I’ve tried all the guides on Singapore. Nope, none of them float my boat. On this trip I’m taking with me The Girl in the Window and using Google Street View. I’m a timid traveller. I easily get lost, but with a little bit of help of a real travel guide and the latest map technology, I might be able to see another Singapore.
Now the guide is a fictitious character. But he’s real enough for me. They don’t promote these kinds of tours in Singapore. They should, but they don’t.
Not wanting to fall into the trap of locking myself up in the hotel, I google the first attraction. It’s just down the road from my hotel, on the Singapore River. ‘A must visit,’ says most of the drab travel guides.
Large monsoonal clouds jutted towards the Mandarin Skies as I reached my destination (they even showed up on Google Street View). Rain wasn’t far away. It looked just like my guide said it would. It’s a diminutive bridge with an Arabic name. I sat down at one of the cafes lining the promenade and opened up my book to see what it said about this iconic Singapore Bridge that spanned the iconic Singapore River – which really is just a cemented channel spruced up by a fancy name.
‘It wasn’t even much of a bridge,’ informed my guide book. ‘It was only a narrow pedestrian walkway that would have been ignored by everyone if it hadn’t been for one thing. In what had apparently been a desperate effort to brighten up the neighbourhood, some urban planning genius had decreed that it be painted in bright pink, iridescent blue, and puke green with scribbles all over it which looked like drawings done by a kid who had flunked out of kindergarten.’
I had to give it to the author, he certainly saw things differently. But I was a bit pissed off I couldn’t light up. He had something to say about that too. Soon, they’d ban you from smoking in private. Already the hotels had banned us from smoking inside. I guess I can’t complain. ‘If you want to smoke, get back to Malaysia,’ said the crusty old waitress, an Indian, who told me to put it out. I was trying to light up on the sly. But I’m not ready to cross the causeway just yet. I’ve still got a few sights and sounds to lap up.
With the right guide book, this travelling business could just get interesting, I thought, as I flicked a few more pages wondering where Tay would take me next. It was a hotel off Serangoon Road called Fortuna, a five story garish building painted in a sickly red. It had a closed off entrance door on the side, next to the Western Union. I zoomed in on the map. Yep, it still existed, and on the side street of Owen Road, the view of the entrance to the hotel was spot on.
This Needham character had done his research. And next door was a rundown apartment with Indians hanging outside the liquor store. A sign on the wall said ‘Liquor Control’ Zone. It didn’t stop the Indians pissing it up outside on the pavement. The only control there seemed to be was finding a bin to discard the empty bottles of cheap Indian Gin they were guzzling. The Chinese who ran the liquor store wouldn’t have it any other way. He didn’t carry a cane stick for decorations. The Indians love those beatings. If only they’d use the bin.
Across the road from the Fortuna was a series of old store fronts, belonging to another age. They were two stories high and run down for Singapore standards. They consisted of cafes, noodle stands and perhaps a travel agent. Google Street View revealed a rundown building that was on the other side of dereliction. It had a For Sale sign nailed on the front door.
Certainly this building had to be something of significance, I thought as I ordered some noodles. Despite high costs of accommodation in Singapore, the street food is quite reasonable. You are only paying three times the price you would pay across the causeway in Johor.
I honed in towards the emergency exit of the Fortuna hotel. I could only see it from a building directly across from the hotel on Serangoon Road. It was the same shop houses where I was having my noodles. ‘The space, now empty, had once been something called the Mango Travel Service,’ wrote my guide, ‘but now nothing was left of that doomed enterprise other than a sun-faded sign in the front window and the few pieces of abandoned furniture.’
That about summed it up as I got off my seat and walked next door. Sure enough it was the same building the writer was describing. I looked through the boarded up windows and I could see a stair case at the rear of the room. The place looked dusty and dirty. I zoomed in on Google Maps and saw a sign on the second floor. It was Mango Travel Service. I wonder what enterprises had gone on in this building. It was harking back to another age when Singapore once had character. All that was left now was a name.
I opened up a Tiger beer and pondered over my delicious noodles with chopsticks. Certainly the author was hinting of the old Singapore that Tay once had fallen in love with. Now, almost gone, only remnants of it exist. Soon this building would be pulled down too in the name of progress.
I flicked back to the section on the Alkaff Bridge.
‘What Singapore got for all the money it had poured into the project was a pedestrian bridge that was both ugly and useless,’ wrote my guide. ‘Chalk up another one for the boneheaded bureaucrats who dictated nearly every detail about the appearance of his city.’
I ordered another Tiger and lit up a cheap black market cigarette I bought at the liquor store. The Chinese owner of the noodle store had migrated from Johor, and he said if I wanted a smoke, ‘then you can have a fucking smoke.’
Luckily the old Singapore ways haven’t quite disappeared with progress. Some old habits die hard, even in an island State that frowns upon any irregularities of trees that defy to grow in any direction, other than up.
Then I got a tap on my shoulder. It was an undercover customs guy so I quickly put away my hard copy of The Girl in the Window and put out my cigarette and hid the packet down my underwear.
And I ran. I ran so fast that the customs guy didn’t even bother about the chase as those juggernaut monsoonal clouds decided to dump their payload. I’m sure I had another sight to visit this afternoon. I’d have to lay off the beer and take this sight-seeing a bit more serious.
The rain came tumbling down for twenty minutes and then just stopped. There was no sign of the customs guy. I’ve got smart and bought a packet of local cigarettes. And the Chinese from the liquor shop sold me some illegal cigarettes with the numbers printed on them. ‘They won’t be able to get you now,’ he says. Unless they check up those numbers on the system. ‘I highly doubt it,’ he says, ‘that’s why you have to mix the original with the fake ones.’
He says everyone is just getting smarter in Singapore. ‘It’s the only way you can beat the government revenue makers.’
I’ve been to Singapore a few times. The place just confuses me. It’s supposed to be a tiny island state, yet it takes almost an hour by taxi from the airport to Malaysia. It’s a bit too sprawled for me. The area names seem a bit too foreign to me as well. One area is named by a Chinese name while another is distinctly British; then you got the Indian and Malay named areas. Is this island trying to say something?
I’m not bought on the multiculturalism of it for one moment.
I’ve ran the train lines. Even getting from A to B takes too long. Maybe the town planners should have made the island smaller. That way the island could truly have the convenience tag.
Then the sun drew back the moisture in steam that rose from the paved roads. I was ready to jump into a taxi and explore Tay’s neighborhood and escape the sauna bath outside.
If it’s about convenience, then Tay would know all about it. He’s a classy man after all. He’s a low paying Singapore detective but apparently lives in one of the best neighborhoods in Singapore. How could that be?
The Umbrella Man might have something to say on that. Now first I remember my hotel key. I’m not even sure what area I’m in. I’m in an upmarket part of town. I gave the hotel owner some cock and bull story about how I was writing a series on Singapore. I said if he let me stay a few days, I’d heavily feature him. Those Singaporeans are so gullible.
Now why am I coming clean on a few trade secrets? Oh never mind I mumbled to myself as I jumped into a taxi. A Paki was eating nuts and the taxi smelt like stale curry. ‘Are you being racist?’ Kind of I said as I told him in a no-nonsense tone to take me to Emerald Hill. ‘I’ll take you to my local mosque first, and sort you out for your Islamophobia.’
I said no thanks. And that this was Singapore and would you really want to jeopardize your Permanent Residency for the sake of a few perceived slights? He was bought on that. ‘You aren’t in Karachi now,’ I told him. ‘So let’s get a move on.’
He wanted to take me the long way and get a longer fare. I’m aware of the one-ways and dead-ends and I just wasn’t going to fall for that trick. I told the thieving Paki to drop me off at Orchard Road. I’d walk the rest of the way, I said. He dropped the Islamophobia quick smart once I paid him up. He dropped that smug smile even faster when I pulled out a detonator with a red button from under my shirt.
‘Allah Akbar,’ I said as I pressed it. He laid a turd there and then. I bought the toy detonator in Johor and thought it might come in handy in Singapore.
‘Only fucking with you,’ I said. ‘Now tone down that Islam shit before one day someone actually does it for you.’ I was in control now as I got out of the taxi. He’ll think twice about promulgating Islam in a Mandarin State.
I made a mental note of his number plate. I might even make a few inquiries to Tay about him. That is if I ever ran into him. He’s a recluse but he’s been dropping clues all over the place about his residence. His Marlboro Red hang out, is the way I like to see it.
The entrance into Emerald Hill was yuppy central. Every second person was a cashed up Western tourist. They certainly weren’t of the same pedigree that frequented Johor across the causeway. Art galleries, cafes, trendy bars, I’d give them all a miss.
Staring at me was a place called Cold Storage. Now is that some kind of storage area for frozen goods, or just another bastardization of the English language by the Chinese? Inside, it was like a mini Harrods; they even sold caviar and smoked salmon from a separate deli.
I grabbed a Starbuck ice coffee and a jar of Skippy peanut butter, Tay’s brand, apparently. That was Cold Storage out the way. I was on the Inspector Samual Tay trail. According to my guide book, I was only 100- yards away from his house. It said it was a three-story townhouse, with a large front white painted wall and small garden, and an even larger rear wall that surrounded his back garden.
I had the guilty pleasure of being a stalker. I needed to know where Tay went and the kind of things he bought. It fascinated me. One recluse to another, I was just paying my respect.
I wonder if Tay would open the door. I could only try.
This is silly, I thought as I knocked on the door.
A fat German opened it.
‘Another fucking odd ball,’ he says. ‘And I didn’t appreciate Needham having that sniper bitch test her cross-hairs of her Remington on me.’
I get it, I thought as his little plaything poked her head out of the doorway to see who he was talking too. She looked Thai, or she could have been Filipino.
‘What’s up honey,’ she said. She gave me a wan smile. Was she inviting me in for an orgy?
Now I got it.
He was the German who was exercising his prostate at the Fortuna Hotel I had visited earlier this morning.
‘And if he writes anything else about me,’ said the fat German – his face was going a deep tomato red, classic symptoms of taking too much Viagra -‘ or if I get any more visitors from the Tay Brigade,’ he continued, ‘then I’m tracking that yank down with my own cross hairs.’
‘Is there a problem?’ The young sex doll had a syrupy American accent; yes she was a Filipino, most likely his maid.
‘He’s shagging every whore in Serangoon Road,’ I said.
The German raced me out the front garden, another acknowledgement of guilt. I looked back, how could I not. He looked like a giant hard-on with clothes on.
I guess a coffee was out of the question I said as I legged it back towards Orchard Road. Maybe it wasn’t Tay’s place after all. It was mentioned that it was only 100 yards down a cul- de-sac.
I flicked through my guide book. A Chinatown in a Chinese city, now this could be a novel idea.
My guide said the ‘ narrow streets of Chinatown were lined with small shop-houses and filled with restaurants and souvenir shops.’
Now this could be interesting. I had Chinatown in Kuala Lumper to gauge this one. I’m sure this one would be lower key, but it would have all the usual suspect vices.
A sign for Dorothy’s Bar said just follow the yellow bricks upstairs. Perched above the sign outside on the second floor were four empty bottles of Tiger – it looked like a whore house to me. And competing with it across the road was a British pub called Knobs N Knockers – how did that get past the Chinese censors?
I tossed a coin. I’d give them both a miss.
Now this area is looking very familiar.
That’s my hotel. The irate owner has thrown my stuff outside and he’s berating me.
‘I’m sick of conmen.’
‘You don’t even write for Air Asia.’
I never said I did.
He was expecting some bum fluff gloss for their in-flight magazine. Now there’s a good sales pitch for the next hotel I check into.
‘Sorry, just not my style,’ I said, as I picked up my bag and checked into a hotel across the street.
I opened up my guide to see what it said about it. It said the Temple Street Inn, just east of New Bridge Road where I was standing, consisted of ”four shop houses, each three stories high, joined together into a single structure.’
Perfect, I said, as I checked in. I dumped my stuff and hit the street again. The touts were out, the usual suspects, Indians, Chinese from across the causeway, and I’m sure a few undercover coppers.
Snuggled between a souvenir shop and a trendy eating place called ‘Inconsequential, ‘ was a Thai massage parlour. Chinatown isn’t complete without one of these.
‘Happy Ending Mister?’ Was that a question or more false promises?
‘It will cost you,’ said the dodgy Chinese pimp. It always does, I said, now fuck off before I tell that undercover copper standing next to me to arrest you for harassing respectable tourists.
Chinatown was really starting to grate on my nerves. I’m not sure if I could put up with it much longer. This was kindergarten compared to Johor across the causeway. Maybe it might be a good time to piss off for a few days and collect my sanity.
Now now, don’t jump the gun. The guide mentioned a narrow alley way that cut through from Temple Street to Pagoda Street. It had to be the tourist lane. The street of Kitsch, Fu Manchu Lane, whatever name you wanted to call it, it certainly lived up to its name.
My views of the alleyway just got better as I put out both my elbows and aggressively rotated them. Damned if I was going to play slime and rub up against other fat tourists who had nothing better to do than to buy cheap trinkets made in China and walk slower than a snail pace.
Rupert, I yelled. Now the shopping horde would really take me serious. I looked towards the end of the alley and yelled out to my fictitious friend again. ‘Rupert, it’s me.’ The ocean of blubber in cheap K-mart and Big W clothing – mass produced in China – parted like I was Moses about to impart the ten cardinal tips on bargain shopping.
‘It’s all junk,’ I said to the bewildered shoppers, some doubling up from the ribbing I gave them. The vendors weren’t impressed, but most of them were immigrants and even saying ‘hello’ was stretching their English abilities.
Well fuck a duck. I’ve just taken a short cut and arrived back at my hotel. There had to be significance in this. I referred to my guide. Some kind of ‘Snatch’ Operation was going down. Going down to Chinatown. I giggled at my cheesiness. You couldn’t make this shit up. There was more to Singapore, than Singapore was letting on. I’m just so glad that I decided to buy a copy of The Girl in The Window. It took the ‘bore’ out of Singapore.
On Google Street View I keep on seeing the same respectable Malay looking tourist. First it was on Orchard Road at the entrance of Emerald Hill. Sticking out of his designer backpack was a map. He even had a bottle of water stuck in one of those webbing pockets. I noticed him while walking town the alleyway. What was in his bag? It wasn’t packed just for a day trip. I also saw CCTV footage of a similar tourist moments before the Erawan Shrine bomb went off in Thailand. He was wearing the same cap and dark sunglasses as he was today.
I also saw CCTV footage of the bomber in Jakarta. They all dressed the same, unassuming and blending in.
You can never be too careful. Noordin Mohammad Top, a mathematician cum bomb maker lived just across the causeway in Johor. He looked harmless enough. He dressed in designer clothes, manicured fingernails, and a respectable haircut; he seemed to fit into Singapore quite well. He’d fit into anywhere well. The Malaysian bomb maker eventually made his way over to Batam by ferry then took a flight to Jakarta where he bombed a few embassies and five-star hotels. He knew all the routes and used them often on his fake passports.
I just hope I bowled over that Malay cunt while doing my rendition of Rupert.
‘You did better than that,’ said a Chinese guy who was observing me. ‘When you did the elbow dance, you actually knocked over that suspicious tourist we have been monitoring for days now. He was just about to press the detonator.’
Did it have a red button, I wanted to ask him.
‘Enough explosives to blow up half of Temple Street.’
Well fuck a duck, again.
He wouldn’t tell me who he was except that his name was Rupert. But he said as a thanks from the Singapore government, they’d cover my accommodation.
‘We have a tab at the Temple Street Inn,’ he said.
‘And room service and a stocked up mini-bar fridge?’
‘That’s all on us too,’ he said. I liked Rupert more and more.
‘The lobster soup is quite nice too,’ he advised.
I don’t believe in coincidences. But something was going on. I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I’d have to consult my guidebook. I’m sure Inspector Tay had the answers.
Or could Noordin Mohammad Top actually be Abu Supraman, the Indonesian terrorist that Sam Tay is hunting down in The Girl in the Window. It’s a leap of faith for sure, but perhaps I was onto something here.
I pulled out my guide book. Jake had a few things to say about the Indonesian terrorist, and most of them were not nice. ‘Abu Supraman called himself a Muslim cleric,’ informed my guide book, ‘ but nearly everyone else thought of him as a violent, remorseless murderer.’
He said that Abu Supraman had been linked with nearly every outbreak of sectarian violence in Southeast Asia for over a decade. ‘He was the messianic leader of a radical band of misfits who styled themselves as jihadists and took credit for every outrage perpetrated against non-Muslims in Indonesia or Malaysia or anywhere else in Southeast Asia.’
He continued to write that sometimes Jemaah Islamiyah claimed the credit. ‘Sometimes it was Abu Sayyaf or Mujahidin Indonesia or even occasionally Lashkar Jundullah or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or the Legion of the Fighters of God.’
He said regardless of names they used, ‘you could bet Abu Suparman was somewhere in the mix.’
It just sounded like Noordin Mohammad Top to me.
‘Or Azahari Husin?’
Good point Tay.
‘No, it’s Rupert. But I was just listening into your thoughts, fascinating. Just drop my name at the Thai Massage Parlour, and say the Happy Ending is on me.’
I never bowled over a Malaysian terrorist. I never met Rupert. I was totally engrossed, deep under cover on Google Street View. I was getting lost in the writings of Jake Needham. I was down the rabbit hole. The Girl in the Window was pulling me in. This was the real Singapore. It wasn’t Malaysia, but it was.
‘Just a cleaner version.’
I travelled the same streets as Inspector Tay. I took the same taxi routes. So that’s where the Australian High Commission is?
And that ghastly grey bunker?
That was the American Embassy, but the manicured garden made up for the prison inspired architecture.
I spent another afternoon outside the Fortuna Hotel where I was looking for the Mango Travel Service. Of course it was in Chinatown but I just liked the idea of transplanting it to a seedy Indian location.
I had seen intrigue over a vegetarian dish. I had been threatened, ‘I’ll call the police if you don’t put that cigarette out.’ I was following very closely in Tay’s footsteps. Everything was real, right down to the scratch on that railing outside the Fortuna Hotel or the rust stains running down the wall from the leaky air condition units on the old rundown apartment across the road from it.
This was real, realer than any travel reports I’ve read on Singapore. It was so gloatingly real that I wondered why Needham’s books were shunned in the Island State.
And I also wondered where Tay lived. I didn’t get it right the first time. Maybe his house doesn’t exist, but the Alley Bar does.
I turned right from his fictitious house and walked in the direction of Orchard Road. As I passed through Preranakan Place, I spotted the Alley Bar and like Tay, was surprised to see it wasn’t very busy.
‘It was high-ceilinged and pleasingly dim,’ wrote my guide – you’d think he was doing a review for Time Out, it’s that sleek – ‘and the long bar with the big mirrors behind it stretched for what must have been fifty feet until it almost disappeared into the cool interior shadows.’
I’ll have a beer please.
‘We don’t serve white scum who enter bars wearing flip flops.’
He just didn’t like my Malaysian tracksuit pants. I bought them over the causeway. Singaporeans don’t like Malaysians very much.
‘You’re nothing but a fucking racist,’ I told the Indian, whose hair was so sleeked back with oil, I was almost tempted to call the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the spillage that was running on the marble floor.
My guide continued waxing lyrical about the Alley Bar as I chucked a hissy fit. ‘Somehow the scarred wooden bar and hazy mirrors and under-lit interior of the place all combined to make Tay think of what he was sure had been better times, although more and more he wondered if those times had ever really existed.’
The Indian barman called his manager. It was a ruddy faced Irishman.
‘Get out now, before I call the coppers,’ said Paddy.
But I’m only following the Tay Trail. Think about it, I said, this could be a real draw card.
‘We don’t read him on this island,’ he said, as he grabbed me by the scruff of my neck.
I let him do his thing. I was prepared.
But he wasn’t when I put my Taser Gun, which I bought across the causeway in Johor, right into his balls and let those volts work its magic.
‘For the love of Mary,’ screamed Paddy.
‘You don’t even serve Powers whisky you fucker,’ I said, as I hoofed it out of the area before the pigs arrived.
It was true, they only sold Bushmills.
Singapore attracts a certain type of tourist, and apparently I wasn’t one of them.
I’ve read Jake Needham’s other three Inspector Tay books, and I’m well aware that Tay ducked over to Johor, across the causeway. I’d take the chance to visit a few of his haunts there. Not many tourists know about Johor. They should.
‘Just on the other side,’ wrote my guide about Johor, where I was heading on a very illegal route, ‘ indistinct in the afternoon haze, loomed the buildings of Johor Bahru, the slightly shabby Malaysian city at the other end of the causeway.’
I jumped onto the train, wanting to miss the traffic, and got off at Singapore’s Heartland – Woodlands. This was my territory. Every day I’d wake up to the view of those apartment buildings, cloned from each other. The only relief was the balconies painted different colors.
I stayed in Johor for three months, and my hotel faced Singapore. I’d admire the nationalism of the island state. On those colored balconies were Singaporean flags. ‘We are Singaporean and don’t forget it.’
The Singapore dollar was far too high and it was deterring quality tourists like myself.
A year ago I had entered Singapore, via Malaysia, without my passport. I had hugged the water pipeline, on the east side of the causeway which is never paroled by the Navy or fisherman – the waters are too polluted. The pipeline stands at two meters in height, and over three in diameter – great for cover – and provides water for most of Singapore’s heavy industry. I had sneaked back into Malaysia on the same route. No one was the wiser. Now if the terrorists wanted to take out Singapore, all they had to do was blow up the pipeline. Now there’s an idea for you budding terrorists, and less human collateral damage that way.
The Woodlands HDB apartment was in some ways the real Singapore, far away from obscene billboards advertising SWATCH and HUGO BOSS — now who the fuck wore those watches anyway.
Now what is that stench coming out of Block B? I bet it had to be another floater. Floating in its own piss and shit, I mean. And right now, at this stage in my guide book, Inspector Tay was breaking into the apartment of the manager of the Fortuna Hotel. Tay’s trail was getting very warm.
Now I don’t need Google Street View for crossing over to Malaysia. Behind the Woodlands HDB apartments, next to the mosque, the squalor of Singapore begins – sewage drains that run into the Strait of Johor.
I slip down the embankment and through a fence with a hole in it. This looks like the migrating route for the illegal Bangladeshis who work on the city’s construction sites.
The Singaporean Immigration Complex is on the causeway, where I’m heading, but I’m making my way down to the pipeline. The entrance to the causeway isn’t protected in any way except for old Banyan trees that I use for cover. Why would anyone want to sneak out or into Singapore? Not even the Malaysians are that stupid.
Two kilometers across the bridge Johor winked at me. I’d be joining you soon, I said and winked back.
It was a doddle. I learned from my last trespass into Singapore, to hug on the side of the pipeline, which would conceal me from the traffic on the four-lane causeway. I’ve done this a few times, so I’m no stranger to this ‘no man’s’ territory.
I’m told that if I get caught, it could be a caning or death by M16’s, the preferred weapon of Singapore Border Police. On the Malaysian side, the Border Police prefer roaming the air-conditioned hallways of the Malaysian Immigration Complex.
The causeway made its way into a bend, winding into the Malaysian Immigration Complex. I kept on moving right of it, near the train-line, and ducked through a hole in the fence courteously made by other illegals. I was in Malaysia now. I wouldn’t have to worry about renewing my Singapore visa when I returned.
Perhaps I’m not the kind of tourist that Singapore really needs. I know Malaysia welcomes me with open arms. Down another road, a construction site, mega apartment complexes rising, built on cheap Bangladeshi labour, I’m on the home stretch.
I wave at the train that makes its way across the causeway. They think, Dumb Western Tourist.
Back in Red Light Central, I hit my local cafe. I think I really earned that tee tarek, pulled milky tea that was placed in front of me. Johor, man I’ve missed your easy going desperation.
The crazy Malay with a pineapple tucked down his shirt comes up to my table.
‘Got one Ringgit?’ he asks. He’s always asking that one and made a fortune from me in the past.
Man, I had missed saying that to him. I hand him a Ringgit note for old times sake. I was back in the land of the ‘Other Singapore.’
I spent a few hours drinking tee tarek. Wired and witless, I made my way back to Singapore the same way I came.
I don’t run into any Bangladeshis while hugging the water pipe across the causeway into Singapore. They must do the night run. I hear the local mosque across the causeway charge some kind of tariff. Everyone was on the hustle in Singapore. If I was spotted, they’d leave me alone. Everyone ignored white guys in Singapore, even the Muslims who wouldn’t want me to jeopardise their lucrative people smuggling sideline.
I was nearing the end of my tour in Singapore. I could feel it. Something was about to go down and I wasn’t going to miss it for anything.
How do I know this stuff? It’s all in The Girl in the Window. It’s not only a guidebook but a thriller novel set in Singapore. Tay was about to face his maker. The critical crunch was arriving and I wasn’t going to be a passive tourist. I jumped in a taxi. Abdul, the Paki driver recognized me. ‘No silly buggers this time,’ I said, as I pulled out a realistic hand grenade I had bought at one of the street markets in Johor where they sell sex aids.
He was compliant.
‘You scared the shit out of me last time.’
You didn’t see what I did to Paddy at the Alley Bar, I said.
‘I could just imagine.’
We were the best of pals. I was really getting into the Singapore swing.
And I bet you have been hovering around the mosque to pick up some illegals.
‘For a dumb white tourist,’ he says, ‘you seem to know what makes Singapore tick.’
Money, I said, now drop me off. He didn’t bother charging me a fare.
‘You are my brother now.’
And I promise I won’t snitch on you. He was reassured. And so was I. I had more important things to do than report a dodgy Paki taxi driver.
That’s it, I said, as he pulled into Telok Kurau Park. My guidebook spoke highly of it. I couldn’t pronounce it for the life of me, let alone spell it.
‘In Hindi, it means the place of little significance.’
Now who asked you?
I shook his hand and touched my heart with my right hand, at least pretending to show solidarity to Islam. Who knows, I might need this guy’s help in the future.
He was touched.
‘Here’s your fare.’
He kept on refusing but I handed him a Singapore note.
‘$100 dollars,’ he said with surprise, ‘too much.’
You deserved it, I said. Besides, I felt sorry for scaring the shit out of you with the detonator trick.
‘My seat is still stained,’ he said, as I thanked him and walked towards the playground in the abandoned park with the unpronounceable name.
I just felt like getting on the swing and seeing if my weight would make or break the made in China piece of crap.
It held. I better swing harder until it breaks. I’m on the floor. Never mind. No one uses the park anyways. It was dead quite. Ahead, residential Singapore ended down a rectangular cul-de-sac.
It’s the location of Tay’s final showdown with the Indonesian terrorist.
I visualized the scene as I read it. I could see Tay looking up at the roof, then ducking back to safety. I could see the girl in the window, her name was Claire. I could see a clump of banana trees at the end of the identical houses. I even could see the getaway bike, a Kawasaki. I was playing omnipotent. I could see it all fold outwards as that bullet reached its mark.
I could see all this on Google Street View. I knew Tay had used it too as he staked out the house, where his sergeant was tied up with duct tape. I could smell what Tay smelt. I could feel what he felt. Imagine dying with sweaty underpants.
I walked back to China Town. No that is not a Hi-Lux van trailing you. No, you aren’t under surveillance. I continued walking to Emerald Hill Road. I was on Orchard Road now, and really getting a good sweat-out. I had the coordinates of where Tay lived. Jake had kindly posted them to me. The place was for rent. I could do with some downtime in Singapore. A month in a nice townhouse would do me the world of good. Who knows, I might even get a visit from his dead mother.
Get real. I couldn’t even afford to rent the place out for one night.
I felt washed up and spat out. Maybe I’d just go back to the Alley Bar. I heard that Susan Hoi, the pathologist, sometimes hung out there, in the hope of seeing Inspector Samuel Tay.
I was minding my own business over a Tiger. I could feel someone behind me.
‘Don’t move.’ A female voice said.
‘Then I’d have to kill you.’ The voice had a raspy albeit sexy edge to it. And the hint of formaldehyde wafted on the wind. It jolted me. It enveloped me. It triggered a chemical reaction I was prepared to let it run its course.
Boldly I took a quick glance behind me. She was wearing a baseball cap with a red Dolphin emblazoned on it and holding a bunch of red helium balloons.
Susan, I asked?
She pulled out a packet of Marlboro from her purse.
‘Would you like one?’ she asked.
Would I like one? Well is the Pope fucking Catholic?
It didn’t hurt to be forward on a smart number like this.
“Care for some cold cuts down at my office.’
I cared a lot. I even knew where it was.
‘But don’t be put off by the mortuary sign outside my office.’
Don’t be put off. Not if you keep on showing those long legs.
Paddy came up to me.
‘I told you not to ever come back here.’
But I’m with this gorgeous professional.
‘Not that I can see,’ he says. ‘Only losers sit by themselves.’
I pulled out my toy hand grenade.
‘Oldest trick in the –’
I put my hands up.
I get it.
Most don’t but I did.
Get the fuck out of here and fast.
Johor was waiting for me. I had followed the Tay Trail very closely to it’s climax. It was time to get back with my own kind at Johor Bahru, or JB, or the ‘Other Singapore.’
I had a date with destiny -the world’s dirtiest toilet. It was an Indian joint across the road from a mosque and the prices were reasonable. I wonder if I’d run into Abdul?
‘Most likely,’ says Mustafa, the owner, who said he was his brother.
And I wondered if I’d find anything sordid that matched their toilet.
‘Plenty,’ said Mustafa. I looked around, there seemed to be more Bangladeshis here than what was considered normal.
‘By tonight they’ll be smuggled over the causeway.’
Just as I thought, I said to Mustafa, who was happy to see me again. It was a year since I ate at this place.
Now I wish they turned down that fucking loud praying in the mosque.
It was nice to be back where I belonged.
I was back in Johor’s bosom. So long as I had cold cash, I’d never be booted out of any establishment on this side of the causeway.
Maybe I am overthinking this. I overthought everything, didn’t I?
‘Now stop stealing my lines.’
Got you, I said to Tay who popped in for a milky tea.
‘I’m no stranger to these murky waters over the causeway,’ he said.
I bet you aren’t, I said, as I handed Tay a cigarette.
We had lots to catch up on.
Fear and Loathing in Singapore can be purchased on Amazon.