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The Singapore Necklace
By Jaim Kaan
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Jaim Kaan
All right reserved.
The open staring eyes didn't blink as raindrops fell on its lids. The naked body of the young man lay face down at the foot of the large and imposing concrete tank – his head slightly turned to the side.
The drizzle's drops fell continuously on the pale back of the body, and the water was still washing off the last traces of blood from the open wound on the head and hair.
Around the neck of the young man was a necklace, curious design with black and red beads interspersed with silver beads. A light yellow plastic cover has now been placed over the body after the necessary forensic pictures and evidence gathering have been done. A police crime scene tape has been spanned around the area to cordon off the place.
A few onlookers, who managed to climb up the slippery hill to the water tank, gathered under umbrellas seeking cover from the light drizzle that fell non-stop since the previous night.
Soon the paramedics arrived, parking the ambulance at the roadside close to the red fire hydrant, from there they jumped across the open roadside drain, carrying with them all possible medical equipment and a stretcher.
They managed to find their way amongst the low growth and tall grass to the spot where the little crowd was assembled. The huge drum shaped water tank stood there on top of a sizable and steep mound encircled and surrounded by five three storey blocks of apartments.
One policeman jumped up to try to reach the rusty steel service ladder wanting to climb up to the roof of the structure. It took him three times to leap to grab hold of the first rung, at the roof he looked for any traces left by the victim, maybe evidence of foul play. After thorough search the officers could gather very little data, they then started to interview some of the bystanders.
The paramedics commenced to place the naked corpse into a body-bag and zipped it close and after lifting the bag on the stretcher the five men carried it, with much effort, down the wet and slippery slope.
Among the onlookers was a Caucasian man who confirmed he was the downstairs neighbour of the deceased, he pointed in what block the apartment was. Other bystanders could verify this also and informed that the young man moved into the second floor apartment more than four months ago.
Intending to search the unit two policemen in raincoats then followed the Caucasian neighbour to the apartment block while walking the officers took notes the registration number of the Volks Wagen Golf that the neighbor confirmed to belong to the dead young man.
Upon finding that the front door was closed, they then just went around the block and discovered that the rear door at the kitchen stood wide open.
Inside they saw nothing suspicious except for a plate with chicken curry on the night table in the bedroom and an empty glass container on the bed with its lid at the side. The officers managed to uncover the identity of the young man and the name and address of his next of kin.
AT THE DENTIST
The weather that Monday afternoon was unusually hot, the street at Battery Road looked nearly empty and quiet. Rows of rickshaws and gharries stood waiting silently in the bright sunlight like black shadows standing guard in front of the rows of pillars of the three or four storey commercial buildings. Now and then a few people were seen walking under the cover of the "five foot" walkways crossing hurriedly seeking the next cover and soon they disappeared.
In the dentist's waiting room at the opposite row of commercial buildings across the street Guy, a lieutenant from the British Infantry Battalion sat in one of the ten or so wicker chairs that were arranged along the walls, waiting for his turn. The open windows and the ceiling fan seemed ineffective in relieving the heat in the high ceilinged hall. He opened the upper buttons of his uniform but to no avail.
The pain at his wisdom tooth returned with higher frequency and became quite unbearable so he took leave to the dentist, Dr. Naughton, one of the prominent dental surgeons that his peers at the Garrison recomended.
There were only two people at that hour in the dentist's waiting room. In front of Guy a young Chinese man in his late teens or early twenties sat slightly slumped in one of the wicker chairs.
His hair well groomed and dressed very neatly in a white linen suit and a white collarless shirt. His beige gabardine socks could be seen above his light brown Oxford shoes, his leather belt was in perfect match with the colour of his shoes.
The young man was in obvious pain as he was holding his jaw trying to rest on his hand and he kept his eyes closed most of the time.
The young man was called in before Guy and some twenty minutes later came out from the consultation room assisted by the Eurasian lady assistant in white uniform to slide down in the first chair next to the door. He apparently needed some more time to recover from the effects of the sedation.
Guy's wisdom tooth had to be extracted which he expected as predicted by the nurse who confirmed this afternoon's appointment some days before on the telephone. Dr. Naughton saw a cavity and explained that he would inject the sedative, Novocain, in the gum around the affected molar in order to avoid feeling the pain during the process.
The procedure took less than half an hour and the dentist suggested that Guy could stay in the dentist's chair for a while to rest while the nurse was clearing and tidying up the dentist's room. Dr. Naughton himself had to leave for an appointment elsewhere on the island and he thought to let his last patient of the day just relax and gain strength in the chair. When Guy left the dentist's room and came back in the waiting room he saw the Chinese youth still in his chair lying backwards with his head leaning on the back of his chair, his eyes closed. He became a bit alarmed to see the youth still in the chair and appearing quite weak.
"Excuse me, are you alright? Is there something wrong? "
The young man tried to open his eyes and looked at Guy and in a weak voice said "I'll be fine.... just a bit dizzy ... thank you." and tried to give a polite smile.
Guy sat down in the next chair separated by a small table, on which was a little bundle of butter paper wrapping. He put nonchalantly his little bundle of butter paper wrapping containing his extracted tooth next to the one on the table. It was the habit, in particular with the Asian patients in Singapore, to receive back their extracted teeth from the dentist – a practice soon adopted by all the dentists, Europeans as well as Japanese, on the island.
Guy looked at the young man with concern and was a bit worried to leave him alone in the deserted waiting room. He stood up and knocked at the consultation room door but there was no reply, he tried to open the handle but it was already locked.
"I'm sorry sir, I think the sedative proved too overwhelming for you and you need some longer rest but I don't think it's good for you to stay alone here.....you may need help to get back where you come from".
"Thank you.... but I'll be fine soon.... it's just the dizziness" the young Chinese man replied politely and he tried to stand up but was unsteady and almost fell, Guy who was semi kneeling beside him grabbed hold of him in a reflex and supported him by his arm and guided the young man back in the chair.
"How did you come here, do you have your own transport?"
"Our driver dropped me here ... then drove the car to the garage.... In Orchard Road"
"You can't be alone in this condition.... but not to worry.... I'll assist you and escort you home"
"Oh no please don't bother, sir ... Thank you, I'll just need a bit more rest"
"Young man, I can't leave you here and I insist.... and please trust me, I'll get you home"
The young man, still weak, leaned back silently in his chair, but after a while he nodded "All right sir, thank you".
Guy quickly acted, in the spur of the moment he picked up the two little butter-paper wrappings from the table and inserted them in the breast pocket of the youth's jacket under the lapel.
He helped the dazed young man out of his chair while putting his shoulder under his arm for support they walked out of the door onto the covered walkway.
Standing in that position he summoned a gharry that soon came in front of the dentist's practice.
It took some effort to get the weakened Chinese man inside and when he was seated too Guy asked him "Where do you stay?"
"Passir Panjang." the youth said softly.
In the gharry the young man tried to keep himself seated upright by pushing himself up by his arms on the seat, the sealed road surface was not always smooth causing the man's head moving from side to side. Guy who noticed this moved closer to him and put his arm on the back of the seat and guided him to lean back and rest his head on Guy's upper arm. Guy saw that he was a bit reluctant, out of timidity, and Guy understood that this kind of physical closeness was uncommon - especially beyond the prevailing cultural barriers - but in that instance it was the only option.
Shan, the twenty year old Chinese young man, was the oldest and only son of the wealthy Leong family.
His father was one of the leading business men in the community, dealing in tin mining and plantations. Shan, as expected in his community, slightly pampered but yet not spoilt, was quite used to be transported around whenever one of the two of the family cars was available.
Owning a car was an evidence of success in Singapore and owning two out of the total of around 700 cars on the island did establish one's special stature in the community.
The successful Chinese, Arab, Armenian and Indian businessmen were fairly adjusted and integrated into the business community that was dominated by and streamlined according to the culture of the West.
Shan, born into the life of a wealthy family was used to meet and converse with Europeans – his father even employed two British engineers at the family's mines – but resting his head on the shoulder of a British man was something that never ever crossed his mind.
He sensed however that the British officer was truly genuine in his extending of help, he felt better at ease and after a short time he let go of his last bit of control of his neck's muscles and rested the weight of his head on Guy's upper arm. Succumbing to the situation Shan noticed a certain scent, not unpleasant, that came from the British officer.
Guy who noticed the change of weight on his arm said:
"I'm sorry, my name is Guy Lawson and I'm an officer at the Infantry Battalion at the Tanglin Garrison"
"I'm Shan ... Leong Shan.... Leong is the surname, please call me Shan"
"Nice to meet you Shawn, you'll be absolutely fine in a jiffy, the dentist gave you a bit too much of that Novocain, probably"
Shan smiled and nodded gently in agreement to Guy's assumption. He was amazed at the real concern of the British officer and his sincere will to help bring him all the way home. It was somewhat contrary to the general perception of the distance and sometimes aloofness ascribed to the European attitude towards other cultures.
Guy was also aware of the moment and in his mind analyzing that in the two years that he was stationed and living in the East it was the first time he came to help an Oriental and at that even at this close and a tad personal.
It occurred to him that this young man he was helping seemed to be as civilized as anyone he knew, with good manners and not at all submissive as other orientals he has approached so far but unassuming and yet worthy of notice.
Upon Shan's directions Guy, upon seeing the large beautiful flamboyant tree on the right side of the road, ordered the gharry-driver to turn in to the compound on the left on Passir Panjang Road.
They entered the grounds of a large mansion, and as far as Guy could have noticed the only large residence along this road.
The bungalow, seemingly a rather new building, stood on the seaside of the main road in a vast clearing among hundreds of coconut trees and a few groups of casuarina trees, its long elevation stretched from one end to the other. The well maintained front garden was pleasantly laid out with transplanted matured trees, many sustained in position shored up by robust bamboo stems, and tropical shrubs that bordered the fringes of the green grass fields and that also lined the semicircular driveway.
On the far left, almost behind the house, was a roofed open shelter erected to give cover to the family cars.
The gharry drove onto the driveway and stopped under the porte-cochere at the main entry where a wide body of steps led to the verandah on the main level about four feet above the ground.
The house was built on masonry posts, as was usual on the island, creating an open airy crawl space aimed to cool the base of the building.
Separate stairs on both sides of the main entrance, away from the porte-cochere led also to the other areas of the long front verandah that was covered by a generous overhang of the main roof.
Guy had seen these large bungalows from a distance but never came this close to one, inside he felt keen to find out.
Upon seeing Shan in the gharry a Chinese man, either the gardener or houseboy who was busy in the garden, quickly ran up the verandah from where he excitedly yelled some commands to the people in the house. He then ran back to the gharry, now Guy noticed that he limped, to help hold up Shan from the gharry and carry him up to the house under his shoulder.
Two maids came running out and were ordered by the Chinese houseboy to clear the path for both him and Shan to go into the main hall. There they lowered Shan onto a large sofa and tucked some of the many velvet covered pillows under and beside him to ensure that he lay comfortably. A maid came back with a glass of water for him.
Guy had slowly followed from behind and looked in amazement at the commotion in the house stemming from the care and attention displayed before him.
Shan explained what has happened - also that Guy escorted him home all the way from the dentist's at Battery Road and the man and the maids looked up in unison with eyes wide open staring in disbelief at Guy.
A petite and elegant Chinese lady, presumably Shan's mother, dressed in a light blue hued and long silk Cheong-Sam, well coiffed hair and pearl clasp earrings walking in embroidered slippers, came in and immediately attended to her son with great concern. But soon she smiled and walked towards Guy and offered her hand.
With a remote tinge of local sound in her voice she spoke perfect English.
"Thank you so much for your help, sir. I'm Shan's mother. I hope it wasn't too much trouble and taking too much of your time. We didn't expect that it would turn out this way, I'm sure it wouldn't have bothered you if we provided proper transport for him."
An older lady who had appeared and was there with Shan all the while came standing behind Shan's mother and smiling and nodding in gratitude at Guy. She was dressed in a flower patterned kebaya the front part neatly closed by three large gold brooches, her batik sarong was in darker tints but in harmony with the colours of the kebaya. Her less than full grey hair tied in a knot as if crowning the top of her head.
"Terima kaseh.... thank you.... thank you...." she said softly with short bowing gestures.
"Can I offer you a drink? It's a hot day ... you must be thirsty. Can you stay for a while? I'm sorry I just assume you are off duty."
"Thank you ma'am, I'd like to, water will do fine."
Mrs. Leong led Guy through the house to the rear verandah and while offering him a seat asked from what regiment he was an officer from.
"I'm sorry, my name is Guy Lawson and I'm a Lieutenant at the British Infantry at the Tanglin Garrison."
Shan was helped onto the veranda by the houseboy and lowered into a seat not far from Guy.
The view from the verandah was just beautiful and impressive, between the coconut trees the calm blue seawater could be seen in the distance with thin white lines from the gentle rolling waves and further beyond the few white sails from the fishermen's boats in the far distance.
Excerpted from The Singapore Necklace by Jaim Kaan Copyright © 2012 by Jaim Kaan. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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