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Known only as Chen, he had been a thorn in the side of Singapore's well-ordered
administration for several months. But when his name was linked to a devastating raid on a
SAF armoury, and then the brutal kidnapping of a British diplomat and a UNESCO expert, he
was swiftly labelled Public Enemy Number 1. His extreme demands for the hostages' release
would have invited an outright rejection; that is until he also seized a school bus carrying
nineteen children. Chief Inspector Harry Chew knew there was no room for any half-hearted
response. The outcome of this truly absorbing confrontation involving British SAS personnel
left everyone utterly stunned.
Copyright © Norman Price 2012
All rights reserved.
The characters in this novel are entirely
fictitious and do not relate to any person
living or dead. The oriental locations
Saturday 28 February, 1968
It was the broad-shouldered Chinaman who saw it first. ‘There!’ he snapped in Cantonese.
‘Coming into view now, just beyond the headland.’
The boatman nodded and pulled at the tiller with his one good arm, bringing the
sampan round until its bow was aimed at the beach. The sea was like glass and the palm-
fringed shore loomed up quickly, the moonlit sands all but deserted except for scattered
driftwood from an earlier tide. From twenty yards out he killed the engine, allowing the
sampan to ghost in silently till its keel nudged the beach, bringing them to rest within the
shadow of the palms.
Easing his bulk over the low gunwale the big Chinaman dropped onto the damp sand
and paused, listening. High overhead the soft drone of a passing aircraft faded into the
distance to leave only the noise of the cicadas, their incessant chirping as inseparable from
the tropic night as the darkness itself. He glanced at his watch: 0255 hrs; strictly to schedule
and everything was looking fine. With a satisfied nod he tightened his grip on the Uzi sub-
machine gun and moved off soundlessly over the carpet of sand.
Two more shadows detached themselves from the sampan and melted into the
blackness of the shoreside undergrowth. A fourth man took off along the beach, moving in
the direction of a frail wooden jetty beyond which could be seen the dark silhouette of an
army patrol boat. Nothing else stirred.
The training camp of the Singapore Armed Forces 7
Infantry Battalion was situated
some ninety metres inland, nestling sleepily in a man-made clearing. Housed within its wire-
fenced perimeter, tidy clusters of unlit buildings overshadowed a rectangular parade ground,
now deserted except for a tall, white-painted flagpole, bare and prominent in the foreground.
On the far side of the compound, away from the sea, the guardroom with its orderly row of
red-painted fire buckets was bathed in a yellow glow from the sodium lights of the camp’s
approach road. The perimeter fence itself was entirely without lights. Other than the
guardroom’s interior illumination, the only lamp was above the main entrance where a bored
sentry was pacing aimlessly to and fro in front of a striped barrier. But as the Chinaman
scrutinized the lazy facade he knew that there were other sentries, that the compound was
regularly patrolled. He knew also that the guard would be changed at 0430 hrs, by which time
he intended to be long gone.
As he slowly scanned the overall layout there was little more to see. It was as if the
entire camp had been evacuated except for the listless sentry at the main gate. But as he
remained watchful his patient vigilance was soon rewarded.
The movement was barely perceptible at first: the merest flicker of a shadow to his
extreme right, close to the edge of the compound. But something had moved, he was sure of
it – there it was again! As he squinted into the darkness, willing his eyes to penetrate the
gloom, the offending shadow grew into a man, the slim outline of a rifle barrel protruding
from his right shoulder. The patrolling sentry was moving toward them, sauntering casually
along the inside of the wire.
The Chinaman grinned, well satisfied. Once the sentry had passed, it would be several
minutes at least before this section of the fence was patrolled again – more than enough time
in which to penetrate the wire. He remained prone and motionless in the long grass, barely
ten metres from the fence as he monitored the sentry’s leisurely approach.
The man drew closer, his footfalls now audible, his boots sending minute tremors
through the sun-baked earth. His features grew visible – a sallow faced youth of maybe
nineteen. He was almost level when suddenly he stopped. He unslung his rifle and advanced
towards the wire.
Aware now of the sound of his own breathing, the Chinaman eased the butt of the Uzi
into the hollow of his shoulder, delicately coiled his finger around the curve of the trigger and
squeezed gently against its initial pressure. The unwavering barrel was aimed at the sentry’s
head but the Chinaman hesitated, aware that a single shot would wake the entire camp.
Five full seconds elapsed. Then the sentry raised his arm and the Chinaman’s finger
tensed. With the trigger poised on the brink of detonation the guard was a millisecond from
death when his match flared in the darkness, then the reprieve was made absolute by the red
glow from his cigarette.
As he lowered the Uzi to the ground the Chinaman sensed rather than heard the
arrival of his comrades. The faint rustle of foliage evoked no reaction from the sentry.
Unmindful of his health he lingered and smoked, blissfully unaware of their presence in the
tall ferns. The terrorists remained silent and still, and waited.
The Chinaman was in his mid-forties, a short, barrel-chested bear of a man. His
weathered features and gold-capped smile typified the face of the tough oriental fisherfolk; it
was his eyes that were different. Cold and intense, they were the eyes of a fanatic – for that
was what he was. Born in Shanghai, he had been thoroughly schooled in the tactics of
guerrilla warfare before entering Hong Kong as a so-called refugee. After participating in the
riots of the fifties he had been deployed against the British again, as a jungle commander
during the tail-end of the emergency in Malaya. More recently, however, his masters in
Peking had recognized a crying need for his talents in Singapore; in their mind a tiny but
important neighbour with the wrong political ideas. And so he was intent now on furthering
the cause of LASP – the Liberation Army of the Singapore People – which was supposedly
striving for what they termed ‘a rightful democracy’. Within that organization he was known
simply as Chen, a name high on the Singapore government’s list of most wanted terrorists.
Though younger and less experienced, his two Asian comrades were no strangers to
the finer aspects of urban terrorism. Wing Tak was a born fighter, a man with a quiet
confidence in his own ability, equally dedicated and cool under stress. At twenty-five, Tek
Soo was the youngster of the trio. Tall, slim, innocuously good-looking, his appearance was
dangerously deceptive. He had learned his deadly trade as a hit-man for the triad. He was a
All three of them wore the traditional garb of the Chinese peasant, but their weaponry
and equipment was anything but relevant to the mundane work of the coolie. Their
appearance was formidable, yet clearly no deterrent to the mosquitoes now dive-bombing
them with a vengeance; swooping, striking and feeding on their exposed bands of flesh with
voracious regularity. They suffered in silence, their discomfort aggravated by a rising
dampness that was penetrating the cotton clothing and enveloping each of their sweat-soaked
bodies like a clammy shroud. Yet none of them flinched as the minutes crawled by. They
waited until the sentry had discarded the glowing butt of his illicit cigarette, then watched
him as he strolled away to resume his less than vigilant tour of the compound. Several more
seconds elapsed before Chen glanced at the others and nodded.
Crouched low, they moved off together, down a slope and across a narrow clearing,
hitting the ground as they reached the fence. Wing Tak cut through the wire, folded back a
section of mesh to allow them through, then levered it back into place once they were
through. Again they paused, listening, half-expecting a shouted challenge, but there was still
only the soft night chorus of a million busy insects. They advanced into the compound.
Their progress through the camp was rapid. Exploiting the cover of the huts, they
skirted the edge of the parade ground, cut between two of the barrack blocks, passed along
the side of a transport shed and arrived, still unchallenged, at their objective.
Chen’s experienced eye swiftly confirmed the reliability of his intelligence
information. The armoury was constructed of reinforced concrete, its solitary window
protected by a substantial internal grille. The robust door was secured by a heavy padlock but
there was no visible evidence of an alarm system of any kind. He smiled as he waved Wing
Tak forward. A padlock – when would they ever learn? It was too easy.
Inside the guardroom the atmosphere was oppressively heavy. The Duty Sergeant was
battling against drowsiness; the night seemed painfully long. Draining the last of the cold
lemon tea from his chipped glass, he tilted back his chair and eyed the men in his charge.
There were four of them left in the guardroom and he was about to spoil their game of poker.
It was time for one of them to get some exercise – but which one? The choice was
unimportant; they each had another stag to do. His gaze settled on the new boy. ‘Leong Soh!’
he called, sounding as tired and bored as he looked. ‘Relieve Lo Seng.’
The youngster rose to his feet. There was no resentment in his face as he straightened
the creases in his Temasek-green slacks by stamping his boots two or three times on the
concrete floor. In fact he was grinning. With a handful of unmatched cards the sergeant’s
interruption had proved most timely. ‘Which section, sarge?’ he enquired naively.
‘Just grab your rifle and patrol the compound – you should know the drill by now,
lad!’ Kids! – God knows how they’d cope if they ever came across a real enemy. He blinked
tiredly, not really caring. Roll on dawn.
The padlock, meanwhile, was proving somewhat more troublesome than Chen had
anticipated. His fingertips were beating a restless tattoo on the barrel of the Uzi machine gun
as he viewed Wing Tak’s antics with the cumbersome bolt-cutters. The lock was new; the
jaws of the cutter were skidding on the smooth surface of its toughened shackle. Chen was
clearly agitated, and as Wing Tak paused for breath, sweat glistening on his face and neck,
Tek Soo was mouthing silent obscenities. They could hardly afford to carry on like this for
much longer. It was ludicrous, bordering on the farcical. Five times Wing Tak had tried, and
five times he had failed. They held their breath as he tried again.
Steady! – the cutters had to be held steady! The tendons in Wing Tak’s arms bulged
alarmingly as he applied his strength to the long handles of the cutter. A desperate grunt
escaped his pursed lips. Then it suddenly gave; the blades sheared through the steel shackle
like a knife through butter. The relief was overwhelming but there was no time to gloat. He
unhooked the broken band and swung back the hasp. Now the moment of truth. Dreading the
sudden shriek of a warning alarm, he gave the door a tentative push.
An ominous squeak plucked at his raw nerve ends. But there was no screeching siren
to alert the entire camp to their covert operation – merely a tired groan from unoiled hinges as
the door swung open. With marked relief he straightened up and stepped inside. Chen was
right behind him as the door creaked shut of its own accord, enveloping them both in an inky
‘Torch!’ prompted Wing Tak. ‘Shine some light.’
The air was heavy with the tang of oil, oppressive and claustrophobic. When the beam
from Chen’s flashlight stabbed suddenly at the darkness, they saw that the room was small.
But it was all there; everything they needed. The weapons were resting in tailored racks along
two of the walls, whilst a third wall was largely obscured by stacked ammunition boxes. A
stout cupboard was marked ‘Flares and Grenades’. Swinging the beam back to the gun-lined
walls, Chen steadied the circle of light on a gleaming Armalite rifle. ‘That’ll do for a start,’
he said, noting the telescopic sight. Then, with a hint of urgency in his tone: ‘Leave the guns
to me. Concentrate on the ammunition.’
Wing Tak nodded and they set to work.
Three minutes later their hoard was complete; as much as they could carry stashed
into canvas holdalls. Chen extinguished the torch, allowed a moment or two for their eyes to
adjust to the darkness, then patted his partner’s shoulder. ‘Out!’ he whispered curtly.
Grabbing the holdalls, they began their retreat.
On leaving the guardroom Leong Soh could have turned right or left. He chose to go left, and
as he strolled unconcernedly along the camp’s deserted roadway he wasn’t thinking of
terrorists. His mind was fully occupied with thoughts of a more pleasant kind. He was
thinking of his latest sweetheart, and of the outing he’d planned for the following day; a
Sunday afternoon visit to the Botanical Gardens. The main hurdle had been cleared the
weekend before, when much to his surprise and delight she had readily agreed to the idea. It
was to be their first date together, and he was anxious to ensure that it wouldn’t be the last. It
was a matter now of planning the details – those finer points that can make all the difference
– and he was pondering over the various possibilities. They would take in the ornamental
lake, of course, where he would point out the fish, and a slow stroll through the woods was
high on his list. If his luck held they might even chance upon some of the roaming monkeys
whose antics were always amusing and, if they sensed food in the offing, frequently
alarming. Bags or even pockets were likely to be invaded with surprising boldness. If that
were to happen tomorrow she would almost certainly be frightened and cling to him for
protection, and he would hold her tightly, inhaling the fragrance of her hair whilst revelling in
her warm femininity. The thought prompted an instant smile. Heaven. And afterwards he
would introduce her to that romantic little teahouse in the main street, the one with the taped
music and softly-lit alcoves – what was it called? He considered for a pace or two, still
strolling with the rifle held loosely in his hand. Then it came to him: The Golden Moon! Yes,
that was it. Fantastic! His smile broadened as he neared the armoury, then he froze. Two men
had appeared in the roadway.
Immobilized by shock, he very nearly squandered his advantage. But Chen halted so
abruptly that Wing Tak cannoned into him, and in that moment of clumsiness Leong Soh
forced his limbs to function. He moved surprisingly fast. The rifle sprang to his hip like a
hungry jack-in-the-box, blurred by movement as his finger sought the trigger. He could have
gunned them down with ease. Inexplicably, he didn’t. Instead he glanced over his right
shoulder as if checking for other intruders. It was a costly mistake. In that lost instant his
plans for the morrow were irretrievably cancelled.
Blood spurted from his mouth as the knife thudded into his back. His eyes bulged and
he staggered forward, left hand clawing at his spine. There was no cry of pain; his throat was
full of blood. But the clatter of his rifle when he slumped to the concrete seemed loud enough
to alert the entire camp. The raiders held their breath, expecting a shouted challenge, waiting
for the rapid clump of a dozen studded boots.
Seconds passed but nobody came. The road stayed silent and deserted, unresponsive
to death like the street of a ghost town. Tek Soo emerged from the shadows and retrieved his
knife. After wiping the blade clean on the boy’s shirt, he took a cursory look at the inert
body. He placed an exploratory finger on the lad’s neck before straightening-up and
confirming the obvious. ‘Dead,’ he said with finality.
Chen parked his holdall and reached for the body. ‘Take the other leg! Quickly, man!’
He was addressing Tek Soo. ‘Drag him inside.’
They wasted no time in refilling the armoury: first the corpse, then his rifle. Nothing
could be done about the bloodstain beneath the veranda, but it would take a close inspection
to reveal the break-in. Wing Tak closed the door and replaced the lock. ‘That’s it,’ he said.
There were no dissenters.
Their return to the beach was uneventful. The sampan was close inshore, bobbing
gently up and down amid a moonlit veneer of prancing wavelets. After wading out to her and
loading the holdalls they clambered aboard and weighed anchor, allowing the tide to carry
them out before resorting to the motor. The camp remained quiet.
They were a mile clear of the bay when the sky to the west was suddenly illuminated
by a searing flash and the early morning serenity was shattered by the thunderclap of a distant
explosion. Seconds later a cone of black smoke was rising from an ominous red glow in the
vicinity of the camp. Chen glanced across the cockpit and grinned knowingly at a small, wiry
man with a scarred face – the fourth member of the invasion party who had visited the camp
jetty. ‘Difficult for them to give chase now,’ he remarked sardonically. ‘Looks like some sort
of mishap back there.’
The scarred face remained impassive as the small man shrugged his shoulders. ‘They
won’t be using that boat for a while, not until they mend the leak!’
Chen laughed, gratified by the chaos they’d left behind. Turning to the Cantonese
helmsman, he asked, ‘How deep’s the water here?’
‘Six or seven fathoms,’ came the knowledgeable reply.
Chen glanced at Tek Soo and nodded towards the cabin. ‘Fetch the holdalls.’
Climbing sullenly to his feet, Tek Soo disappeared into the tiny cabin, returning
almost at once with the fruit of their night’s toil.
Ignoring the bewildered stares, Chen relieved him of the bags and hoisted them on to
the gunwale. His face registered no expression as he dumped them into the sea.
There followed a spellbound silence, a prolonged moment of universal disbelief.
‘Why?’ stammered Wing Tak, finally voicing their shared anger. ‘Are you crazy? We
risked our necks for those guns.’
Unmoved by the livid outburst, Chen scanned them with his penetrative gaze. He said,
‘You have done well tonight. Your confusion is understandable but the strategy you must
leave to others. The matter is now closed.’ He failed to mention that the Armalite rifle was
still safely stowed away in the cabin.
With perfect timing the sampan arrived off Collyer Quay as dawn was breaking over
the harbour, its presence made inconspicuous by the many similar craft scurrying to and fro
in the grey light of early morning. After passing unhurriedly through the crowded Inner
Roads anchorage it swung shoreward and was soon swallowed up by the ragged flotilla of
junks and sampans berthed along the waterfront. There was no pressure now, no cause to
hurry. They disembarked separately, Chen last, each slipping away unnoticed amid the
normal bustle of the waterside traders. By nine o’clock all four had disappeared into the busy
metropolis, intent now on remaining low until the heat was finally off. All of them, that is,
except for Chen. He wasn’t quite finished yet. There were several arrangements that couldn’t
afford to wait.
END OF SAMPLE
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