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Photo by Sofia Sforza on Unsplash

An MI6 operative goes missing in Singapore, and rookie agent David is partnered with retired local hand Colonel Milhouse to find her.

David regretted choosing Rule Britannia as a ringtone. It didn’t sound as patriotic at 3:00 AM. “It’s me,” he answered absent-mindedly. “There’s been an incident in Singapore. We’re sending a car. Be ready by oh-three-thirty.” The line cut. David swore audibly. “F__k. Why me?” Five years since he was reassigned to a desk job at the Secret Intelligence Service, otherwise known as MI6. He liked the hours, and more time with Linda and the kids. The last posting was Singapore, but surely there was someone there now?

The car rolled up at 3:30 sharp. As David got in, he was surprised to see someone else in the back seat — Sir Royston Jones, Head of MI6. David had seen him around occasionally, but never met him. His eye bags were more pronounced this time, making him look like a baleful bloodhound. “Our agent in Singapore’s disappeared.” Sir Jones handed David a file, on someone named Alice Yeats. “You’ll have to fill in, and find her. Quick.”

Singapore was one of the safest postings in MI6. The last place you’d expect to lose an agent. David could see why Sir Jones wanted to handle this personally. “Our people are working with Singapore’s people, but you’re our insurance policy. You’ll arrive as a tourist. No contact with British or Singapore authorities. We’ve arranged for an old hand to assist you, he knows the place inside-out. Been retired twenty years, but happy to help. An extraction team’s on the way to handle a rescue, if necessary.”

Twenty years seemed a long time to be out of service, but David was reluctant to question Sir Jones’s judgement. Besides, it’d be good to have help, he’d only been in Singapore a couple of years himself. David looked out the window and frowned, “This isn’t the way to Heathrow.” The bloodhound replied, “We’re not going to Heathrow.” Shortly after, the car rolled up to a deserted airfield. Parked on the sole runway was a Gulfstream G650. Sir Jones shook David’s hand, “This’ll get you there quicker. All the best.”

There are only two kinds of weather in Singapore — hot and rainy. David disembarked from the Gulfstream into a warm drizzle, and hurried into a waiting car, an egg-white 1970s Mercedes 220. “You’ll have to sit in front, I’m afraid. I didn’t come out of retirement to be a chauffeur.” Staring back at him from the driver’s side was a grizzled old man with a pipe firmly wedged under a grey brush moustache. “Colonel Milhouse?” David didn’t expect to meet him right off the plane. “At your service,” the Colonel replied in a starched accent reminiscent of tiger shoots in Malaya and tea dances at the Raffles.

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Photo by Bna Ignacio on Unsplash

David re-located accordingly and shook the Colonel’s hand. “I assume we’re heading straight to where Miss Yeats was last seen,” Milhouse remarked nonchalantly, the pipe wiggling slightly as he spoke. “Won’t there be police?” David was mindful of Sir Jones’s order to avoid the authorities. As they sped off the tarmac, the Colonel replied, “It’s after six, they’ve knocked off for the day.”

They soon arrived at a white bungalow in a quiet suburb. As David feared, there was a policeman standing guard outside. Rather than draw attention, they drove by with barely a glance at the sentry. Once safely round the corner, David turned to the Colonel. “What about him?” “Not to worry, old chap. He’s just the night watchman.” Milhouse didn’t seem concerned. “Mind if I borrow your phone? I could never stand the bloody things,” he asked. David handed the Colonel his phone, but cautioned, “If you’re making a local call, it’s not encrypted. Singapore Intelligence might pick it up.” Milhouse chuckled, “Oh, they might hear this, but it won’t do them a blind bit of good.”

He dialed, then began speaking in a language David had never heard. After a brief conversation, the Colonel handed the cellphone back. “We’ll wait a few minutes, then drive round again.” In the ensuing interval, the Colonel puffed on his pipe while David briefed him on everything in the file from Sir Jones. There was little to go by. Alice Yeats had been in Singapore for little over a year. Standard intelligence-gathering, no special tasks, no clue as to motives or suspects for her disappearance. No signs of abduction, but it couldn’t be ruled out.

Suddenly, David’s cellphone buzzed to life. Before he could answer it, the buzzing stopped. Milhouse emptied his pipe into the ashtray, and started the engine. “That was our signal. Time to get to work, old boy.” They drove back round to the bungalow, but this time, the policeman was gone. David quickly gestured to the Colonel to keep driving, which Milhouse dutifully did. “What just happened?” David couldn’t suppress a hint of nervousness in his voice. “Sentries don’t just disappear. You didn’t contact the Singapore police, did you? We’re under strict orders not to.”

The Colonel smiled, “Relax man, did you notice anything odd about the policeman?” David dredged through his few, distant memories of the Singapore police. “I don’t recall them wearing those brown hats,” he mused, “They don’t match the blue uniforms.” “Bingo!” Milhouse jabbed the air with his empty pipe. “Singapore police don’t wear brown hats, but who does?” David shook his head. The Colonel stopped the car and turned to David with a surprised expression. “Two years in Singapore, and you never saw a Gurkha?”

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Troops of the Gurkha Contingent, Singapore. Photo by Huaiwei via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Then the penny dropped. David recalled reading about Gurkhas in one of his Singapore guide books. The British hired troops from the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal and stationed them in some colonies, including Singapore. When Singapore gained its independence, it kept a Gurkha Contingent on its payroll as a special guard force and counter-terrorist unit. They wore blue uniforms similar to the local police, but retained their distinctive brown jungle hats. The Gurkha Contingent was invariably led by a British commander who spoke Nepali, the Gurkha language.

David could guess the answer, but asked anyway, “What language were you speaking on the phone?” Milhouse raised his pipe to his lips in the universal sign for silence. “Let’s just say I called an old friend, and leave it at that.” He stepped out of the car and beckoned David to do the same. “Best to walk there. The less attention we draw, the better.” On arrival at the bungalow, David removed the police tape across the door. He took his lock-picking kit out of his pocket, extracted a tool, and was about to pick the lock — when the Colonel pushed the door open with his foot. “No need for that, old boy, I doubt she left the keys. The police forced their way in.”

A little miffed at not being able to match the Colonel’s grasp of Nepali with his lock-picking skills, David stepped gingerly into the living room — the last place Alice Yeats was seen at before her disappearance, by a neighbor who saw her walk out the front door. The local Criminal Investigation Department, their British counterpart Scotland Yard, and intelligence agencies on both sides, had searched the place thoroughly. There was fingerprint dust everywhere. David glanced around the room in dismay, “This is like looking for a needle in a haystack, if you don’t know what a needle is.”

The Colonel laughed. “What you just said doesn’t even make sense.” They walked around the house, looking under drawers and cushions, sifting through stationery, searching for any clue that might explain Alice’s disappearance. Milhouse began sorting through a stack of postcards in a desk drawer, then suddenly stopped and held one close to his face. “Interesting,” he muttered. David stopped what he was doing and walked over. “What?” The Colonel switched on the desk lamp and held the postcard under it. “Recognize anyone in this picture?” It was a black-and-white photo of three young British officers in jungle uniforms, probably taken during the Malayan Emergency in the 1950s. They had the insouciant grins of men at home in their natural habitat.

David shook his head. “They look pretty chummy, but don’t ring a bell.” Milhouse suddenly stood to attention, and held the postcard up to his face. “How about now?” For a brief moment, the same insouciant grin flashed across the Colonel’s granite visage. “By God, it’s you!” David exclaimed, pointing to the middle man in the photo. Milhouse nodded. “And how about the chap on my right?” David stared at the face of the man the Colonel pointed to. Something about the eyes seemed familiar.

Then it clicked. “Well, I’ll be damned, it’s Bloodhound!” “Who?” Milhouse had never heard the nickname. “Err, Sir Jones,” David corrected himself quickly. “Or Rolly, as we used to call him,” the Colonel snorted. “Short for Rolls Royce, on account of his expensive tastes.” David pointed to the third man. Milhouse nodded in the direction of another photo, a framed one on Alice’s desk, of a much older gentleman. “That,” he gestured with his pipe, “is Alice’s granddad, Tom Yeats.”

“So that’s why Sir Jones wanted you to help. Alice was the granddaughter of a mutual friend.” David understood now. The Colonel turned the postcard around, so David could see the message on it. It read, “Dear Colonel Milhouse, hope you’ll like this photo I turned into a postcard. I know you like collecting postcards. I’ll always remember the first place you took me to when I arrived in Singapore. Love, Alice.” David stared blankly at the Colonel. “So you like collecting postcards. I guess she turned that photo into a postcard to surprise you, and didn’t get to post it.”

The Colonel shook his head. “That’s the thing. I don’t collect postcards, and she never calls me Colonel Milhouse. I’ve always been Uncle Mil to her.” “Do you think she’s trying to tell us something?,” David quizzed. Milhouse jammed his pipe back under his moustache, and muttered through gritted teeth, “There’s only one way to find out. We have to go to the first place I took her to in Singapore.”

The shouting woke her suddenly. Alice had no idea how long she’d been unconscious. She sat up wearily and surveyed her surroundings. Her legs were tightly bound and so were her hands, behind her back and around a pipe that ran from floor to ceiling. Her last waking memory was of helping a couple of tourists on her way to work. A man and a woman, Caucasian. The woman asked for directions and pointed to a large map. As Alice looked closely, she barely noticed the ambulance pulling up, before a sharp, stinging spray hit her face. “Some kind of nerve agent,” she mused. In a well-choreographed move, two men jumped out of the ambulance and grabbed her as she fainted, while the ‘tourists’ skillfully held up their maps to hide the extraction.

The shouting was followed swiftly by a couple of shots. Alice tried to stay calm by analyzing the situation. “7.62 rounds, rifles,” she muttered to herself. The shots were near-simultaneous — too close together to be automatic, or a single shooter pulling the trigger twice. “Two shooters,” she added. Two more shots followed, but they were different — not as loud. “Pistols,” Alice concluded, “Two shooters.” The shouting was getting louder. Alice looked down at her feet. “Thank god I still have my shoes on,” she whispered. They were a gift from Uncle Mil — and ugly — but he’d made her promise to wear them on the job.

She lifted her right foot and slammed it down hard on the heel. A blade shot four inches out of the front of the shoe. She mouthed a silent “thank you” to Uncle Mil, and stood up, using the pipe for support. Alice bent her leg back as far as she could, and began rubbing her zip-tied wrists across the blade. It didn’t take long for the zip-tie to give way. More shots rang out, followed by screaming. “Somebody’s hit.” Alice quickly reached down and ripped her right sole off. The spring-blade knife fell to the floor. She grabbed it and with a single thrust, cut off the zip-tie around her ankles.

Just at that moment, the door burst open and a man staggered in backwards, firing a pistol out the door. Alice recognized the male ‘tourist’ who had sprayed her. He was so distracted, he backed right into her. In a single, swift move, she thrust the knife into his carotid artery and grabbed his pistol from behind. As he fell to the floor, Alice saw what he was shooting at. Two swarthy men were headed straight for the door, each pointing a Kalashnikov in her direction. A loud, high-pitched whizz in her left ear told her they’d missed a head shot. She snapped her pistol up, and with a rhythmic double-tap, shot both assailants dead.

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Kalashnikov AK-74. Photo by Сергей Сандалов (sAg-) via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Alice breathed heavily as she stuffed the pistol in her pant waist, grabbed a Kalashnikov, and rushed out the door. It was only outside that she realized she hadn’t been in a room, but a cabin. As far as the eye could see in all directions, the grey-blue ocean gently lapped the 50-foot yacht she was standing on, with four dead men — two Caucasians and two assailants of unknown ethnicity. The dead attackers were dressed in tattered jeans, flip-flops, and wife-beaters (known in this part of the world as ‘singlets’). Far in the distance, Alice spotted a boat speeding away, gradually disappearing over the horizon. Apparently, the dead assailants had been abandoned. She now knew who they were, or at least what they were.

Singapore had the occasional problem with pirates robbing cargo ships and luxury yachts. Her kidnappers were lightly armed, they weren’t expecting an attack. “Maybe they should have used an old fishing boat,” Alice mused as she glanced round the extravagant pleasure craft. “Might as well carry a giant sign saying ‘We’re Rich, Rob Us!’” On the gleaming deck was an out-of-place sight — a ship’s anchor too big for the yacht, with a chain much too thin for the anchor. It took Alice a second to process what it was. The chain wasn’t for the anchor, it was for her. “The f__kers were going to drop me in the ocean,” she muttered through clenched teeth.

Alice knew time was short. That pirate boat would eventually turn round, maybe with company. She shoved the bodies overboard, then clambered up to the captain’s seat and started the engine. As it roared to life, she spun the wheel sharply. The boat swerved round and leapt through the water, in the opposite direction from where the pirate boat went. Alice calmly adjusted the satnav and sat back in the captain’s chair. She took a can of beer out of the fridge next to the seat, cracked it open, and lifted it to the horizon, “Here’s to Uncle Mil. Hope you found my insurance policy.”

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Photo by edwin.11 via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Kranji Military Cemetery is the final resting place for many British soldiers who had served and died in Singapore. Colonel Milhouse and David walked along the neat row of gravestones until they came to the middle one, with the inscription ‘Lieutenant Tom Yeats, Coldstream Guards, 22nd April 1960, Age 24’. Both men walked gingerly around the stone, careful not to disturb the manicured lawn. Eventually, David stopped and shook his head, “Can’t see anything, Colonel. How about you?” Major Tom’s gravestone, like all the others, was fronted by a carefully-tended shrub. Milhouse pointed at it with his pipe, “Try rummaging in there, but discreetly. We don’t want to look like grave robbers.”

David lowered to his knees and gently reached into the foliage. He was about to give up when he thought of prodding the soil below the branches. It was then that he felt something small and hard just under the surface. He reached in and pulled out what looked like an old brass lighter, the kind soldiers carried in World War II. David shrugged, “It’s just an old lighter, Colonel. Probably left by a visitor.” The Colonel took the lighter and flicked it open with his thumb. “Oddest-looking lighter I’ve ever seen,” he muttered through his pipe. David couldn’t believe his eyes. “Err, that’s no lighter, Colonel. We’d better get the hell out of here!”

Once back at his hotel room, David took the ‘lighter’ and plugged it into his laptop. “It’s a memory stick, Colonel,” he explained. Milhouse shrugged, “Don’t waste your breath telling me that gobbledygook.” Adding insult to injury, David continued, “Great, it’s an unencrypted PDF.” He turned the screen to the Colonel, “Looks like a blueprint. A building, tunnels — and lookie here…” He pointed to an X at the end of a long tunnel. “Any idea where this is, Colonel?” Milhouse studied the diagram for a while, then nodded slowly. “I know it very well. In fact, so do you.” David shook his head, “doesn’t ring a bell. It’s a big building, though.” “Yes,” the Colonel chuckled, “Especially this one.” He pointed to the floor with his pipe.

The British Military Administration Building, perched on a hill overlooking central Singapore, was built in 1926. It served as the Headquarters of British Far East Command up till World War II. After the war ended in 1945, the building continued to serve the British military until Singapore’s independence in 1965. It was converted to a hotel in 2011, and renamed Hotel Fort Canning. The very hotel that David was staying in.

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Photo by Nicolas Lannuzel via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“You should always check behind you.” The accent was distinct. So was the sensation of a Kalashnikov muzzle pressed against the back of Alice’s head. She swore under her breath, then raised her arms in the surrender pose. “Pistol,” the disembodied voice said impassively. Alice pulled the pistol out of her pant waist and handed it behind her back, adding “I guess it’s too late to ask you to shoot me. I have a thing about sharks.” She heard a brief snort. “If I was going to kill you, I would have done it by now.” Alice slowly spun the captain’s chair around to face the intruder. She immediately recognised the female ‘tourist’ who had first accosted her.

This time, the ‘tourist’ was dressed in a bikini, and dripping wet. Alice surmised that she had jumped in the water when the pirates attacked, and somehow made her way back on the boat. She was clearly fit, with a ripped physique that glistened in the afternoon sun — and from her accent, probably Russian. “FSB?” Alice ventured. Her captor turned her head slightly and spat vehemently out to sea. “Don’t insult me. Spetsnaz.” ‘Spetsnaz’ stands for ‘Special Operations Forces’ in Russian. Alice had heard rumors of female Spetsnaz, trained to blend seamlessly into the enemy population to sabotage key facilities. She recalled the lady ‘tourist’ had asked for directions in a perfect upper-class English accent. Ex-Spetsnaz are in high demand as ‘private military contractors’, the polite term for mercenaries.

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Spetsnaz troops. Photo by Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation via Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)

Alice slowly lowered her arms. She shifted her right hand to cover the bulge of the spring-blade in her pocket, while distracting her captor with a question. “So, how come I’m not dead?” The Russian gestured out to sea with her chin. “Those pirates were supposed to take us to a distant island for a rendezvous. The plan was to leave Singapore like rich holidaymakers, then abandon this yacht and switch to a less conspicuous fishing boat. We were double-crossed.” Alice shrugged. “That’s what happens when you make deals with pirates.” The ‘lady’ shook her head. “It wasn’t the pirates. They only got ten percent. We all did. We were supposed to get the rest on the island. I assume they’re heading there now, to collect the ninety percent for killing us. The pirates don’t know who you are. We do. We had been stalking you for weeks to plan the kidnap. Whoever hired us thinks we know too much.”

“In that case…” Alice shrugged, “You’re f__ked. But that doesn’t explain why you haven’t killed me. If I were you, I’d do that, take my ten percent, and get as far from here as possible.” The ‘tourist’ smiled briefly, then her expression took a menacing turn. Alice wondered if — not for the first time — she might regret giving unsolicited advice. “Then you are not me. If you double-cross me…” She paused to reach into a duffel bag slung across her shoulder, and pulled out a large, shiny diving knife. “I teach you a lesson you will not forget. Then I kill you.”

Alice couldn’t help sniggering, perhaps out of relief that she wasn’t dead yet. “You’re the craziest Russian I’ve ever met, and I’ve known a few. You were lucky to survive. Now you want to find whoever hired you, and kill them?” “And you will help me,” her captor quickly retorted. “Because we both want to know who wants us dead. You know how to use a Kalashnikov. I could do with an extra hand.” Alice couldn’t deny the Russian’s logic. Whoever was trying to kill them would probably try again if they turned up alive. Their only hope of putting this behind them was to get to the mastermind first.

“If we’re going to be partners, can I at least have your name? You know mine.” Alice held her hand out and the Russian shook it firmly. “You can call me Anna. It’s not my real name, but it’ll do. We were hired by a man who called himself James. British, paid cash. He met us in London, rendezvoused with us in Singapore, and personally coordinated our surveillance of you. I know what he looks like, but nothing else. He’ll probably be at the island. I hope.” Alice guessed James wasn’t dumb enough to tell these psychopaths which island he was ‘meeting’ them at, so the next question was obvious. “You do know there are thousands of islands around here, don’t you? How do you expect to find this a__hole?”

Anna smiled. She reached into her duffel bag and pulled out what looked like a handheld gaming console. Alice raised an eyebrow. “You’re going to ask Donkey Kong?” Anna switched the device on and showed her the display, a row of numbers and letters that Alice immediately recognized as latitude and longitude indicators. “My little insurance policy,” Anna quipped. “I swam under the pirate boat and attached a satellite homing device. That’s why I wasn’t on the yacht when the shooting happened. I had a bad feeling about James… and pirates.” Alice was impressed. “Anna, as we say in England, you’re a right piece of work, aren’t you?”

James was about done packing when his cellphone rang. He eyed it suspiciously for three rings before answering. “I’m leaving in an hour, please don’t tell me there’s been a change of plans.” A few minutes passed as he listened intently, then swore loudly. “F__k! You’ve got to be kidding!” He listened for a little longer, then muttered “All right,” hung up and swore again. “F__king son-of-a-bitch!” James was used to plans changing. He was a veteran of many wars, and knew nothing ever went according to plan. But there are tactical changes and there are cock-ups, and he wasn’t sure which this was.

Like many strategic bases, the British Military Administration Building had an operations bunker where officers could work safely in wartime, right under a bomb raid if necessary. The Command Centre Bunker at Fort Canning was thirty feet underground, consisting of rooms linked by tunnels, with several entrances. Some tunnels were blocked off after the war, and no one really knew how many there were. Fortunately for David and Colonel Milhouse, the tunnel that led to the X in the map was still in use.

The hotel manager, Mr Tan, led them past racks of fine wine while he explained the benefits of keeping them deep underground. “It’s naturally cool and dry down here, the perfect wine cellar,” he enthused. At the end of the tunnel, he swung open a steel door, and an unmistakable pungent aroma assailed the visitors. Mr Tan gestured around the enormous room and smiled proudly, “This is where we age our cheese.”

David and the Colonel stared blankly at each other. “I guess Alice really liked cheese,” David quipped, in a feeble attempt to break the tension. “She hated cheese,” Milhouse replied sullenly. He turned to Mr Tan. “Was there anything in this room when you moved in?” “Just some empty crates,” Mr Tan replied nonchalantly. “We believe the Japanese used this room for storage during the Occupation.” The Colonel nodded. The Japanese Imperial Army took over the building when they occupied Singapore from 1942 to 1945.

Mr Tan added, “The boxes were originally bound in metal strips with wax seals on them, I guess to prevent tampering. We found some of the strips lying around, and a few broken seals. We threw everything away…” He paused abruptly, then continued, “Come to think of it, we found one of the metal stamps used to make the seals. It was lying on the ground. I use it as a paperweight.” The Colonel turned to David, “Well, since we’re here, we might as well have a look at it.”

As they entered Mr Tan’s office on the ground floor, he gestured to his desk. Sure enough, atop a pile of documents was a metal object the size and shape of an ashtray, with a short bulbous handle protruding up from it. Mr Tan gripped the handle and tipped the object over, revealing a pattern carved into its underside. David peered at it intently. “I can’t make out what that is. Can you, Colonel?” The Colonel pulled a pair of reading glasses from his shirt pocket, donned them, and held the seal up to the light. After a few moments, he returned his glasses to his pocket and nodded to David. “I thought I’d seen that before. It’s the personal seal of General Tomoyuki Yamashita.”

David shrugged. “Should I know that name?” Mr. Tan chimed in, “They called him ‘The Tiger of Malaya’.” He was the General who led the invasion of Singapore in World War II.” “That makes sense,” David replied, with more than a hint of disappointment. “So we found one of many store rooms used by Japanese troops in Singapore.” He couldn’t understand why the Colonel suddenly perked up when he recognised the seal. “Not just any store room,” Milhouse explained. “The British found plenty of crates left by the Japanese when they surrendered Singapore. Only a few had General Yamashita’s personal seal on it. The ones that did were invariably either top secret documents or valuables, like gold or diamonds.”

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Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita (seated center, facing camera) insists upon the unconditional surrender of Singapore. Photo by Imperial War Museums via Wikimedia (public domain)

David was now more attentive. “Gold or diamonds?” Mr. Tan nodded. “Have you not heard of Yamashita’s Treasure?” David shook his head. Mr. Tan continued, “There was a rumor that the General personally directed the requisition of valuables in Southeast Asia. People had to surrender their gold and jewelry. They were told it was to finance the war effort. Much of this loot was never recovered after the war.” The Colonel pointed his pipe at the floor. “That room we just saw could have held billions in gold and precious stones.” “Or piles of now-worthless papers,” David retorted, adding, “Either case, it’s empty now. Whatever Alice wanted to find, it’s gone. We still don’t have a clue where she is.”

The elevator chimed for David’s floor, and both men filed dejectedly out. David was about to insert his keycard in the slot when he noticed the door wasn’t completely shut. He gestured to the Colonel and pointed to the gap. Without hesitation, Milhouse reached into the canvas tote he always had slung on his shoulder, and pulled out the oddest-looking weapon David had ever seen. It had a handle and trigger like a pistol, but the ‘barrel’ resembled an over-sized pepper shaker with five small holes where the muzzle would have been. David’s mouth fell open at the sight of it. He was unarmed himself — since he was in Singapore as a tourist, not an MI6 agent. “Whatever that thing is, it better work,” was all he could think.

The Colonel eased the door open with his foot and strode in purposefully, with David close behind. Over the Colonel’s shoulder, David could see a tall blond man with his back to them, urgently rustling through a suitcase on the bed. Just to the left of the suitcase was a Heckler & Kock P7 pistol with a silencer. “Policemen don’t use silencers,” David noted mentally, “Only murderers.” It was then that David realized he was holding General Yamashita’s heavy brass seal, a consolatory gift from Mr. Tan. He tapped the Colonel’s shoulder and raised the seal above his head to indicate that he was taking over, a little concerned that the giant pepper shaker might not do the job.

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Heckler & Koch P7. Photo by Askild Antonsen via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

The Colonel had other plans. He raised his weapon and pulled the trigger. There was a loud bang and something exited one of the barrels at almost bullet-speed. The projectile struck the mystery man in his left shoulder, preventing him from reaching for his pistol. He yelled out in pain and spun round to try and grab the P7 with his right hand, but the Colonel kicked it away just in time. David snatched the weapon off the floor and pointed it at the intruder, who was now kneeling with his right arm laying where the pistol had been. “Move, and you’re a dead man,” David said impassively.

The Colonel did a quick pat-down of the quietly groaning captive, then tied his hands and feet with curtain rope and shoved a towel in his mouth. As Milhouse finished the task, David couldn’t help asking, “What the hell is that contraption?” The Colonel picked up his weapon, which he had briefly laid on the floor. “It’s a P11 underwater pistol,” he explained matter-of-factly, “A gift from a friend in the Special Boat Service. Bullets don’t work underwater, so each of these five barrels fires a dart. You see, residents aren’t allowed to own firearms in Singapore. If I ever have to, I’ll say it’s a miniature spear-gun for fishing.” He dropped the weapon back in his canvas bag, then added with a wink, “But I’ve never had to.”

David took his cellphone out. “I’ll have to go straight to the top on this one. We can’t just hand this guy over to the police, they’ll want to know why we’re here. Besides, we don’t have time.” The Colonel nodded in agreement. David was about to dial Sir Jones’s number when there was a loud “Mphmm” from the prisoner, who was violently shaking his head. “I think he wants to tell us something,” the Colonel mumbled, as he pointed the assassin’s own P7 at his head and pulled out the towel gag, adding, “Talk quietly, will you?”

“Listen, guys,” the intruder began in a clipped British accent, “You want to find Alice. I know where she is. I can take you to her. If you hand me over to MI6, it’ll take them 45 minutes to get here. The kidnappers are expecting me to deliver a payment. If I don’t get there on time, they might kill her.” David paused for a few seconds, then put the cellphone back in his pocket. “Where’s Alice now?” He asked. The stranger replied, “She’s on an island three hours from here. I’ll take you. Once we’re there, we’ll do a trade. My freedom for hers.”

David turned to the Colonel and shrugged, “I guess we don’t have a choice. He’s right, the extraction team won’t get here for maybe an hour, and they’ll need time to interrogate him and plan Alice’s rescue. He could always lie about the rendezvous just to waste their time. It’s not like they’re going to kill him for it.” Then with a menacing stare at the intruder, he added, “But we can.” The Colonel nodded in agreement, “We best be getting on. David, pull the dart out and patch him up as best you can.” Milhouse pointed the P7 at the stranger, “If you so much as step out of line, it won’t be a dart next time.”

It was late afternoon by the time Alice and Anna hauled their dinghy up the beach and hid it behind some bushes. They followed a trail into the jungle, taking cover behind trees, looking out for booby traps on the ground. The sound of loud chatter and laughter drew them to the edge of a clearing, where the pirate camp was now visible. Two sentries were each standing on opposite sides of the camp, armed with Kalashnikovs. Obscured by tall grass, Anna leopard-crawled to within less than a meter of one. Suddenly, she leapt up, grabbed him by the chin, and slit his throat with her diving knife. Aside from a barely audible gurgling, the sentry made no sound as Anna dragged him into the grass and finished the job. After about ten minutes, she jumped out of the grass on the other side and dispatched the second sentry. Alice breathed a sigh of relief that she wasn’t on the wrong side of this psychopath.

The two of them ran crouching into the camp, and hid behind some barrels of fuel close to the main hut, a typical wood structure on stilts with a palm frond roof. The sound of loud male voices emanated from the hut. From where she was, Alice could see five occupants, and some Kalashnikovs leaning against the wall near them. It was then that Anna had an idea. She whispered in Alice’s ear, then both of them tipped one of the barrels over and rolled it under the hut.

Once positioned, Anna crow-barred the cap off the barrel with her knife, and petrol gushed out, forming a large puddle. The hut had two exits, one on either side. Anna gestured that Alice was to cover one while she covered the other. Once positioned near the door, Anna lit a match and casually tossed it under the hut. Flames whooshed up and quickly engulfed the wooden building. As the pirates ran out in panic, they were swiftly mowed down by the two-woman kill team. Once the brief, one-sided firefight was over, Anna and Alice kicked over the bodies of the pirates, but none resembled James, the man Anna was looking for.

Chapter 4

Just at that moment, a distant thud-thud of a motorboat engine resonated through the jungle. “Shit!” Alice swore loudly, “More f__king pirates!” Anna and Alice quickly took positions behind trees, facing the direction of the sound. After what seemed an eternity, three male figures emerged from the jungle. Alice couldn’t believe her eyes. “Uncle Mil? What the hell are you doing here?” She was about to gesture to Anna to stand down, but was a split-second too late. A shot rang out and James fell backwards. David and the Colonel instinctively took cover behind trees, P7 and pepper pot drawn. “Cease fire! Cease fire!” Alice shouted at the top of her lungs, as she ran in front of Anna’s position, waving her arms wildly. “He’s my uncle!” she shouted again, as a bewildered Anna emerged from behind a tree, still pointing her Kalasnikov in the direction of David and the Colonel.

“Alice, is that you?” Milhouse shouted, “We’re friendly, are you?” “Yes, come out!” Alice replied, waving furiously at Anna to stand down. Anna reluctantly lowered her muzzle slightly, ready to snap it up should the need arise. The Colonel and David slowly emerged from the jungle, both brandishing their weapons in a slightly lowered position. “What the hell are you doing here?” Alice quizzed as they came closer. “Looking for you, you nitwit,” the Colonel replied, “And who’s the lady who wants to kill us?” “That’s Anna, she was going after James,” Alice explained, “Don’t worry, she’s with us… I think.” After introductions and explanations all around, they gathered round Jame’s body. He had been shot cleanly through the forehead.

Alice was the first to speak. “Did you find out who hired him?” David sighed and shook his head. “He wouldn’t tell us. We were hoping to get it out of him once we rescued you, but your Russian friend scuppered that.” Anna shrugged. “What a shame, I could have helped you interrogate him… with my knife.” The Colonel reached into his pocket and pulled out a cellphone. “I did get this off him, though. Last call was from an undisplayed number. What say we call back?” David nodded. “Might as well. We’ve nothing else to go by.” Milhouse hit the reply button, and put the phone on speaker and record. A deep, male voice answered, “Hello? Well, James, how did it go?”

David and the Colonel exchanged looks of bewilderment, then Milhouse gestured at David to answer. “It’s gone well,” David replied, doing his best to impersonate Jame’s upper-class accent. There was a slight pause, then the gruff voice replied, “Take the next flight back to London. Meet me at 1800 hours at the Triton Fountain in Queen Mary’s Gardens. I can’t give your next assignment on the phone, not even on an encrypted line.” There was a click, followed by a dead tone. David looked up with a befuddled expression. “Is it just me, or did that sound a lot like Bloodhou… err, Sir Jones?” “Rolly?” The Colonel nodded, “Yes, it certainly did. Triton Fountain was one of his rendezvous spots when I was at MI6. He used it to meet up with informers. The sound of the falling water makes eavesdropping near-impossible.” Alice nodded in agreement, “Yup, sounded like him. That would explain how James knew where to find you.”

“Which brings us to the reason we’re here,” the Colonel replied. “Alice, what the bloody hell were you looking for?” Alice looked sheepish. “Sorry, one of my hobbies was searching for Yamashita’s Treasure. I did some digging in the Imperial War Museum Archives, and used my MI6 credentials to access the restricted collection.” Alice paused while Milhouse shook his head and tut-tutted under his breath, then continued. “British troops found 152 large crates in a secret bunker in Singapore, all with General Yamashita’s personal seal on them. They transported the lot to the British Military Administration Building, from which the crates were flown to Britain for unsealing. When the crates arrived, they were found to contain Japanese documents, but nothing really valuable. Everyone assumed some Japanese official had been using the seal too liberally, and left it at that.”

“But you didn’t?” The Colonel knew Alice only too well. “No, because I also found some interrogation transcripts. Yamashita’s private secretary told Army Intelligence there was only one seal in existence, and it was in the General’s possession at all times. He always did the sealing personally, and only for top secret documents, or valuables. The documents they found in the crates were marked ‘confidential’, they were far from top secret.” David chimed in, “So you thought someone did a switch? Emptied the boxes, filled them with worthless papers, then re-sealed them?”

Alice nodded. “Precisely. It had to be someone who had the seal.” The Colonel scratched his chin contemplatively. “Well, that narrows it down a bit, doesn’t it? Do you know who had the seal?” Alice shook her head sadly. “There was no mention of that in the records. I was on my way to Mr. Tan’s office to ask if he’d found any clues in the bunker, I didn’t dare ask him on an unencrypted line. That’s when I was kidnapped. I guess Sir Jones got wind of my hobby, and thought I was getting too close. I took the precaution of burying the thumb drive at granddad’s grave and leaving you that card, just in case anything happened to me.” The Colonel took his pipe out of his pocket and chewed on it thoughtfully. “That might explain how Rolly paid for his expensive tastes. He seemed to have a lot of cash when we were in Malaya after the War. I know he was stationed at the Administration Building at the time of the Japanese surrender.”

Milhouse took a few contemplative puffs before continuing. “I guess that leaves us no choice. Since we have no witnesses or hard evidence, we’ll have to fly to London and see if Rolly turns up at the Triton Fountain.” He pointed his pipe at David. “Dave, you’re about the same height and build as James. A bit of hair dye, a few prosthetics, you could probably fool Rolly at a distance. When he gets close enough, we’ll corral him and hand him over to MI6. How’s that for a plan?” David laughed nervously. “Not a very good one, but it’s all we’ve got.” He turned to Anna. “Are you with us, Anna?” She smiled, albeit slightly menacingly. “If he’s the guy that paid this b_stard to kill me, then yes, I am with you all the way.”

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The Triton Fountain, Queen Mary’s Gardens, London. Photo by Steve Collis via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

The Triton Fountain is located opposite Jubilee Gates, which marks the entrance to Queen Mary’s Gardens in London. It depicts a sea god or Triton blowing on a conch shell, with two mermaids and several large fish at his feet. Water gushes out of the conch shell and the mouths of the fish, splashing loudly as it hits the pond below. In the summer, visitors lounge on the grass around the fountain, but on this chilly Autumn day it was deserted, save for a couple who had stopped for a kiss break on one of the benches facing the pond. David was seated on the opposite bench, across the pond. In the thick shrubbery behind him, the Colonel, Alice and Anna were concealed, suitably garbed in camouflage jackets, and equipped with pepper spray in case a wandering dog decided to take a sniff. David glanced at his watch. 1800 hours, the appointed time.

Soon after, David could see a solitary figure in the distance walking up the path to the fountain, a man in a fawn-colored trench coat and a brown cloth cap, the brim of which concealed much of his face. From the man’s visible jawline and the fact that he was on time, David surmised it could be Bloodhound. “I think that’s him walking towards us,” he spoke audibly into a mic concealed in a false collar button. “Roger that,” came the reply from the Colonel, via a miniature earpiece buried in David’s ear. “I’m sending Anna to shoo the couple away.” Suddenly, Anna emerged from behind the bushes, visibly sobbing and crying out, “Bobby, Bobby!” She ran round the pond to the couple. “Have you seen my boy? Help me find him, please!” She pleaded with them tearfully in a perfect British accent, while pointing away from the fountain.

The couple dutifully followed Anna from the scene, leaving the fountain deserted save for David and his two accomplices in the bushes. As the stranger approached closer, he raised his head and David could see it was Sir Jones. Bloodhound waved nonchalantly, and David waved back, wondering how close Sir Jones would get before noticing it wasn’t James on the bench. David was still waving when Sir Jones quickly reached into his raincoat. From behind him, David heard the Colonel yell, “Briefcase!” He looked down at the case on his lap, which Milhouse had given with very specific instructions. David pressed the button on the handle and yanked up hard. The briefcase opened up into a shield, just as two shots rang out, followed immediately by two loud thuds on the briefcase.

David pulled out his service pistol and was about to return fire, when the Colonel and Alice ran out of the bushes yelling “We want him alive!” All three of them were now running towards Sir Jones. Not expecting company, Bloodhound hesitated for a second, then raised his pistol. Just as he was about to fire, Anna sprang from the bushes and plunged her diving knife into his pistol arm, screaming “That’s for trying to kill me, you piece of s_it!” The pistol clattered on the stone path, and Sir Jones spun around to flee. Anna caught him in a diving tackle, and the Colonel and Alice piled on and pepper-sprayed Sir Jones’s face liberally. David swiftly zip-tied Bloodhound’s wrists and ankles, while Alice called an ambulance, and MI6.

“Listen! I could make you all very rich,” was all Sir Jones could muster in response, as Alice used her scarf to tourniquet his bleeding arm. “I’m sure you can, old boy,” was the Colonel’s swift reply. “But we’re doing all right, thank you very much.” Milhouse reached into Bloodhound’s pocket and pulled out a cellphone. He auto-dialled a number from its call history, and a ringtone wafted from David’s jacket. David reached in and retrieved Jame’s phone. “Bingo. Not that we needed more proof, but it’s nice to have, along with our recording of Sir Jones on the speaker.” Anna handed her knife to Alice, “Here, take this. You tell the police you stabbed him. MI6 agents are allowed to carry weapons. I’m going to go now, but you have my email.” With that, Anna embraced each of them, then turned and walked briskly out of the park. “I have a feeling we’re going to see her again,” the Colonel muttered, as she turned a corner and disappeared.

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Ben writes on the theory and social science of communication, and anything else that comes to mind

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