The Year of the Golden Pig 4
The drive to Bukit Panjang had been slow. The two-stroke exhaust fumes from a World War Two vintage truck choked me all the way. It had been piled high with furniture, far too much for any of the kampongs, where it was heading. Wing Wah was smoking a long and acrid pipe in the shop. He eyed me from under the heavy lids. I was half–way through the plastic strip curtain at the back, when he said:
‘Police come, 2 hour, gone now, lah.’
‘What did they want?’ I asked. But all I got was a stream of Cantonese. And Wing Wah leaned back in his chair and kept smoking.
Two hours later I was at the desk in Police HQ.
‘My name is Warrant Officer Law, I’m with the British Army Royal Military Police.’
I laid my warrant card on the desk in front of a twenty-something Malay. He looked down at it, briefly. Then, very carefully, he pushed it with the end of his Bic biro towards me.
‘Wai’ theah!’ He said, pointing at the kind of plastic chair used in school dining halls, and the cookhouse on any army camp. I sat. As it was Police HQ, there wasn’t much activity in front of the front desk. Any outstation and something would have been happening, even way out at Bukit Merah. The Malays would have been bruised and battered and waiting for fingerprinting; just for protesting at the plans to demolish the Red Hill Kampongs. ‘Singapore Stands For Progress’, like the tri-lingual poster on the wall opposite me said.
I looked over at the only other person on a chair. A Caucasian: too tall and athletic for a Brit. Female, smoking hard, as if she meant the cigarette, or herself, harm. She looked up and looked away quickly. Her blond hair fell over her left eye, but not before I saw her inexpert camouflage of a blackened eye. ‘N.O.B.’ - as I often closed reports filed at the office, Not Our Business. I looked at the Casio: the greenish numbers showed 13.41. I resolved not to look at it again before I saw someone.
Slapping my palm on the desk in front of the Malay Corporal, I tried my Singlish:
‘Want see boss inspector, now now lah!’’
He looked up from his Straits Times; spat some Malay at me and picked up the ‘phone, turning away from me as he spoke into the receiver.
‘Fi’ minute.’ He said. I felt better; I smiled at the woman: her response didn’t quite qualify as a smile, but her bared teeth gleamed Australian white against the buttery tan.
Just as I took my seat, a door behind the desk opened wide. A slick-head Chinese in a suit that most definitely hadn’t come from Wing Wah’s strode forward, hand out for shaking:
‘Warrant Officer Law, Mr Law, that is the convention, yes? Or may I call you Marshall, or is it Marsh?’
I did not know this man. I took the hand. Nothing Masonic, although it wouldn’t have surprised me.
‘Senior Station Inspector Lee, Lee Kuan Chew. No relation!’
He gave an insincere titter. Maybe even he was tired of the joke. I followed him into an office. There was absolutely nothing on the walls. No vanity wall. No inane posters. And there was nothing on the desk – except a 5" x 4” photo and a business card I recognised.
‘Take a seat, Mr Law.’
I sat opposite him, in a lower seat than his evidently was. I kept quiet. Let him talk, I thought. But he didn’t. With a long-nailed finger, he traced the outline of Baudelaire’s body in the photograph. Then he flipped over the business card to reveal my name, rank and telephone number.