Death leapt from the mountaintop striking the flimsy aircraft and sending it spiralling to its doom. Peace and tranquillity returned to the passive blue ocean as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. Only a wispy trail of smoke drifted by, betraying the disastrous event that had just transpired.
Peter looked up at the gold-toothed grinning China-man. “Interesting? Yeah! I guess so. But it’s just a story a fairy tale.”
“Ah, you do not believe. No?”
Peter smiled. “It’s a little to far fetched and well – should I say, more like science fiction than fact.”
“Mr. Chan, I believe. Yes, I truly believe it to be true.”
“We’re not flying on that rout now, are we?”
The China-man grinned and sat on the seat next to Peter. With a broad smile he said, “There are many stories of the Banda Sea Triangle, Mr. Chan. Should I say, there is no smoke without the fire? Is that not true?
Peter’s countenance brightened as he replied, “I am a scientist. I deal only with facts cold hard facts. The tales of fishermen are just that, fishermen’s tales. There are no monsters in the Banda Sea, or for that matter any other ocean, triangular or otherwise.”
The China-man took one of Peter’s hands and in a soft warm voice said, “The most interesting story is from a New Zealand newspaper of 1949. It was reported that a New Guinea fisherman said he saw Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 10E passing near an island known locally as ‘Dragon’s Nest’. He said a bolt of light leapt from the pinnacle of the island and totally destroyed the machine. Do you think, Mr. Chan, that an ignorant fisherman could invent such a preposterous tale?”
“Anyone can lie, it’s easy.”
“True, Mr. Chan, but to what end? Why would a lowly fisherman makeup such a story?”
Thoughtfully Peter scratched his ear pondering the question for a moment. “I don’t know. I will have to think about it, but as I said, anyone can tell lies and how would a fisherman know an E10 from any other plane?”
With no further conversation, the China-man rose and left the young American scientist to his deep thoughts. The reported encounter had several strange aspects. As the flight attendant passed Peter he attracted her attention.
“Excuse me, miss, did you see that gentleman sitting here with me a moment ago?”
“Yes, Mr. Chan, that is commander Soo-Lin, our reserve pilot.”
“Oh! How is it that everyone on this flight seems to know my name?”
She smiled delightfully. “Everyone knows of Mr. Chan. You are famous, sir.”
The PA announced that the aircraft would soon be landing in Singapore. Trembling with excitement and anticipation, Peter peered eagerly through the window to get a first glimpse of his new home. Air turbulence increased as the plane descended over the dark sea. The lights of Singapore city became visible, shining like a beautiful jewel against the blackness of the ocean. With a bump and a squeal of tyres the giant plane touched down and began its run down the long taxiway. Surprisingly Peter found the airport as modern as any in America. He’d expected something very different. The cleanliness, efficiency, and automation seemed out of place in what he had conceived as a backward area of the world.
Customs and immigration were little more than a formality. As soon as he was in the reception area, an Indian fellow with a blue turban rushed up to him.
“You are Peter Chan?” he said smiling, showing a mouthful of sparkling gold teeth.
“Yes, I am.”
“It is good that I found you so soon,” he said in his quaint Indian accent. “Please, I will take your luggage. I am Sammy Sahananden. I will guide you until stated otherwise.”
“Are you from Enright?” Peter asked.
“Certainly. Indeed, sir.”
Sammy wore khaki slacks and a brightly coloured shirt. His blue turban gave him an air of distinction.
“We have a car waiting for you, sir. We shall proceed to the Raffles hotel, for now.”
The brilliant colours of Singapore amazed Peter. At night the scenery had a breathtaking beauty driven by the force of millions of lights draped from pole to pole and along storefronts. Under the powerful street lights the gaily-dressed people appeared very tropical. The Raffles hotel is a large old colonial building at the ocean end of Bras Basah Road. Peter quickly booked into his reserved room already the heat felt overpowering. To him the hotel felt new and profoundly different to what he’d been used to in America. The inner walls being topped with an ornate grill allowing sound and air to circulate freely. In the middle of the ceiling some twelve feet high hung a huge slow turning fan.
The ambience, sound and smell strikingly unlike the USA. The bed though very comfortable felt alien and unnatural as the perspiration trickled down his face. After such a long journey, every muscle in his body ached and a good sleep beckoned him with open arms. Sammy made all the necessary arrangements and promised to collect Peter first thing in the morning.
At breakfast the efficient white-coated staff presented an English style morning feast of tea, toast with marmalade and an ample helping of eggs, bacon and beans. The entire staff spoke excellent English, making Peter feel welcome and at home.
Sammy arrived almost unperceived. He slipped into the seat facing Peter and said with a wide grin, “Good morning, sir. You slept well, I am hoping?”
“Yes, thank you. When do I get to see my new work place?”
“Mr. Enright wishes you to settle comfortably before you start work. Today we shall visit the head office in Alexandra. For the rest of the week we shall relax and learn to live in Singapore, Singapore very good place, very hot.”
“I think I’ll like it here once I acclimatise. The people seem to be very nice and pleasant.”
“You will love Singapore. I shall show you the whole city. It is very good for tourists. Now you finish breakfast, then we go to Alexandra.”
A limousine met Peter and Sammy at the front door. The sun shone in a cloudless sky pushing the temperature up into the upper nineties, around 35 Celsius and the humidity also close to the 100 mark, making it useless to sweat. Much to Peter’s relief the limousine had air-conditioning. Sammy of course was used to the tropical conditions. The sweltering weather appeared to have no effect on him.
“I’d love a ride on that,” Peter said pointing to a three-wheeled bicycle like device with passengers.
“That is trishaw. American sometimes say, rickshaw. Many, many trishaw in Singapore, good for tourist. Very good way to see sights of city,” Sammy said with a friendly smile.
The drive to the Enright office tower took about eighteen minutes. The twenty story modern building stood a little beyond the high-rise residential area, in its own grounds. Smartly dressed guards at the gate added a military aspect to scene.
“Looks like an armed camp,” Peter said.
“Not so. There are no guns,” Sammy said adamantly.
The limousine stopped at the canopied main entrance. Inside the glass fronted office tower Peter felt the science fiction-like abidance. Somehow the place seemed to be watching his every move as if the building itself was alive.
A large desk in the foyer, surmounted by a dozen or so TV monitors kept tabs on the entire building, inside and out. Sammy led the way to the lift.
“Good morning, Mr. Sahananden,” a pleasant female voice said. Sammy pressed his thumb on the lift button and did not reply.
The lift car arrived and the door opened. “One extra to enter,” Sammy said.
“Proceed, Mr. Sahananden and guest,” came the voice again.
Sammy led the way into the lift. Peter followed close on his heels. Mr. Enright’s office, the largest in the building had a huge elegant foyer on the third floor. Several desks were scattered about the spacious room in almost a haphazard manner. Sammy walked to one of the desks and spoke with a beautiful young Eurasian woman. She stood and smiled at Peter. Her long black-glistening hair gave her a look of elegance and beauty. The sarong accentuated her curves.
“Please come this way,” she said in a pleasant and friendly voice.
Peter followed her through a huge oak door into a very luxurious office just beyond her desk. The office presented an air of opulent modernism, with thick wall-to-wall carpeting and large probably original, paintings on the walls. At one end an entire glass wall gave a view of the ocean. A middle-aged Caucasian man sat at the gigantic antique wooden desk with an enormous grin on his face.
“Mr. Chan,” the attractive lady said. She turned and left the room, closing the great door behind her.
The chubby little man stood. He ran his hand over his baldpate as if brushing his hair back. “Greetings,” he said almost excitedly. Quickly he manoeuvred around the huge desk and grabbed Peter’s right hand in both of his. He shook it vigorously. “Welcome aboard, son. Welcome aboard.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The little man hurried back to his oversized chair on the other side of the desk. “Sit, sit, make yourself comfortable. We don’t stand on ceremony here, just one big happy family.”
Peter nervously fidgeted with the keys in his pocket slightly overwhelmed by the new surroundings. He felt a little uncomfortable in this man’s presence.
“Thank you,” he said softly.
“You can’t begin to know how pleased I am that you decided to join us. You’re our first Nobel science prizewinner on staff. You’ll have your own lab, your own workers and your own rules. This company is one big happy family, yes, one big happy family. How was your journey?”
“Okay, I guess,” Peter said.
“I’m sorry if all this seems somewhat overwhelming, but you are really a great prize for us. We shall have many happy and profitable years together. I’m sure you’ll love Singapore. It’s a beautiful country, if you can afford air-conditioning. And you can.” He brushed his bald forehead again. “How are you getting along with Sammy?”
“Very well, thank you.”
“Sammy is a good man. He’s been with me for twenty years. He has three beautiful daughters, all of whom work for me. We operate under seven different company names in twelve different countries. But this is the heart, the dynamic centre, where the puppeteer pulls all the strings you could say. Your lab is a top security place out at Changi. You’ll like Changi; beautiful clean beaches, very nice district, well out of the city. Sammy’ll help you find a house. When you get settled you can bring your lovely fiancée over.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“It’ll take a while to get settled in. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time. You’re young. What? Only thirty-four?”
“Here we work better if we are relaxed. Do you golf at all?”
“Some. Not very well though.”
“There’s a nice course at Seletar. Sammy’ll sort that out for you too. Now take this.” He handed Peter a small bracelet.
“Thank you, sir. What is it?”
The little man sighed very loudly. “I’m sorry. I get carried away with my own enthusiasm. I am Enright. I own everything, though I don’t run everything. People who are qualified are paid to do what is required for me. This bracelet was my idea. I was afraid of loosing my daughter after her mother died, you see.”
“I see,” Peter said lying and feeling a little confused.
“Wear the bracelet either on your wrist or your ankle. It’s an isotopic excitable reflector. It can be scanned from up to fifty miles away and having a very low reflectoflourisity, it will return an encoded echo. The transmitter receiver can decode the reflection, thus identifying the wearer.”
“Is that how the elevator works? Oh, I guess you probably call it a lift.”
“Very smart indeed. You already noticed it in use. Your finger scans will be fed into the computer so that with any button you press, the auto security will know if you are who you say you are. It’s a great security device, also helps us keep track of where our people are at all times. The computer knows when and where you are at work. A sort of big brother is watching you.”
Peter shrugged, not sure whether he really appreciated the idea of Big Brother.
The little man continues, “The one I gave my daughter is slightly different. It’s a pendant. If she gets lost or is abducted, the pendant will give her position away. Our security forces would soon bring the deviants to justice.”
“Very clever,” Peter agreed.
“There are so many bad people in this world today, a little girl just isn’t safe, you know.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Of course, door scanners are very low power. We do have one long-range search scanner. It’s the one we used for testing the system. Did you know that the isotope can give one thousand million combinations? That’s almost enough to give half the people in the world one.”
“Yes, very good,” Peter said somewhat confused. “Do I have to wear it? I mean is it compulsory?”
“Oh no. If you wish, you may carry it in your pocket. If you don’t have it, you’ll have difficulty getting around in any of our facilities, could even get arrested,” he said and laughed as though he had cracked a real funny joke.
“Oh, that’s okay, I just don’t wear jewellery. When do I start work?”
The chubby man laughed again. “Don’t be in such a hurry. Sammy will help you get settled in. He’s one of our best security men. He’s yours. Why not think about starting sometime next week? You’re of Asian descent – have you been to Singapore before?”
“No. My mother was Vietnamese and my father was an American serviceman. I was only a small kid when Saigon fell, so you see I was educated in the United States.”
“Well, you’ll be at home here. Singapore is a country of multiple cultures. It’s the most cosmopolitan city in the world. Enjoy yourself, take it easy, this is the tropics.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“My daughter will be coming over here for her school holidays. Since her mother died, she’s all I’ve got. I’m taking three weeks off to give her a good time.” He stood up. “You probably won’t see me for a month. Think of yourself as the boss of our Changi research branch, and Sammy is your right-hand man.” He stuck out his hand again. “Welcome aboard, son.” He smiled.
Peter shook the man’s hand. “Thank you, sir. I’m sure we’ll get along famously.”
As though on cue, the pretty Eurasian girl opened the huge oak door, entered and smiled sweetly. It was obvious that the interview with the big cheese was at an end. Peter silently followed the woman out of the office. Sammy sat by the woman’s desk waiting, his bright eyes highlighted by his powerful grin.
“So, now you are one of us.”
“Yup, I guess so.”
“It is time that you enjoy life. I will take you places, places you have never seen before.”
The heat was an overwhelming ninety-eight degrees ‘F’ and ninety percent humidity. Perspiration streamed down Peter’s face, his chest and back was soaked.
“It’s far too hot to enjoy life here. I had no idea it would be this hot. Is this normal?”
“You will soon get used to it – you must drink plenty water. I would like to take you to Tiger Balm Gardens. The gardens of Haw Par Villa.”
“I don’t think so, Sammy. I’d like to start work as soon as I can, especially if the plant is air-conditioned.”
Sammy laughed. “Work can wait. We shall enjoy the day. Let us be like the tourists while we can. Please, you come to Tiger Balm with Sammy, we enjoy the day.”
“Alright, you win. I’ll go with you. Let’s see this place you’re talking about.”
“Excellent, sir. You will enjoy. Everyone enjoy Tiger Balm Gardens.”
In only fifteen minutes the limousine pulled to a halt at the gate of the pleasure park. The two men climbed out and headed up the slope toward the ticket kiosk. Peter was suitably impressed by the surroundings. The entrance looked like a Chinese pagoda with its typically Asian colours and form.
“Well, what is this place?” Peter said looking around in amazement.
“Most unusual. It is where you will find all the Chinese folklore and beliefs, made in the concrete.”
Definitely different from anything Peter had seen before, he stood trying to absorb the wonder and beauty. The tales of folklore recreated and modelled in cement, people and monsters from nightmares, dreams and stories. Some models are life-sized, while some are quite small. Even a few of the trees and birds are hand-made. Almost all the magnificent displays were outdoors and in the tropical sun.
Unexpectedly, Peter found himself alone. Sammy had vanished into the milling spectators. About fifteen minutes had passed when another Indian gentleman came to Peter and introduced himself.
“I am Arjit Singh,” he said in a deep soothing voice. “I shall complete the tour for you.” He wore a white turban and had no gold teeth.
“What happened to Sammy, where is he gone?”
“Sammy has been called away urgently,” Arjit said. “Do not worry yourself. I shall take good care of you until Sammy is able to work again. Please relax.”
“Well, what happened?”
“Family trouble. Please do not bother yourself. Sammy will be all right. Where would you like to go now, Mr Chan?”
“How did you recognise me?”
The new guide grinned and his eyes flashed with personal pride. “Famous person, like Mr. Chan.” He laughed. “Everyone know Mr. Chan. Your picture has been in all the newspapers. Everyone knows you come to Singapore – great American scientist.”
“Well,” Peter said thoughtfully. “I’d like to go to my lab in Changi, or go back to my hotel. This heat is overpoweringly oppressive I need air-conditioning before I melt.”
“It is no problem, sir. Sammy has taken the car. If you wish we can go by boat. There is one at DesJardin Steps. We can take the sea route to Changi, very nice journey and cool. This will be very nice for you, it is much cooler on the water.”
“Well, I hope you’re right. Is the water calm?”
“Oh, yes, sir. You will enjoy. Please follow me.”
Peter was not thinking clearly and could see no harm in taking the boat trip with a total stranger after all everyone seemed so kind and thoughtful in this country. They did everything differently in Singapore and he did not want to insult anyone accidentally. Only a five-minute walk from the gardens, and they were on the edge of the water. A small sampan boat lay tied up at the jetty. There were two other people and the driver waiting in it. The men looked rather shady characters – Peter assumed them to be security agents.
As soon as Peter Chan was aboard, the little outboard engine started. Some people on the shore cast-off and the journey smoothly began. It was cooler on the sea; the breeze from their forward motion kept the temperature down to almost acceptable levels.
“We will pass close to State House, maybe even see the president having a tea party,” Arjit said.
Houses on sticks lined some of the coast and children played at the water’s edge. A delightful and enlightening journey at first pleased and calmed Peter. After a while, he noticed that they were moving farther and farther away from the shore.
“We seem to be heading out to sea,” he said with concern.
“Not to worry, sir. See that ship?” He pointed to a luxury cabin cruiser sitting way off in the distance.
“Yes, I see it.”
“It is the six-hundred ton pleasure yacht, ‘Miasaki II.’ A very nice boat operated by your boss. It will take us to Changi. It as air conditioning.”
Peter relaxed as the small craft manoeuvred its way to the large diesel-powered luxurious yacht. The calm ocean swelled gently displaying shimmering deep blue with green patches. The world felt peaceful and pleasant as the sailed in tranquil waters. In a short time, they pulled alongside the Miasaki II. Only the driver remained on the small boat. As soon as they were aboard the big diesel yacht, its main engines started and the boat began moving at a good speed away from Singapore.
“Arjit,” Peter said. “Why are we going in this direction? Singapore’s that way.”
“Do not worry yourself. Come, I will take you to see the Captain.” Arjit led the way to the rear deck.
The aft deck was canopied and open on all sides except the front. The furniture though upholstered in waterproof fabric looked elegant. A fat Chinese-looking man sat on one of the easy chairs with two good-looking young women standing awaiting his every command. The scene appeared to Peter as a page from a cheap Victorian novel. The Chinese overlord sat with his long cigarette holder dangling from his claw like hands and the pretty scantily dressed girls standing merely as decorations.
Peter was led before the small group and ordered to sit.
“I am very pleased to see you, Mister Chan,” the fat man said softly and in excellent English. “My name is Chow Peng. You are going to work for me.” He knocked a long ash from the end of his cigarette, as though it were a significant act.
Peter’s eyes widened with surprise. “I am? How come?”
The fat man tossed a small plastic cube to an armed guard, standing close by. With a meaningful nod of his head he indicated his intentions. The guard stepped toward Peter and handed him the small block.
Turning the thing in one hand Peter eyed the four inch grey cube with interest. “So what is it?”
“This is why you are here, Mr. Chan.”
“What exactly is it and why exactly am I here?”
“It’s the heart of the dragon, Mr. Chan. You will be the one who will tell me exactly what it is.”
“I don’t understand. I came to Singapore to work for Enright Enterprises. I was engaged personally by Mr. Enright – I don’t know you”
The fat man laughed so mush that his bulk wobbled like a massive jelly. “Let me demonstrate what I mean when I say you will work for me.” He turned to face a guard standing by the entrance and angrily shouted something in a dialect of Chinese.
Things began to happen fast. Two Asian guards arrived carrying submachine guns, and stood either side of him. Suddenly Sammy appeared. He was restrained by one man either side of him.
“Sammy,” Peter gasped in surprise. “What are you doing here? What’s going on?”
“Silence,” the fat man barked, “Mr. Chan, you are my prisoner. You will do as I say, when I say.” He turned to one of the guards. “Throw the dog over the side.”
“No,” Peter yelled leaping to his feet. Roughly the two nearest guards grabbed him and arrested his movements.
The other two men forced Sammy to the gunwale and threw him over the side of the boat.
“Stop,” Peter shouted struggling with his guards.
“Sit down and shut up,” the fat man shouted.
At that moment, gunfire broke out. The guards were shooting at Sammy in the water. Two or three more guards from the front deck joined in shooting as if it were merely an everyday sport.
“Now,” Chow Peng said when the gunfire ceased. “You see that I do not joke. I am the lord and master on this vessel. Your life is in my hands, Mr. Chan. Do not doubt that I will use any means to obtain the ends I desire.”