My Stilled Life: Chapter 19

     “He wants what?” 

     “He said he wants Mr. Joshua’s red Jaguar.”

     “Well, what’s the problem? Let's get it for him,” I said. 

     “First off, it’s Mr. Joshua’s and second it’s illegal to bring it into Singapore. Singapore law forbids the importation of any vehicle more than three years old and since the Jag is over sixty years past that, shipping it in is a crime. Pollution laws here are pedantically harsh.

     “We could try to buy a special dispensation, but that’s a long bureaucratic and very convoluted process with no guarantees. A large bribe might work, but again these are dangerous times. Any inkling of wrongdoing and the press would be all over it. I think the best bet might be to transship it to Indonesia then offload it onto some fishing vessel and try to smuggle it. But it will stand out once it’s here and getting it from the fishing boat into Singapore proper will be tricky,” Mr. James finished. 

     “Why can’t we just buy this guy off? Say, two hundred grand?” I asked.

     “It won’t be that simple. He’s still pissed. He under the impression your father fucked with some of his operations during the war. He wants payback for the perceived encroachments. The car is just a symbol. I don’t think he really cares about it. It’s just a Fuck You trophy, he’ll park it in his garage, and every once in a while he’ll go out, sit in it and think of the old days.” 

     ​​​​​​​“Do we really need this guy? If he’s that disgruntled, what’s to keep him from selling us out to the Lurus? Wouldn’t that be a bigger kiss-my-ass statement?” I asked.

     “It would be, but I’m guessing that he hates the Vietnamese a lot more than he does us.“

     “But he’s working for them.”

     “Not for, with. He’s an old war-horse who needs to be near that action to feel alive. He’s just keeping his fingers on the pulse so he knows which way to jump when his time comes.”

     “Shit…  All I want is to find Helen and be left alone. I’m willing to do whatever needs to be done, but finding Helen comes first. Its been a week now, I’m worried that the longer she’s with them the worse it’s going to be for her. Talk to Mr. Joshua and see if he’s willing to let it go? Tell him I’ll replace it with anything he fancies.”

     “Before I talk to Mr. Joshua, let me speak with the ex-CIA guy again. I’m having a late dinner with him today. Would you be willing to give him this house instead of the Jag?”

     “What do you mean give him this house?” 

     “Your father bought this house back in I think 1968.” 

     “You mean that this house is mine?”

     “I believe so. I’m pretty sure Mai Le’s attorneys would have kept up the taxes on the place.”

     “If I own it then, yes, he can have the place.”

     “Slow down, this place is worth a ton. Five or six million U.S. at least. Are you sure you want to give it over to some vengeful ex-spy?” Mr. Andrew interjected. 

     “This place doesn’t mean shit to me. I’m not worried about anything except getting Helen back.”

     “And if she’s dead?" Mr. James asked.

     ​​​​​​​“If that’s the case, we’re all going to get that meaningful death you old guys are longing for.”


     Mr. Thomas was pacing, speaking on his phone and shaking his head. He ended the call and turned to me, “While we’re waiting on things to flesh out, you need to act like visitors. Be seen in a few of the more popular tourist spots around the city.”

     “What do you say about a walk down to the Raffles Hotel to see how the renovation is going. Should be nearly finished by now. While the famous Long Bar is shuttered, they’ve set up a pop-up shop around the corner where they’re still serving Singapore Slings. According to the Singaporean Tourist Authority, no visit to the city-state is complete without tasting one.”

     “Don’t worry, I know you’re a total abstainer but they do have a non-alcoholic version. It’s thirty-six U. S. dollars, with or without alcohol. If I still have any clout there, I'll see about getting us a glimpse of the infamous Long Bar, itself. I’d like you to get a feel for the place. to see why John Stanley was so at home here. I wish you could have seen this city before it became a major financial hub. Back when you could buy anything in the open markets and there weren’t any rules about chewing gum.”  

     I sighed, “Can’t we just lay low until your ex-CIA locates the Lurus? I don’t understand why we need to be seen as tourists?”

     Mr. Thomas looked me in the face, “Modern Singapore is a very exacting place. They want to be seen by the world as a place where no matter who you are or where you’re from, the law is the law. You break it and the least you can expect is a caning. But they do hang people here.

     “If you want to be able to leave Singapore unscathed when this is all over, we need to establish our bona fides. Plus, wouldn’t you like to see the Lurus’ home base? The new leadership isn’t there, but a lot of the non-voting members are.”


     The weather in Singapore wasn’t that different from that of Saigon. Hot and muggy. Mr. Thomas assured me that the city-state was blessed with occasional sea breezes, but I had yet to experience one since I’d been here. 

     As we walked through the reinforced gate I looked back at the villa. It was an exotic, Shangri-La looking place. One of the few compounds in the city with a menacing broken glass topped wall that encircled the entire property. It really looked like someplace Terry and the Pirates or a group of exotic spies would work out of. 

     I turned back to Mr. Thomas, pointed at the house asking, “Where’d my father get the money to buy this place?” 

     “During the early years of the war, our minders provided your father with a large sum of cash that he was to use to bribe an official in Saigon. But just as he arrived to hand over the cash, the building that housed the administrator​​​​​​​’s office was bombed and our pliant official went up in smoke. John Stanley, always a man to take advantage of a situation, pocketed the cash and used it to purchase the villa.”

     “How did he explain that to his bosses?”

     “There was nothing to explain. Just a little time manipulation. According to John Stanley’s report, he delivered the cash to said official an hour before his death and he had no idea what happened to it after the bombing. The bean counters in Washington never even questioned it. They were printing so many greenbacks in those days, that fifteen grand wasn’t even a blip on their screen.”

     Mr. Thomas clapped me on the back, “Come on, Ford, let’s keep walking. There’s a monument I want you to see.” 


     A few blocks away was a tall white sculpture near the city center. A war memorial to the victims of the Japanese occupation 1942-1945. Mr. Thomas motioned to the monument, “This is the only kind of memorial to a war that should be allowed. Something to honor the blameless that got caught in the crossfire. The ones that didn’t have a say.”


     Catty-cornered from the monument was the city block that the Raffles Hotel complex occupied. We crossed the street as Mr. Thomas started pointing out points of interest, “That building there houses the billiards room. In the middles sixties, it was the site of one of your father’s finest moments. He bested three Green Berets after they accused him of interfering with one of their missions, causing the death of some of their friends. After their bloody dispute proved to be a draw, the four of them ended up drinking the night away, much to the consternation of the hotel’s management and wait staff.” 

     “He was that tough?” I asked.

     “When called upon, your father could be savagely ferocious, but when the bloodletting was done, he'd become as amenable as milk toast," he said pointing at a door just past the Raffle’s gift shop. "Come-on, the pop-up shop is right over there.”

     Mr. Thomas ordered a Singapore Sling and I settled for a virgin, which was just a very expensive fruit punch. We found a table and sat down. Mr. Thomas grabbed a handful of unshelled peanuts from a bowl on the table and began shelling them. He assemble an haphazard mound then used his hand to sweep the unwanted hulls onto the floor. 

     “An old world tradition. Reminds me of the ole days when I was young and looked forward to my tomorrows,” Mr. Thomas half smiled at me.

     ​​​​​​​After walking halfway around Singapore, we found a place near the harbor and had an early dinner. Mr. Thomas pointed across the way to an odd three story gray building. It looked pretty run down and I was surprised when he told me it was the Luru headquarters compound. It didn't look anything like I thought it would. 

     "Pretty unimpressive," I said. 

     Mr. James grinned, "It's not supposed to look impressive. They don't want the gods to looks down and become envious. That would be very back luck."  

     After dinner and a little more sight seeing, I went back to the villa while Mr. James slipped away to his meeting with the mysterious ex-spook. I was surprised that being out of the house had eased my anxiety, but thoughts of Helen's intolerable situation still lingered.

     The next morning, after I’d showered and dressed, I walked down to the kitchen to discover the four old compatriots conversing in low tones around the table. I got the impression something must have gone wrong because of their somber expressions. 

     I made a sandwich and grabbed a Coke and sat down, “What’s up, gentlemen? From your expressions, I'm guessing that something dire has happened. Is it Helen? Or has something else gone wrong?” I asked feeling unusually calm. 

     No one spoke for a bit then my Mr. Andrew said, “I’m afraid that we’ve had a major intel failure. Mr. James, can you brief us on what he learned last night.” 

     Mr. James looking shamefaced began, “First off, we’ve had no word about Helen. No word at all. She just seems to have vanished, but we still have our feelers out. As for the new bosses of the Luru clan we’ve located three of them. They're on a yacht cruising in international waters just outside the Malacca Strait. The other five bosses, we believe they are either in Amsterdam or Bangkok. As soon as we get an indication as to their whereabouts, one of us will fly out to confirm the sighting. We understand they’re trying to make an alliance with the remnants of Ah Kong.”

     “And who or what is the Ah Kong?” I asked.
     “During the late 1950’s there was so much gang violence in Singapore that to combat it the government forced through a law that allowed them to imprison anyone that they suspected of being a member of a criminal enterprise, for an indefinite period of time. Very similar to the Patriot Act that Bush and Cheney got past during the 9/11 hysteria.
     “This was a very bloody time in Singapore's history. The city’s violent gangs were vying for supremacy by any means possible. After one particular bloody shootout, several of the gunmen, who were already wanted for capital crimes, made there escape from the city-state by stowing away on a container-ship crewed by blood relatives. 
     “They ended up in the Netherlands, and that’s where the Ah Kong was born. A brotherhood of hardened fugitives, all ex-Singaporeans, most Hokkien speaking Chinese. Through blackmail, coercion, and brutality they built a world-class drug empire. Through family bonds amongst merchant seamen, they were able to establish an untraceable smuggling network that brought heroin from the Golden Triangle into the heart of Western Europe. 

     “During the 1970s and 1980s, they were overlords of the international heroin trade. But over the past 30 years, their position has slipped. This decline was due to the attrition that is incumbent in this type of enterprise, their addiction to gambling and the consumption of their own contraband. Right now those who are still around have gone underground and are keeping a lower profile. But, they still have a cachet that the Lurus want to trade on.

     “We believe that the missing Lurus are either in Amsterdam or Bangkok trying to make or buy an accommodation with the Ah Kong. Both groups share many striking similarities. The Lurus are betting their clan’s future, that these similarities along with the business acumen they acquired at UCLA Anderson School of Management that they can reignite the Ah Kong’s network into regional supremacy once more.” Mr. James concluded. 

     “What about the three on the boat. Should we start with them and move on to the others when we find them?" I asked.

     “Not yet, if we are going to attack we need to do it in a coordinated manner. Either when they are all together or two simultaneous strikes.”
     “Does that mean we have to keep waiting around?” I asked with frustration in my voice.
     “I did meet with my ex-CIA guy and he will accept this house as payment.” 

     “He’ll help us get to the Lurus on the boat?” 

     “He will, but he suggests that we use local talent. He has contacts on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and depending on how much personal contact you want with the Lurus he suggests we hire a few experienced Indonesian pirates. If we just want to have them disappear, he suggests an underwater approach. A mine under the boat and when it's in the middle of nowhere, thwack. 

     "If you want to take a personal hand in their fate then we’ll still need their boat to get out there and enough firepower to make sure they’re overwhelmed.”
     “Are you asking if I want to be there to see it first hand?”

     “No, I’m asking if you want to get up close and pull the trigger. Or if you want it more personal you can use a knife.”
     “Jesus, I’m just an unknown artist from Southern California. Now, here I am just about to initiate a murder for hire plot that involves piracy on the high seas. Fucking shit. Holy fucking shit. I’ve got to go out and think about this.”
     As I started for the door Mr. Thomas said, “Ford, there’s not much to think about. They’ve got Helen and if you want her back you’re going to need to man up.”
     “But does being a man mean being a killer?”
     “I’m afraid in this case it does, unless you want to pussy out and go hide someplace.” Mr. Thomas added with a sad smile. 


     The next morning found us speeding across the Singapore Strait, heading toward Batam Island. I had taken a Xanax to calm my nerves and a Dramamine for seasickness. So I was a little woozy when we docked at Batam City. The old men and I had come to meet Mr. James’ retired CIA connection. He was going to make an introduction to some local men who might be willing to help us with my problems, unemployed local fishermen and sometimes pirates, who were looking for employment.
     There were giant letters up on the hill above the city that proclaimed Welcome to Batam City. I looked at Mr. Peters, saying, “Reminds me of the Hollywood sign.”
     Mr. Peters smiled, “They're trying to attract affluent Singaporeans over here in hopes that a little of the glamor of the city-state will rub off. That’s why you’ll see so many duty free shops and malls in the city.
     “Ten years ago this place used to be pirate central. That was before Lloyds of London declared the Malacca Strait a war zone. That designation forced Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia to band together and make a joint military effort to combat piracy. They recruited elements from the India and Australia navy to help police the strait and, at least from the statistics from the International Maritime Bureau, it seems to be working. But as the locals say, ‘As long as rich ships sail past hungry mouths, piracy will continue.’ ”


     We found the Dead Dragon Cafe in a back alley a few blocks from the ferry dock. Mr. Peters went in first to make sure it wasn’t some kind of an ambush.
     He came out saying, “It checks out. We’re in a back room that's got its own private entrance. Come this way.”

      We followed him down a narrow walkway and through a door and into a small room that I found claustrophobic and downright off-putting. I looked at the other four members of our little cabal.

     “I don’t like this. Something feels off. I think we should leave.” I said, in not my calmest voice.
     “Mr. Westmorland should be here any minute.” 

     “I don’t care. Something’s wrong. I’m leaving.” I opened the door to the walkway. Mr. Peters pushed past me and looked out. He closed the door saying, “That way doesn’t look promising. Let’s go out through the bar.”

     Mr. Peters pulled his pistol, “Gentlemen this might get a bit unpleasant. Remember to try for a headshot,” he said as we entered the main room to find it now crowded with lean, hungry-looking men, wearing what looked like tattered Dragon Skin body armor.
     I was suddenly sweating so much my revolver felt slippery in my hand as I asked Mr. James, “Did that fuck of an ex-CIA guy set us up?”

     The old guys had spread out facing the bar’s other patrons. Mr. James said “It doesn’t matter right now. Remember Mr. Peters advice about the shot placement.”

     We moved five or six more steps into the room and everyone else stood up. I expected a bloodbath at any moment, but just then another group of well-armed men barged through the bar's main entrance.

     A new voice boomed out, “All right gents, let's all settle down. No need for violence, we're all professional here.” A nearly bald white man in his sixties continued, "Mohammed, these gentlemen are here at my behest. No encroachment or disrespect was intended towards you or your men. I couldn’t reach you to ask permission to visit your city and I humbly apologize. I’ve just bought out Abdul’s for the night. You, your men and all their families have the run of the place. It’ll be a really nice distraction. Everything is paid for.”

     The locals were caught in a pincer movement and they knew it. The group held a fast wordless discussion and with the few head-nods, the tension broke. Mohammed, the unlikely looking leader of the little band of opportunists walked up to the balding white man and spoke in low tones. They laughed, then the lean, hungry-looking men filed out after the ex-CIA man’s men shuffled further into the room.
     The bald man walked up to me, “You look a lot like John Stanley. You know, I never really liked your father. He always thought the angels were on his side.”

     “And who might you be?”

     ​​​​​​​“You can call me Wes. But right now I don’t think this is the right place to hold our discussion. The restaurant our lately departed friends are feasting in is just around the corner. Once their stomachs are full they might rethink our truce. I suggest a boat ride.” 
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