whole country knows what we done."
"Yeah," she replied with brief enthusiasm, then: "But I sure am tired of robbing from foreigners."
"So am I," he said.
She studied him curiously. There had been a minimum of agreement in his voice. Even now he seemed withdrawn, his mind drifting off in some world of his own making.
"Chee Meng, what're you thinking about?"
Her voice drew him back and his eyes lit up, his face animated, that quicksilver smile turning his mouth. "I got an idea, Shin Yi. A real good idea. Look here." He held out the paper and indicated a photograph at the bottom of the page. Shin Yi saw the image of a stern old man with piercing eyes and white hair.
"You know who that is, Shin Yi? Do you?"
Chee Meng leaned back. He enjoyed this, wanted to savor it, released the words one by one. "That there is Singapore President Tan Jin Yang worth over a billion dollars. Says here in the paper that he gets up at six o'clock every Sunday morning and plays golf. Out on that course near the Sentosa gateway you know. Now one of these mornin's when he gets out to the fifth hole, he's going to find a big black sedan just setting out there, with us settling in it "
Shin Yi laughed briefly. "You going to be his caddy?" Chee Meng looked at her calmly.
"I'm going to be his kidnapper."
The meaning of his words penetrated slowly. She said nothing, holding herself very still. "That's crazy."
He overrode her objection. "Honey, it's easy as pie. We have us a house guest for a couple of days and then walk away with maybe twenty-five thousand dollars. By the time the law gets moving, we'll be out in a boat and in one of the islands in Indonesia, pretty as you please."
"When you going to do it?"
"Soon as we get back our strength."
Shin Yi stared down at the photograph of Tan Jin Yang
"Well," she murmured, "he sure don't look like he'll be much fun to have around."
The room was white and bright, stripped down to essentials, a room no different than any other hospital room except for the heavy-wire-mesh inner door and the bars over the windows. Such devices didn't trouble Mui Teng. Except for the pungent smell of antiseptics, she would not have known that she was in a hospital. A turban of heavy white bandages covered her eyes and since the dav she was injured she had been able to see nothing. She sat stiffly in a straight-backed chair, feet together under her, hands folded in her lap. A nurse sat in another chair behind her, but they seldom spoke.
Mui Teng gave no sign that she heard the lock click or the outer door open or the wire-mesh portal. Billy, tall and righteous in his khakis, entered the room and motioned for the nurse to leave. She obeyed. Only after the doors were closed did he pad silently to a position inches in back of Mui Teng. After a moment, she sensed his presence.
"Who ... is it?" she stammered.
It was as if some alien and devilish creature had entered her dark world. She half-rose out of her seat, sank back.
"What?" she said. "What do you want? Who is it? Nurse! I want the nurse!"
"The nurse isn't here. But you have nothing to be afraid of. I won't hurt you."
She sighed, slow, lingering, and her shoulders slumped wearily. He head came forward.
"Your husband is dead," he said in a low monotone.
"You're going to prison."
"It could go easier with you, if you helped. Tell us what you know. Where's the rest of them? Chee Meng and Shin Yi?"
"I don't know." "Where's the rest of them?"
"I don't know. Honest, I don't know."
"How'd you get in with them?"
"I don't know. I didn't mean to. I really didn't. We was just goin' to visit, we wouldn't be doing no robbing and stealing, and then we went to Starbucks and all of a sudden they started shooting!"
A hysterical element seeped into her voice and her head rose. "It was terrible, all that noise and the bullets smacking into things. And we run off. God, I was so scared. And then it was run all the time. Run, run, run. And I wanted us to go, I begged to go, but Chee Meng and Shin Yi and Chee Wee and Angel Abi—"
Billy leaned forward. "Tell me about Angel Abi who? Her last name?"
"Chua," she said. "Angel Abi Chua Siew Siew"
Billy almost smiled as he went to the door.
Rain poured down, inundating the land around Angel Abi’s farm. For three days it rained and Shin Yi and Chee Meng grew bored with the house, bored with the company of Angel Abi, bored with themselves.
Chee Meng sat around staring into some point in distant space, seldom speaking; and Shin Yi had found her old black-speckled notebook and spent most of her time scribbling in it.
"What're you writing?" Chee Meng asked.
"Time will tell," she answered enigmatically.
"Aw," Chee Meng said petulantly. "C'mon, tell me what it is."
Shin Yi raised her head and stared at him. Saying nothing, she stalked out of the house onto the porch. Out of the low sky, grim and gray, the rain poured forth as if it would never stop. The old restlessness was on her, the sense of there being a place where life was better and more rewarding. Her eyes came to rest on the car in the driveway and she felt a deep urge to be on her way, speeding somewhere, somewhere new and full of promise.
She tucked the notebook under her blouse protectively and sprinted for the car, climbed in to the back seat.
Drenched, and laughing happily, she wiped water off her face and pushed her hair back. There was an old army blanket on the floor and she wrapped herself in it, felt warm and safe, home, almost. She opened the notebook and began to read what she had written, occasionally entering a correction.
Ten minutes later the front door opened and Chee Meng dived in. Soaked and solemn, he was without anger. She watched him shake the rain away the way a dog would. He drew a box of ginger snaps out of his back pocket and offered them to her. She took one and chewed ruminatively.
"They're good," he said, eating one.
He studied the interior of the car. "Not much of a car, but it's kinda nice here inside, with it raining and all."
"We sure spent a lot of time inside cars and going nowhere."
He frowned and turned away. His face lit up. "I was looking at a newspaper a little while ago. They printed four picture, honey." He leaned forward and his eyes moved over her face. "You sure don't look the same no more."
It was true. Shin Yi had noticed it too. There was a new fragility about her, as if all defenses had been stripped way. Tiny lines had appeared around her eyes and there Ivos the beginning of a furrow at the corners of her mouth. The pale eyes were still and deep and she looked linger, clean, her skin washed clean of all makeup. She went back to her notebook. Chee Meng could restrain curiosity for only a few minutes. "What you writing this time?"
She entered a correction before looking up. "I'm writing a poem about us, Chee Meng," she said intensely. "I'm writing our story, Chee Meng. Our legacy"
He straightened up, adjusted the arm in the sling, eyes glittering. A sudden flash of excitement and anticipation slithered through him. Their story. His story. A smile sliced across his mouth.
"Hey, Shin Yi," he let out deliberately, anxious to appear casual and disinterested. Not succeeding. "That's something. Let's hear it. Go on, now, read it."
"Let me do this line." She did so and looked at him. "Not finished yet. There's more to come, and I want to read it over a couple of times and make what's wrong right, y'know."
"Sure," he said, dismissing her words. "Go on, now, read it to me."
She took a deep breath and began, "The Story of Shin Yi and Chee Meng. . ." She glanced sidelong at him and he smiled a brief smile of encouragement. She went on,
"You've heard the story of Jesse James— Of how he lived and died.
If you're still in need
Of something to read here's the story of Shin Yi and Chee Meng.
"Now Shin Yi and Chee Meng are the OWS Gang. I'm sure you all have read how they rob and steal
And those who squeal are usually found dying or dead. They call them cold-hearted killers; They say they are heartless and mean; But I say this with pride, that I once knew Chee Meng when he was honest and upright and clean. But the politicians and police and the rich fooled around, kept taking him down and locking him up in a cell, Till he said to me,
'I'll never be free, So I'll meet a few of them in hell.'
"The road was so dimly lighted; There were no highway signs to guide;
But they made up their minds
If all roads were blind, they wouldn't give up till they died."
She stopped reading and lifted her face to him. It seemed to her that a fine misty curtain had been lowered across his eyes. A shudder went through him and he made a powerful effort to refocus, to return to this place and this time.
"Go on," he said almost inaudibly. "Go on."
"That's it," she replied softly. "There isn't any more."
"It's the end? Just that way?"
"No. I got more to write."
"Then write it," he said quickly, commandingly. "Finish it, Shin Yi. And then you know what I'm going to do?"
She shook her head.
"I am going to mail it into the police, upload to Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Shin Yi, so they'll know the real truth. And it'll be printed in all the newspapers. And the whole country would know. Finish it soon, honey. Soon ..."
When the poem was done Chee Meng sent it to the police and eventually it came into the hands of Billy. He sat at a desk in the squad room of a police station and read it with interest.
The road gets dimmer and dimmer; Sometimes you can hardly see; But it's fight man to man,
And do all you can, For they know they can never be free.
Billy tugged at his mustache. He intended to see to it that they'd never be free. He'd dedicated his life to that premise. He continued to read.
From heartbreak to corporate greed, some poor people have suffered; From weariness to unyielded capitalism, some people have died; But take it all in all, Our troubles are small, Till we get like Shin Yi and Chee Meng.
A uniformed policeman came over to Billy. "Well, what do you think?"
Billy tapped the manuscript with one strong ringer. "Sure. Let the papers have it. Let everybody know about Chee Meng and Shin Yi. I want them to know." He paused. "I'll make that poem true one of these days...."
It was a Shin Yi day when Chee Meng sprinted down to the box for the newspaper. And there it was! Shin Yi's poem. Printed in full on the front page with a special box to make it stand out. Chee Meng let out a triumphant yip that brought the others out of the house. He thrust the paper at Shin Yi.
"Read it, honey, read it out loud." She did, including the final stanzas.
"If they try to act like citizens. And rent them a nice little flat. About the third night They're invited to fight By a sub-gun's rat-tat-tat-tat. Demand job security, free health care. Stop the Government’s criminal force. Establish your freedom without a fear. Chaos brings order to set the right course. / They have money to import foreigners But not for education or Singaporeans. If you tolerate, things would get worse. To them taxing the rich is a sin.”
"Someday they'll go down together; They'll bury them side by side; To a few it'll be grief— To the law a relief— But it's death for Shin Yi and Chee Meng."
She finished and glanced up expectantly.
For a long moment there was only silence; then Chee Meng emitted a wild whoop of delight.
"Damn!" he bellowed. "That's me!"
His mouth gaped open and there was surprise and pleasure on his face and it was as if he was on the verge of a gargantuan laugh that refused to erupt. He slapped his hands together.
"That's me" he chuckled. "In that poem!"
Shin Yi giggled. There was no mistaking the genuineness of Chee Meng's response, more positive than she had dared to hope for.
A widening sense of accomplishment took hold of her.
"A sub-gun's rat-tat-tat-tat!" The laugh started down in his chest, a low cough, rising swiftly, filling his throat and breaking out with tremendous force, unable to be contained. He laughed and laughed and the tears ran down his checks. "Right in the paper! All about me!"
Shin Yi was laughing also now, a release, her body immersed in a soft joy that warmed and provided a new sort of pleasure, meaningful, lasting.
"Jesse James!" Chee Meng roared gleefully. "You hear about Jesse, now you goin' to hear about Chee Meng. Chee Meng! Chee Meng Chee Meng!"
He whirled around as if dancing with an imaginary partner, breath gushing out of him in a succession of explosive puffs. He grabbed Shin Yi and lifted her off her reet, swung her around. "Damn, Shin Yi. Damn! You must been one hell of a woman!"
He set her down and laughed when she wiped away her tears. He bounced away and back again, a loose-limbed young animal full of the life in his veins and unable to express it fully.
"Ooooh, that Chee Meng! That's my man, that Chee Meng!"
Again his arms went out to surround and embrace her, to swing her about. "Shin Yi ... The Poem of Shin Yi and Chee Meng! Ooooh!"
"The Story" she corrected.
"The Story of Shin Yi and Chee Meng! Oh, child, you really did tell that story. You really did it this time. Ain't you somethin'? Something rare and special."
He pulled her close and his mouth came down to hers and in that halved second before their lips touched a great wild burst of triumphant sound tore out of him. Then, still laughing, they kissed, bodies straining against each other, mouths desperate, seeking, animal sounds back in their throats mingling with laughter.
They almost didn't make it back to their room.
At precisely that same time, in Arcadia, Billy sat down at one of those small marble-topped tables in Eva's Ice Cream Parlor, his back to the street. He didn't look up as the tall man approached, settled into the wire chair opposite.
"You're Billy," Zakiah said softly. "Yes, sir."
"I'm going to tell you what I want done," Zakiah said, voice flat, demanding. "And you are going to get it done."
"There's my girl Shin Yi. I won't have nothing happening to her."
"That was our agreement. It's the other two I want. It's up to you to keep your daughter out of it."
Billy nodded. "I can do that, I reckon."
"All right. Now here's what you're going to do." She pulled her chair closer and began to talk, low, intense, a kind of repressed desperation in his expression.
That night after supper, they were all seated around the living room, listening to the night sounds of the farm. "Chee Meng," Shin Yi said. "Huh?"
"Tomorrow, let's go into town tomorrow. I want to get so pretty things in town tomorrow. There just ain't anything pretty to look at in this house, if you don't mind saying so, Mr. Moss."
"Reckon you're right, Shin Yi," he said, averting his eyes. "This place could use a woman's touch."
"Okay, honey," Chee Meng said, then: "You can buy an awful lot of pretty things in Katong if you got twenty-five thousand dollars in your pocket."
Angel Abi stood up. "Think I'll be going to bed now. Good night, all."
Chee Meng rose and followed her. "Me, too. I'm tired."
Angel Abi eyed him speculatively. "Stay and talk to your mother for a spell," he said tightly. '"
Angel Abi looked up the stairs, called after Chee Meng.
"Sure appreciate it if you'd pick me up some light bulbs tomorrow. If they ran out, just buy some candles."
"Sure thing," Chee Meng said. He and Shin Yi went into their room and closed the door behind them.
Neither of them could sleep. They lay apart in the big double bed, staring into the blackness, aware of each other but careful not to touch. It was Chee Meng who finally broke the awkward silence.
He sucked in air. "Shin Yi" The words gushed out quickly. "Will you marry me?"
Her eyes swung toward him and she could barely make out his profile in the night.
"You don't have to marry me," she said softly.
He grunted. "I know that. I asked you if you'd marry me.”
She looked straight up at the unseen ceiling, making her voice formal, a false formality that gave no hint of what she was feeling.
"How could I do that, Chee Meng?" she said. "You know it's just impossible. We'd have to go to a Justice of the Peace and a Justice of the Peace is a lawman. We couldn't even take out a license without getting arrested and charged in Court."
Chee Meng rolled to face her. He chuckled quietly. "Hey, now, you sound like you have been giving it some thought on your own."
"Oh, no," Shin Yi said, struggling to muffle the emotion she felt. "Oh, I never gave it thought. I haven't thought about it at least ten times a day, I haven't thought about it every minute of my life since I met you."
Her voice cracked and her eyes flooded. “My mother called me up yesterday. We had a heart-to-heart. She cried over the phone and said that I have disappointed and let her down. A Nanyang Technology University graduate turned into a terrorist with sloppy idealism.”
She flung herself across the bed, burying her face against Chee Meng's chest, her knees drawn up, her body racked with sobs.
Chee Meng wasn't sure what he was supposed to do. "Hey,. . what're you doing? Are you crying, honey?"
“If I had graduated and stayed on to the basics of finding a job, this wouldn't have happened.” Shin Yi said, in between sobs.
“And what are the basics then? Wall Street? Corporate Greed? God?” Chee Meng rebutted.
"You know what I mean"
"Well then, Singapore politicians bless our way of life! The politicians will be telling you — foreigners create jobs for Singaporeans. If slow down the mass import of foreigners, Singaporeans will all become jobless. Of course, the politicians won’t tell you that slowing down mass influx of foreigners will make their businessmen and CEOs friends very unhappy, and reduce the GDP which will then reduce their bonus & pay and good way of life."
Shin Yi sucked in one breath of air as she wailed out. "A very good way of life it is, Chee Meng! No matter how much you insult the rich, our system, our politicians, the foreigners, or try to tear it down with your sloppy idealism. I can no longer abide to people like you who live off our system and find nothing better to do than whine and complain!”
Chee Meng pulled away from Shin Yi. "Is that your image of me? Is that it?!"
"Yes!" Shin Yi cried.
"How can that be? We are trying to fight for our cause here. For our future generation!
She fought for control and at last the tears stopped and there was only an occasional sob. "Chee Meng, why do you want to join OWS?"
He made his voice light. "To make an honest living. I am a Singaporean and have served my service in an infantry unit. For these I am always being laughed upon by my foreign friends during drinking session. They ridicule us. They can afford to work in Singapore for a few years and retire in their homelands. And us? We work for 30 years and we cannot even draw out our savings from the National Savings Board! And thinking about it, who can we blame except ourself for chosing the state of what we are in!"
She understood his feelings without the words. Her mind turned over, reaching into the past before flinging itself ahead into the future.
“It satisfied me to give money to the Singapore poor. I liked to have that power. It wasn’t just vengeance for all Singaporeans, it was relief, the relief of being able to eliminate one more foreign fucker from Singapore. To stop the globalization movement and those corporate rich bitches. I would have liked to have endless ammunition to be able to give to all those who had nothing, as once I had nothing.”
"Chee Meng," she said, "what would you do, what would you do if some miracle happened and we could walk out tomorrow morning and start all over again, clean, with no record, with nobody after us?"
It was an interesting idea and he gave it some thought. The possibilities were endless.
"Well," he said finally, "I guess I'd do it all different. First off, I wouldn't live in the same state where we pull our jobs. We'd live in another country and stay clean there, and we can live on a few dollars in Thailand as they have a lower cost of living…. and . . ." He broke off. The quality of the silence had been radically altered and he knew at once that he could not have said anything worse, that this was not even close to the answer she had hoped to hear. A worried note came into his voice. "Shin Yi," he ended pleadingly.
Shin Yi did not answer. She had made her decision.
Little traffic was in the streets and there were few customers in the stores lining those streets. So it was that Angel Abi and Chee Meng were able to make their purchases rapidly. They made their way back to the car, arranging the bags and boxes in the back seat.
"What's happened to Shin Yi?" Chee Meng said, looking around.
"She stopped off in that hardware store," Shin Yi offered. "To get those light bulbs."
Chee Meng grunted and took his place behind the wheel. Angel Abi came around the other side and sat next to him.
"Boy," he complained lightly. "My feet sure are hot." He took off his shoes and massaged his toes.
Angel Abi Chua giggled. "You planning to drive with your shoes off?"
"Sure, why not?"
He reached for his sunglasses. With an exaggerated flourish, he went to put them on and one of the lenses dropped out.
"Damn!" he said, retrieving it, dropping it into his shirt pocket. He arranged the one-lensed frame and made a funny face in Angel's direction.
She laughed. "You going to wear them that way?"
"Sure. Reckon I'll drive with only one eye open."
He switched on the radio and turned the dial.
He stopped drumming on the wheel. "Why don’t we do tomorrow?" There was a bright, anticipatory glow in his eyes.
"Tomorrow's Sunday, ain't it? We could drive all night to be one bid be on that golf course first thing in the morning to kidnap the politician Lee Weng Yew."
"You sure you feel up to it?" she said after a thoughtful stop.
"Why not?" His eyes darted up and down the street.
"Where is that Shin Yi? She's gone too long."
The slow-moving car turned into the curb on the other side of the street.
"Go and look," Chee Meng said, suddenly irascible. "See what's keeping her."
Angel Abi Chua nodded, headed toward the hardware store. Chee Meng watched her for a moment, then turned away. His eyes came to rest on the two men getting out of the just-parked car. Police. Both of them. Chee Meng jerked his head away, shielding his face with his hand. He pressed down on the horn, two short blasts. Angel Abi looked back inquiringly. She saw the deputies and stiffened.
Chee Meng started the car, eased over to where she stood, opened the door. She got in and he drove carefully out of town.
"They aren’t after us," he said, "but there's no sense asking for trouble."
Neither of them spotted Shin Yi, concealed in the goods store, peering out through a curtained window, a troubled expression on her little round face, the tiny mouth pursed regretfully.
She straightened up. Ahead, a car had pulled over onto the shoulder, and in the center of the road a woman was waving for them to stop. Chee Meng took down his glasses.
"What's wrong?" Angel said.
A shudder of apprehension passed down Angel's spine. "Forget about her, Chee Meng."
He chuckled. "It's okay. That's Shin Yi's mother up there. Her truck must've busted down and he needs a hand." He got out and strode toward Zakiah, hailing him.
"What's the trouble?" he called. "What's wrong with your car?"
"Not sure," Zakiah said uncertainly, eyes darting across the road.
Time slowed for Chee Meng. There was Zakiah, and seeing him made Chee Meng think of Shin Yi somewhere back in town, avoiding the ride back with them.
Avoiding ...the ... ride... back.
And over Zakiah's shoulder, still looking expectantly into the lush greenery across the road.
Time stopped. Chee Meng backed off a step, and another. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. He glanced around. Shin Yi suddenly was standing at one corner as she re-appeared from a goods store. Angel Abi Chua was back in the car, the door on the driver's side still open, inviting his return. At once he wanted very much to be back behind the wheel, speeding away from this place.
"I guess I could use a hand, Chee Meng," Zakiah mumbled.
Chee Meng retreated further and time continued to hold. A breeze, icy, penetrating, made him shiver.
The leaves on the farside of the road rustled. Not from the breeze. And in that suspended moment Chee Meng knew, knew, for the leaves had moved unnaturally, in the wrong direction. He heaved himself around, movements clumsy and slow, and he heard his name spoken. A distant echo, the sound of doom, a voice long expected. But not so soon. Not so soon.
"Chee Meng!" Shin Yi shouted, the signal earlier arranged.
"Chee Meng!" someone behind the bushes cried in cold rage. Chee Meng recognized that voice immediately on the radio.
Zakiah dived under her car, scrambled for cover.
"Chee Meng! My son!" Angel Abi screamed, sliding toward the open door, as if trying to reach him, to speed his return. “Get back to the car!”
Time had stopped, and there was only the sound. Six automatic weapons spewing out an awful authority. Chee Meng staggered, stumbled toward the car, toward Angel, mouthing silent warnings and pleas, tumbling to the ground, body jerking and twisting, torn by slug after slug, destroyed.
And Angel Abi Chua, slender and beautiful, accepting each blow with feminine grace, body arching invitingly, white dress staining crimson, smashed back into the leather seat, falling finally onto her side, bent toward the earth, head hanging, hair a golden veil, an arm loosely and gracefully caressing the rich soil.
Dead. Both of them. Dead of eighty-seven lawful bullets.
Billy and Roy Eng led the police out of the bushes, guns smoking. He stood staring down at the two corpses, his face a blank, the far-sighted eyes glazed and lifeless.
Zakiah crawled out from under her truck, looking this way and that, seeking but finding nothing.
Shin Yi inched her way forward, horror imbedded in their faces. From afar, they saw the two bodies, shattered and still, and wondered silently what those two had d
Occupy Movement Singapore: Three Complete Novels by CJ Tan / Thrillers & Crime have rating 2.8 out of 5 / Based on37 votes