Twenty: A Special Friend

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Saturday Evening, Day 14 – Singapore

“Over here,” Mickey waved as Spence rolled out from Immigration and Customs in Singapore.

They’d met a couple of years ago at the pistol championships in Camp Perry, Ohio. Spence had driven four days from Arizona while Mickey had flown all the way from Singapore. They were assigned adjacent firing points with Mickey scoring Spence’s targets. They’d quickly become friends away from the range enjoying pizza and beer at Crosswinds and sitting outside with ice cream at Andy’s. Best, or perhaps worst of all, they heartily agreed that the deep fried Walleye at Jolly Roger’s was disgusting no matter what anyone said. In the three day competition, Mickey outshot Spence by twenty points and 5 Xs in the 2700. Parting at the end, they’d agreed to a re-shoot “someday” even though neither had any idea when or where they might meet again.

“I’m really glad you texted me,” Mickey grinned, pumping Spence’s hand. “It’s been, what, two years? Three?”

Spence nodded but said nothing.

Throughout the four hour flight, Spence had replayed the abduction in his mind over and over. Each time, he came to the same conclusion. While the woman he loved had been carried off kicking and screaming, he’d done nothing to help.

Absolutely nothing.

He was beyond disgust.

Spence was aware that Mickey was looking at him as they walked through the airport.

“Rough flight?” He asked.

“Not really,” Spence answered, afraid to say, or not say, the right thing.

He remembered Sartaq’s warning that, to save Megyn, he must keep his mouth shut.

But now here he was in Singapore, staying with a cop for two weeks, and quite certain Mickey had picked up that something was bothering … No, overwhelming him.

How’m I gonna live with this for two weeks and not say anything? He wondered.

He shook his head.

Confirming his fears, as they walked out of the airport and into the equatorial heat and humidity, Spence realized Mickey was sneaking glances at him.

Great, he thought, now he knows something is up.

In the parking lot, Mickey pressed the remote in his left hand and the trunk of a white Volvo S-90 popped open.

The car was spotless and the glass crystal clear all around. Even the tires glistened as if freshly wiped with Armour All.

“Nice car,” Spence said, impressed.

“Thanks. It belongs to the department but I like to keep it looking good.”

Spence felt awkward as soon as he got into the left front seat. Driving on the left always bothered him but sitting now in what should be the driver’s seat but with no steering wheel in front of him was very disconcerting. He crossed his arms to give them something to do and looked out the left window as Mickey accellerated on what felt like the wrong side of the road.

Through gaps in the immaculate, lush landscaping as the road curved around toward the sun as it neared the horizon, Spence could see the blue ocean. This was the Singapore Strait between the South China Sea where it curved around and then up into the Mallaca Strait that eventually led through to the Bay of Bengal and then the Indian Ocean beyond. The small segment Spence could see held at least a dozen container ships, probably waiting to load or unload.

Singapore, he knew, was among the top two or three busiest ports in the world for ocean shipping. Everything from Africa and India that was headed East went past Singapore. And goods going the other way from China, Korea or Japan had to similarly go around the long tail of southeast Asia. Singapore sat at its tip and was a natural stop. Historically famous for piracy into the early 1800s, the British had cleaned things up before finally cutting the city-state loose with its own stable self-government in 1965.

Today, deep ocean vessels from thousands of companies shuttled regular routes that include a stop in Singapore. Here they exchanged locked, standard size shipping containers, leaving behind those destined for a port of call not on that particular ship’s itinerary and, conversely, picking up those that were. At any given time, the Singapore storage yards held thousands of in-transit and spare containers.

Spence’s expertise, however, was airplanes and high reliability software. Singapore had also become a frequent stop for airplane refitting. He’d been there three times to teach software engineers, twice at ST Aerospace and once at GE Aviation. Both companies had hangers connected to the Paya Labar air base and shared runway access with Singapore’s tiny Air Force.

The Volvo’s air conditioner, cranked to maximum as the afternoon ended, was starting to work. Spence re-aimed the leftmost dash vent so it blew directly on his face.

Spence noticed Mickey glancing over again as they drove in silence.

“Sorry,” Spence smiled leaning back on the headrest, “I’m a little pre-occupied today.”

Mickey nodded as he took the Still Road exit to the left that climbed up in a 270 degree turn and over the parkway before descending to a city street in an affluent residential neighborhood.

“If I can help, I’d be glad to listen,” Mickey volunteered as the setting sun caused Spence to turn his head back to the front.

Spence knew the feeling of being on the wrong side of the road would pass in a couple of days but until then, it was best not to look.

Spence put his hand up to shield his eyes and tried to ignore the oncoming traffic to their right. He tried to be conversational, “Are you still with the Singapore Police?”

Spence saw Mickey glance over before returning to the traffic.

“Yes. I’m an Inspector as of about a year ago.”

Mickey’s khaki shorts and colorful sport shirt suggested he was off-duty today.

Spence pointed across the street at one of the houses, “Do you live in one of these?”

Mickey laughed and shook his head, “Not on my salary.”

“At least you have a nice car.”

“As I mentioned,” Mickey looked over again, “It belongs to the department.”

Oh yeah, Spence remembered, he said that.

Several turns and two expressways later, Spence watched the road signs as they turned first onto Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1, then Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10 and finally Ang Mo Kio Street 44 before finally going left into a street level parking lot.

“I gather this area is Ang Mo Kio?” Spence pronounced it as spelled.

“Yes,” Mickey said, twisting around to look while backing into the space marked 43. “This is my spot. I’m in building 467 right behind us.”

Amid a cluster of nearly identical high rises, Mickey’s was a 14 floor, tan building. Two thirds of the way up, a giant “467” was pained on the side. Looking in all four directions, Spence could see six more almost identical structures. By himself, he’d have to remember the exact street from all the similarly named ones, and then also use the building number to find this one.

“I’ll write it all down for you when we get inside,” Mickey explained.

As they emptied the trunk, Mickey pointed up the road to the North. “The hawker center is about 300 meters. There’s a McDonalds a little further on if you’d prefer.”

Spence smiled, “Oh no, I prefer the hawker center. How is it? Any Durian?”

“You’re in luck,” Mickey grimaced. “One of the vendors has five kinds. But you’ll have to sit by yourself to eat it. It makes me gag. And if you bring any into my apartment, I’ll throw you out, literally, from the ninth floor.”

Spence grinned.

Mickey smiled back and continued, “One of the vendors has excellent chicken-rice. Their Malay sauces are unique and very good. The whole center is relaxed so you can buy a dish at one place and then add sauce for it next door as long as you go back the next day and buy something from them, too.”

They rode up the un-air conditioned elevator in the center of the building to the ninth floor.

Mickey’s apartment, 916, was small but uncluttered. Spence thought it almost Spartan and wondered if Mickey might be recently divorced.

The common room had a living area that blended into the kitchen space. The big room had a dark brown stripe couch and two matching plush chairs around a coffee table. A TV remote control sat on the table, presumably for the huge LCD TV on a wide, low table against the wall. Slightly in front of the TV was a DVD player and, next to it an iPod stereo, all flanked by two small speakers with a sub-woofer laying on its side on the carpet beneath. Wires stretched out from each appliance and hung over the back. A saucer sat at the end of the low table nearest the door.

Spence assumed the absence of a dining table meant they’d be eating off the coffee table.

The bathroom, separated from the large common room by a door, had a western style commode, sink and stand-up shower.

Good, Spence was happy to note, I won’t have to squat.

After the quick tour, Mickey rolled one of the luggage stacks into “the spare room” where, Spence following with the other stack, saw he’d have a real bed, queen size with a dark, stained wood headboard that looked like standard Hilton Hotels fare, and a very Chinese-looking, black lacquer ornate armoire with brass hardware.

“This is your home,” Mickey gestured expansively. “I’ll be working during the week or when they call, sometimes at night. There’s a key in the dish by the TV. As soon as you are settled tonight, we’ll go to the hawker center and I’ll show you the ATM where you can get cash— none of the hawker stalls in this block take credit cards. Also, I’ll walk you down to and then through the MRT station so you know how to get a fare card. If you want a taxi, it’s best to call as they don’t orbit the residential areas. I assume your cell phone works here?”

Spence nodded, taking it all in. A couple of weeks of peace and quiet with some extended solitude sounded very nice.

“Mickey,” he began, feeling embarrassed, “when I texted you this morning, I didn’t say how long I was going to be in Singapore. I’m here early for something that’s not going to happen for two weeks. You’re being very generous letting me stay and I don’t want to overstay my welcome. If that’s too long for you, I can shift to a hotel. I don’t mind.”

“No, two weeks is fine,” Mickey shook his head. “It’ll be nice to have some company, and give me a reason to get out.

“Come to think of it,” Mickey motioned for Spence to follow as he walked quickly out of the room to a calendar on the front of the refrigerator. He ran his finger across the current week to Saturday and said, “there’s a match this weekend at the club. Would you be up for that?”

Shooting a match in Singapore? Wow! Who would have guessed that was possible? The shooters back in Phoenix would be impressed, for sure.

But he had no guns and, while Bullseye shooters were generous, it could be an expensive sport. The precision firearms were commonly $1000 or more each and most Bullseye shooters had far more than the two or three required for the sport. They were addictive. But those were one-time expenses. Shooting a match, even if you loaded your own as Spence did, might shoot up a couple of hundred dollars worth of ammunition painstakingly assembled with top quality, top dollar components.

Mickey apparently guessed Spence’s hesitation.

He said, “You can shoot my stuff as long as we don’t talk too much about where the ammo comes from.”

Leaning closer he added, “It’s supposed to be for department practice but my boss will be on the line with us doing the same thing. We say it’s good practice and, well, I guess it is. Just not the same as defending yourself under fire in a dark alley.”

Mickey grinned.

Spence smiled back.

If anything would give Spence a temporary break from his worries, target pistol shooting was it. Most people imagined it was the excitement that shooters enjoy but Spence knew that Bullseye and precision shooters were exactly the opposite. It was the intense, meditative-like concentration on each shot that made it so engrossing. He knew that, half a dozen shots down range, his brain would be quiet as he focused on the sights, the target a blur in the distance, until the pistol went “Bang!”

“Actually, yes,” Spence said enthusiastically, “that would be great. But is it Okay for me to shoot here? I mean, I’m not a citizen of Singapore. Do I need some sort of permit or something?”

Mickey smiled, “You’d never qualify, not in this short a time. But don’t worry. You’ll be with a Policeman and his superior, shooting a Policeman’s guns, department ammo and standing with a bunch of other officers, both Police and Military, active and retired. Everyone will be delighted. Just don’t walk off the range with a gun. That would be bad.”

Spence unpacked his stuff into the Chinese armoire and, after a short Scotch, they were down at the hawker stalls. There were eight vendors, each with a menu above their 12×12 foot space, and several with added cardboard signs with today’s specials. Everything was printed in several languages including English. Spence would have no trouble eating here.

Five minutes later they were sitting at the picnic tables next to the hawker area. Mickey picked out a chunk of curried lamb from his rice before asking, “What were you doing in Hong Kong, teaching a class?”

Spence shook his head as Mickey chewed. “Just passing through after a night in Guangzhou. We were on our way home from Wuhan. I was teaching for two weeks at the University.”

Mickey stopped chewing.

“You were at Wuhan University last week?”

“Yeah. The kids were great but a couple of things happened. Pretty awful, actually. All in all, I’d say it was probably the second most terrible time of my life.”

“Wuhan University?” Mickey repeated. “China? Last Thursday? In the afternoon?”

“Yeah,” Spence said, realizing that Mickey was staring at him.

“So, you were there? Actually there? Did you see the explosion or just the aftermath?”

“Uh, yeah,” Spence confessed, feeling like he’d done something wrong.

“I was there. It was bad.”

Mickey continued to stare, his eyes darting back and forth between Spence’s.

Feeling even uneasier, Spence rushed on, “My classroom was close. A couple of hundred yards, no more. The building was somewhat oblique to the library but, nonetheless, all our windows blew in. A couple of students were killed; I’d gotten to know one of them. Lots of them were hurt and,” Spence raised his right hand still holding his chopsticks up to his head, “it blew out my eardrum. Doc says it’ll heal but I don’t hear very much on that side right now.”

Mickey shook his head, “The report I read said the building was leveled. Nothing but a few low walls left. There were more than a hundred dead in the terrorist attack, worst ever in China as far as we know.”

“I thought so,” Spence exclaimed. “They said the official explanation was going to be a gas leak but I saw the center of the blast site and there was nothing burnt or scorched. Everything was just pushed out leaving a clear center.”

Mickey nodded, “We got a message from ICD, Singapore’s International Cooperation Department. The Chinese Ministry of State Security privately confirmed it was a bombing. Their communique said there were at least two sets of explosives in different locations, both inside the building. Survivors said there were three terrorists in the central group but they’re not sure whether anyone was at the second location.”

Mickey quoted Spence, “You said, ‘We were on our way home’. You were traveling with someone? Are they all right?”

“Yes,” Spence said dismissively. This was starting to feel very much like the interrogation back in Wuhan and he wanted it to be over. “She’s a friend I met through work in California a couple of years ago but she wasn’t anywhere near the University then.”

Mickey plowed on, “She didn’t come to Singapore with you?”

“Uhm,” Spence fumbled, “she’s supposed to be here in two weeks.”

Mickey was watching him closely.

He added, “She’s still in China. With her parents. Okay?”

Mickey watched but said nothing.

“Look,” Spence said, “Can we let this go for now. I’ve had a terrible week, two of them to be honest, and right now I just need to stop, stop and do nothing for a couple of days.”

Mickey reached over and put a hand on Spence’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Spence. I guess it’s hard for me to turn off my job sometimes.

“I agree, you definitely need some R&R. Singapore is good for that. It’s safe, day and night, and you won’t be bothered by thieves, terrorists or suicide bombers here.

“If you want some beach time, Sentosa is a good choice.

“And my TV and Scotch— don’t get carried away— are available.

“And there are some interesting places to eat, even some intriguing bars. Have you been to the Long Bar at Raffles? It’s touristy and expensive but very, very British and complete with free peanuts and the painting of a nude, a very attractive one with nothing left to the imagination, above the bar.”

Spence smiled remembering the painting and the twenty dollar Guinness he’d mistakenly ordered thinking he’d save a few bucks over a Singapore Sling at the place that had invented it.

“And, if you need to talk to someone, I can listen. I deal with trauma sometimes, and if you want, I can get you in to see one of the Police counselors. They’re very good. That kind of trauma is a big deal. It can haunt you for years if you don’t work through it.”

Spence took a breath as he considered Mickey’s offer. He could use a second mind to help think through events and all the what if scenarios, but there was no getting around the fact that what Mickey was proposing was talking with the Police, exactly what Sartaq had said he must not do. Granted it was the Singapore Police, not the Chinese Police, but he had no idea how much the two countries cooperated. The fact that they were getting some kind of official but non-public communications from Beijing worried him.

“Thanks,” Spence said, trying not to reveal his misgivings. “I might take you up on that later.”

Anxious to change the subject, Spence straightened up and looked around the hawker area.

“Right now, I’d like some Durian.”

Mickey’s face cringed. “It’s over there about 50 meters,” he said, pointing through an exit. “I’ll wait here if you don’t, or even if you do, mind.”

As Spence headed in that direction, Mickey added, “And if you get any on your clothes, you can take them off and toss them down the garbage chute before we get back to my place!”

 

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