The Veil of Love and Terror

Andrew Yip

A ServiceWorld Publication www.ServiceWorld.com.sg
1

About the Author
The Author is a psychologist, administrator, housing developer and businessman. He was educated in Edinburgh, Malaysia, Singapore and in Pennsylvania, USA. Holder of a M.Ed., Dip. Ed-D in Education and Advanced Psychology and Bachelor of Arts Honours Degree, he held various top academic and professional appointments. He has worked as a psychologist in a Scottish clinic and held top management positions in various countries. An accomplished poet, Chinese calligrapher, and author of many publications, he was well known in the art and literary circles overseas, particularly in China where he spent his retirement years. Andrew W.K. Yip began to write at an early age. In the 1950s, he joined the Poetry Circle in Singapore and immersed in Anglo-American modernist poetry, and writing poetry in both English and Chinese. His poetic corpus is nourished by the belief that poetry constitutes “a quiet motivating force in the modern age”. In 1964, he travelled to the USA and UK on a UNESCO Fellowship where he became immersed in psychological studies, psychotherapy and guidance techniques. He returned to Singapore to launch various programmes related to guidance and counseling, psychological testing and social rehabilitation. As editor of a number of publications, he also launched various newspapers in the ASEAN region. Yip stopped writing when he joined the private sector as a housing developer, but resumed writing poetry and books in English and Chinese in the 1980s under various pen-names, including “Andre W. Keye”, and “Zhou Tian, ” after he started work in China’s Translation Bureau in Guangdong. Son of a world famous photographer, Yip Cheong-Fun, who was elected by New York as the 'Outstanding Photographer of the Century' in 1980, he has written many poems to depict the artistic images created by his late father, both in Chinese and English, including the photograph entitled 'Teach Me' featured above. An anthology of his poems, entitled 'A poetic vision - the photography of Yip Cheong-Fun', was published in mid-2009 by ServiceWorld Centre and distributed overseas.

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About the Book
This book is a fictional account of life with its focus on love and terrorism. The author exposes the power of unbridled passion, the destructiveness of mental aberrations and the weakness in human nature. This is done in an entertaining way through the eyes of a handsome super hero. He shows you why beautiful women love him and how he handles the four women in his life; in the process, he reveals their weakness and strength, their passion and vulnerability. Sometimes, he eludes them by pretending to be poor, or less intelligent, awkward or even eccentric. Sometimes, he hides behind a veil of secrecy, contactable only through Internet emails. But always when there is trouble, he rises to the occasion as a top-notch secret agent with super powers that could pulverize even tough killers and deadly terrorists. The book contains numerous real life anecdotes with intimate reflections on them, and a plethora of revelations of facts about people and places in Singapore. Much of the drama happens elsewhere. Some of the action took the hero to Paris, Macau, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and cities in China like Guangzhou and Dongguan. The stories that unfold are based on actual happenings in these faraway places. Behind the passions of raw sex, the intimacy and beauty of true love, the intrigues and violence of terrorism, and the dark pit of death, despair, disillusionment and miseries, there are sharp observations of injustice and iniquities in our midst and the stability and weakness in family and social relationships, and of dangers facing the world. It gives an insight into the intricacies of human nature, and the complexity of human organizations and their control. Above all, it gives us some insight into the unfathomable human mind, and its awesome power, in its normal or abnormal state, through the trained eyes of a professional psychologist. All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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One
Steve Lee was in his 20th floor apartment at Fort Road, a suburban district in Singapore. He got up slowly when he heard the buzzing sound from his wristwatch. He opened his eyes and glanced at the watch. It showed 0700 hours. He yawned as he had a late night's sleep, but he knew he had to report to K1, his superior officer at C.I.O., the acronym for Central Intelligence Organization at eight o'clock. The C.I.O. was a top secret government organization. Everything in the organization was on a need-to-know basis. No one knew what it was really doing; there was a veil of secrecy over its activities. Not much time! He rushed into the bathroom, brushed his teeth, shaved, showered, and dashed into the bedroom to dress. He did all these very briskly, as he realized this would be an important day for him. He managed to leave the front door of his apartment at 0730 hours. He hopped into his old Mercedes Benz, and drove out of the car park. He took the ECP, the East Coast Parkway and sped along overtaking cars and sometimes changing lanes, to gain time. It was not easy to cover the distance from his apartment to Robinson Road in 25 minutes. The road was congested because of the early morning rush by a large number of motorists to get to office in time. Steve had to change lanes several times, and overtake a number of vehicles, just to save time. As he stepped into the office, his colleague, John Chen, greeted him with a grin. His voice was hoarse. 'You are late. K1 is waiting for you at his office.' Steve rushed quickly into K1's office. He knocked at the office door gently. A rough and loud voice was heard from within. 'Come in.' 'Sorry, I'm late. Traffic jam as usual along the ECP, you know,' Steve blurted out apologetically. 'Why can't you leave your house earlier? That's no excuse. Try to emulate John. He’s always on time. Anyhow, there is something urgent I want to discuss with you. Defco (the Defence Council) wants a report on terrorism in the Asia Pacific Region. Since you are well versed in the use of the Internet, and have good connections with the TWI (Terrorism Watch International), I want you to be part of our working group to generate a bi-monthly report for submission to Defco. All the TWI groups or Twig's in this part of the world, will also submit reports to TWI in Geneva, and their data will be made available to us. Do you understand? The situation is quite serious'

4

'Wow!' Steve sighed and scratching his head, he cut in. 'What do you want me to do first?' 'You are an expert in hacking, and I know you have been hacking into so many porn sites to avoid paying for your nocturnal pleasures. Get into some of the sites involving religious groups, especially the fanatical ones, and see what you can get out of them. Check on any site that smacks of bigotry, racialism or fanaticisms of any kind. Even groups that appear to be doing benevolent work like charities and those that give the appearance of saving the world, saving mankind, saving the environment - whatever, should also be looked into. I have to warn you of one thing. If you get into trouble, take the rap yourself. Do not, I say, do not make any reference to us. This is the risk you have to take. Nobody will save you if any of the terrorist groups go after you. As far as we are concerned, we don't know you. To the world, you are a psychologist with a clinic here, but you are loaded and spend your time as a writer, visiting many countries. So, you continue with this masquerade. Is that clear? 'Yes, Sir,' Steve replied with a grin. He could not suppress his amusement when he heard K1 making reference to his nocturnal visits to porn sites. He felt somewhat amused, but realized at once the implications as he thought about the remarks about his hacking of porn sites. 'So, this guy had been keeping watch on my computers at home,' he was a little irritated at the extent of intrusion into the privacy of his home. He knew the CIO. They stopped at nothing. The tapped phone lines and hand phones, and periodically sent guys to tail the agents. 'They trusted no one, not even their grandmothers. But what the hack! I am honest. I am clean. I never hack into banks or credit card computers to make dishonest gains, ' Steve mused. As he left K1's office, he whistled to John and asked him to join him for a drink at a nearby café. John noticed the frown on Steve's face, and asked, 'Did you get scolding again for being late?' 'No, not for being late. But boss made sarcastic remarks about my hacking into web sites to watch porno shows. We don't have privacy, you know, John.' 'Really, how about asking me to your house to watch the shows?'

5

'That's not the point, John. The boss might be thinking that I am some sort of sex maniac, hacking into the porn sites. But I was not really interested in the shows. Perhaps saintly guys like you did not realize it. The porn sites are most interesting to computer hackers. Even normal visitors to these sites became mesmerized by the way the sites are designed. These people could trap you inside their chain of sites, making it impossible even to get out. They could ask you one thing, and when you say 'no', they lead you to another place, and ask you another question. This could go on and on. Their design is really ingenious. The porno web masters must have spent millions developing their sites to make them a real challenge to peep into them without paying. That is the challenge I face every night. Not the girlie shows. Not the boobs and what not. Are you with me, John?' 'Yeah, yeah,' John said with some indifference and gave a sly smile. He thought Steve was trying to give some noble justification for his nefarious activities. 'Take it from me, John. Hack into a bank - that's no great challenge. But beat the devil at his work in guarding these porn sites - that's really something.' John did not wish to argue. He changed the subject and asked Steve whether he was given any interesting assignments by K1. But Steve parried off the question and said that they should not discuss office work in a public place. John did not press him about the matter, but he was fascinated about his work. Steve always displayed such coolness and confidence in handling any difficult situation. He appeared to John to be a young man who was knowledgeable about almost any subject under the sun. His poise and charm, and the boyish grin on his face, made him popular with the ladies. He was good-looking in a rugged way. His mother was Eurasian, his father a Chinese professor. Steve often talked about his background as though he was partly from the Western world and partly oriental. Even his physical features yielded some clues to his ancestry. His face and complexion was typically Eurasian. His nose was long and higher than the average Chinese man, giving a slightly haughty quality to his squarejawed face. His clear pale brown eyes showed an uncanny alertness, often with a hint of merriment accompany each stare.

6

John was just an average sort of guy. A Science graduate from a British university, he had developed a reputation among his colleagues at C.I.O. as a solid investigator, always objective, realistic and scientific in his approach to work, and meticulous, analytical and detailed in his work. He was about forty years of age, of average height and slightly on the plump side. He had a short nose, which looked slightly puggish. His face always carried a frown and a perplexed look, as though he was always thinking about something serious all the time. Sometimes, he laughed loudly, displaying a set of teeth, which were unevenly aligned, and slightly discolored due to tobacco stains. To all his colleagues and friends, John appeared to be a good family man and was very devoted to his wife, Jenny and his two children. In Steve’s mind, John’s life was just family and work, or work and family - nothing else, perhaps, except a constant curiosity and inquisitiveness about Steve's work and his adventures. Still on the subject of computers, Steve asked John whether he had ever experienced anything extraordinary, other than computer faults - some sort of quirks quite beyond logic or reason. John's shook his head, but added, 'the use of computers as a communication device is still new; there's bound to be usual hiccups here and there.' 'No, not programming faults; I mean…you know, strange sensations - I felt them once in a while when I was screening through pages and pages of data at great speed. I got this queer feeling that someone was watching me doing the manoevres, and that gave me ghost pimples and shivers. This, however, only happened after midnight. That's why I have been keeping late nights, just to check on this. I need to know I am not off my rocker, ' Steve spoke in a low and slightly hoarse voice as though he was confiding something important to John. He appeared to be controlling himself, as he went on to describe the sleepless nights he had, since he first experienced these sensations. He was sure there could be some rational answers to this experience. It could be due to some light or sound waves emanating from the computers - something scientific like this, but he was not entirely sure. John knew Steve to be quite an imaginative guy and could be quite theatrical in behavior. But listening to him speaking in earnest about his nocturnal experience, his initial disbelief and skepticism slowly gave way to a sense of curiosity which stimulates his sharp inquiring scientific mind. As he leaned forward to listen closely to Steve's incredible story, he nodded his head, though he could not conceal the slight grin on his face, and asked Steve to tell him more about the sensations he felt.

7

'It's like this. Whenever I scanned through texts quickly or drag the scroll button to search for specific data, I got the feeling that the monitor screen shook a little as though some person or thing was holding it up and watching me at the same time. After each time when this occurs, my ability to read minds seemed to be enhanced. I know this sounds weird, but I was not dreaming or half asleep. John, perhaps you should witness this tonight. Come to my apartment just before midnight. Give some excuse to Jenny that we need to finish an assignment for C.I.O. I'll call you at quarter past eleven; so you'll get the pink ticket to get out of your house from Jenny.' 'Right-ho,' said John, 'Let's get back to the office.' Steve was alone in his office. He picked up a report marked 'Sulit'. He knew this to be a secret report on the September Eleven bombing of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. 'Damn those terrorists,' he muttered. His eyes searched through the pages for names and places, and he jotted them down in his pocket book. He looked for a few other documents about terrorist activities in Indonesia, Philippines and the Middle East. He took down a few more names, switched on the computer and started to insert data from his pocket book into the computer. Steve was meticulous in his work. His sharp eyes noted down every detail in the secret papers. As he paused and turned his gaze towards the monitor, he placed his fingers on the keyboard and started typing furiously. Soon he was oblivious to everything that went on around him, as his mind was totally immersed in a world of dark intrigues and hatred, of man's inhumanity to man, and of violence and wanton destruction. Steve stored in his mind all the faces of evil. He remembered their biodata, even to minute details. But now and then, he was distracted by images of the faces of victims that filled him with sadness and compassion. He sighed, closed his eyes and thought deeply about the reports he had to prepare for Defco. He realized that this would be the most serious and daunting task he had to do for C.I.O. His serious look gave way to a broad grin, as Michelle, probably the most alluring of the organization's agents, strolled through the door without knocking, and sat down in the chair across from him. God, she even walked like a seasoned model. She was wearing a short T-shirt exposing a small portion of her slender waist and a beautiful jewel of a navel, her light brown hair streaming to her shoulders. Wow! She also wore a diamond pendant watch around her neck. Steve was almost tempted to ask her for the time, to give an excuse to reach for the pendant watch. But he just stared and continued to show her his boyish grin. She sat down facing the window, undaunted by the sunlight that shot at her face. Steve noticed that some ladies would cautiously turned away from bright daylight. But Michelle's face was flawless and she knew it.

8

Michelle joined C.I.O. as agent C.I.-9 just a few months ago. She was a graduate in Political Science. Steve often wondered why such a gorgeous lady, with the height, slenderness and grace of a model, would pick such a dangerous job, when she could select any glamorous job with better pay, with no sweat. Steve knew that she came from a wealthy family. Her father was a successful property developer in Malaysia, and her mother was a headmistress of a secondary school. She was brainy all right, and quite hard working. Her friendliness and cheerfulness made her very popular with the boys. Steve was more attracted to her because she exuded warmth and compassion, and a natural joie-de-vivre. Steve had the good fortune of accompanying her on several occasions to interview people and carry out investigations. He had never asked her out socially, for fear of being rejected. Michelle was blunt and to the point. 'CI-5, both of us are in the working group for the Defco report. Have you done any outline plan to collect data, and to collate the information?' she asked. 'No, not yet! I'm just browsing through the available reports, and noting down names and places, that sort of thing.' 'Good, I have a rough draft worked up on the people and organizations we should check on, and perhaps followed up with interviews, and computer search. I would need help from you in the interviews and computer work. How do you feel about this?' 'Michelle, anything you say. I'll be most willing to assist. It's always a pleasure to work with you. But remember, everything is on the need-to-know basis in this special exercise. I'll get in touch with you day after tomorrow.' When Michelle left the room, Steve thought the daylight had gone out too. She was such a stunning beauty; and radiant like rays of sunshine whose splendour filled the room she entered. Steve hoped to know her better someday. He chuckled as he thought of the words, 'hope springs eternal in the human breast.' On Saturday, Steve left the office at six in the evening. He coasted along the city streets, thinking deeply as he drove slowly through the heavy traffic. He had an appointment to meet John at his apartment. He needed John's keen perceptive mind to ascertain the facts about his computer. As he thought about it, he became a little apprehensive about the outcome. 'What if John frowns upon my computer work at night as a sort of nocturnal computer tomfoolery, and thinks that I'm a lunatic?' he felt uneasy as he reflected.

9

Then his thoughts turned to Michelle, and he muttered disparagingly about himself, 'Why should a pretty lady like Michelle bother to talk to a nut like me.' His stature seemed to have been deprecated with the knowledge that nobody in his right mind would believe in the strange sensations he encountered. As a psychologist, he had quite deep and extensive knowledge of para-psychology - clairvoyance, psychokinetic energy, and telepathy, and these constituted realms of human experience and powers that science had not been able to prove that they were not real. In fact, there were tangible scientific evidences indicating that in some instances they did exist. Mankind still had to grapple with the unknown powers, and to cogitate about their significance. When Steve reached Mountbatten Road, he swerved his vehicle and steered it into the driveway of a bungalow house. He parked the car within the compound, and locked it. He walked briskly up a few flight of steps, and knocked on the door. An Indian boy opened the huge wooden door, and peered at him. 'Is Gopal in?' he asked. He came to know Gopal in the university, and had on various occasions discussed religion with him. Gopal was a guru in religious matters. As head of a Hindu religious group, he stayed in the bungalow house in isolation from the maddening crowd and spent most of his time in meditation and prayers. Steve knew very little about religious groups like Harikrishna, but he believed in Gopal's deep knowledge of religious issues. He was always impressed with Gopal's indefatigueable enthusiasm in doing research on world religions and cults. Gopal was definitely not just a guru infused with wisdom only about his own persuasion and beliefs. To Steve, Gopal was one of the few people in the world knowledgeable about religion in the world at large. The Indian boy asked Steve to wait outside the doorway for 'the Guru.' He then closed the wooden doors. After a short wait, the doors opened. Steve recognized 'the Guru' at once, though he was somewhat shocked by his appearance. Gopal's head was shaven bald. There were white and yellow paints on his face. He wore a saffron cloth from the waist down. His upper body was bare. He greeted Steve with a broad smile, and ushered him to enter the hall. The hall looked very much like a Hindu temple, but the atmosphere was more electrifying. The smell of incense mixed with the fragrance of fresh flowers filled the air, and there was smoke everywhere. Here and there Steve noticed flickers of light from the lamps and the urns. The ceiling and the walls were decorated with carvings of Indian deities. There were a few tables for worship, cluttered with odd ornamental religious objects and vases with flowers.

10

Steve felt nervous when he noticed something in the middle of the hall. It looked like another 'guru' sitting on a platform, staring at him. But Gopal dispelled his fears, and explained that the figure was that of his 'master,' and the shrine was in his honour. The life-like statue continued to stare at Steve, and he was too afraid to ask why it looked so much like a real human being. He was convinced that the 'master's' body was preserved and kept there in its life-like state. They entered the study, which was a small room cluttered with books and furniture. Shelves lined the walls around the room, and they were filled with books and boxes and some unused computers and printers. Gopal was quick to notice his troubled look, and asked pointedly, 'Steve, are you troubled by some spiritual matters?' He replied in the affirmative, and narrated the weird events that had affected his sleep. He clarified, 'Gopal, what I felt were just sensations. I have not seen any apparitions or spirits. Maybe, all these are just a figment of my imagination.' The Guru calmed Steve and said, 'Steve, you are a psychologist, but parapsychological phenomena are known to exist. Even if spirits or some unknown forces cause these, they may not be bad. What is important is your own nature and the path you take after you encounter them. In your case, you may be getting some precognitive or ESP messages for a reason. Perhaps, some souls or spirits need your help to do something, not necessarily something bad. Considering that they have already vested you with some powers or gifts, I am sure they expected you to do good, in the same way as God's people are often blessed with gifts like speaking in tongues, healing powers, and so on. Be true to yourself, be righteous and keep close to the Creator and be at harmony with the universe. Above all, be courageous and do not let yourself be cowed into submission to evils and succumbing to temptations. Salvation is in your own hands and your own heart and soul.' Steve was no longer troubled and became more relaxed as he left the Mountbatten Road bungalow. He drove to a nearby restaurant for dinner. He ate well and took a beer as well. He knew the beer had a soporific effect on him, and could help him to sleep well for an hour or two, before he called John to come to his apartment. It was almost half past eleven when he called John from his apartment 'Are you afraid to come, John?' he teased. 'Of course not! I'll be there in a jiffy,' John hanged down the receiver. Steve switched on the TV in the hall, and watched the programmes in a desultory manner. He glanced at the clock on the wall every five minutes. He was getting a little impatient when it was ten to midnight, and John had not arrived. He went to his study and switch on the computer. Just then, he heard the doorbell. He quickly left the study to open the apartment door for John.

11

'You arrived in the nick of time, ' Steve said as he let John in. He switched off the TV, and offered John a drink. 'I hope this will not take the whole night,' John spoke softly, shaking his head to show his reluctance to be dragged into something, which would surely be an exercise in futility. He felt a little ashamed of himself, having to tell a white lie to Jenny, that he had to complete an office assignment at such late hours. However, he did not hide his curiosity as he spoke in a matter of fact way to Steve, 'okay, as long as we are here, let's see a little of the type of computer quirks, which you talked about the other day.' Steve led the way as they entered the study. He deliberately switched on every available light in the study to make the atmosphere congenial for John. They sat down by the computer table. Steve switched on the modem and soon he managed to surf on the Internet. John noticed Steve stole a glance at the watch as he searched for a number of web sites familiar to him. He double clicked on a favourite website; then he looked for some numbers from a notebook, typed a few more lines and pressed a few more buttons. After this, he was scanning through rows after rows of data. Sometimes, he paused, typed a few more lines and proceeded with the scanning of data in the same manner. John felt a little boring watching these manoevres, but Steve carried on repeating the same procedures on other websites. On the monitor screen, he could see rows and rows of letters and numbers, but sometimes, there were girlie shows and occasionally, hundreds of thumbnail pictures. John glanced at his watch. It showed 1.45 a.m. His eyes were getting blurred, and he felt sleepy. He was about to tell Steve to call the whole thing off; when he noticed that the pictures in the monitor screen began to shake. Steve's hands were not on the keyboard. John leaned closer towards Steve, and peered at the screen. He asked Steve to switch to another website; still the shaking did not stop. Steve switched on another monitor, and linked it to the computer. The same shaking effects were displayed on the new monitor screen. Steve had shown John that there was nothing wrong with the monitors. John was curious, and asked Steve, 'What could have caused these manifestations?' Steve surprised John by saying that while the shaking was going on, he had images swarming his mind - something about Bali and Jakarta. 'It's like some telepathic messages being sent to me. Did you feel anything, John?' he asked. 'Nope, perhaps the shaking produced thought waves, which affected you mentally. Anyway, let's call it a day. Maybe, your computer was over-worked, and these things happened.' With these remarks, John left the apartment, leaving Steve deep in thought as he switched off the computer.

12

John was nervous inside the lift that took him down to the basement car park in Steve’s apartment block. As he walked towards his car, which was parked some distance away, he could hear the sound of his own footsteps. It was pitched dark. Shadows were everywhere. Here and there, he noticed lights shimmering from car windows. He felt a sense of relief as he entered his car. He took a look at the car clock, as he switched on the ignition of his car. It showed five past two in the morning. His mind was in a whirl as he reflected on what transpired in Steve’s apartment. He could not be sure about supernatural phenomena. His scientific mind told him that mankind still lacked tangible proof of any ghoulish beings, but then he had witnessed with his own eyes something that could not be explained easily. He thought it possible that Steve played a trick on him, but then he knew Steve was not the playful type. He was troubled and apparently was serious in finding out more about the strange things that happened to him as he surfed the Internet. But as John swerved his car into the driveway of his apartment block, he was thinking of something else. He was not thinking about Jenny, his Eurasian wife. She was probably fast asleep at this time of the night. John’s mind was fixed on someone else – Rachel, his wife’s beautiful sister who stayed with his family and was sleeping in a room near the living room. John had been infatuated with Rachel Lynn’s beauty. Her sweet smile, her coy look, her sparkling blue eyes, her slender waist and full bosom – these had tormented him for months. He knew he had to be faithful to Jenny, but he could not resist teasing Rachel or touching her, when his wife was not watching. He remembered the last occasion when his wife and children were staying overnight in his mother-in-law’s house, he had gone into Rachel’s room for a chat, and they ended up watching TV together and later kissing each other. Images of himself and Rachel being together flashed through his mind, again and again, as he parked his vehicle in the underground car park. His hands were cold, as nervousness like the cold night air swept through his body and limbs. He could hear the sounds of his footsteps as he walked towards the lift lobby. He was conscious of his own breathing as he entered the lift that took him to the tenth floor apartment. Not wanting to wake up anyone, he opened the apartment door quietly and entered the living room. He noticed the dim light in Rachel’s room as he walked past the room. Then he suddenly stepped back to look at the room, as he found the door ajar. Something exploded in his mind. He switched off the lights in the living room. He could not even believe himself peeping into Rachel’s room. He was gripped by temptations, as his heart began throbbing loudly. The sight of Rachel lying in bed wearing a thin black nightgown excited him. He stepped into the room, switched off the dim light and closed the room door.

13

He was not thinking of making love to Rachel or touching her body. He did not really know why he entered the room and doing what he did. He just wanted to be near to Rachel. So he lay by her side, snuggling close to her. He did not take off his clothes or start fondling her. For over ten minutes, he just enjoyed the stillness of the night and the darkness that surrounded him. He was conscious of Rachel’s breathing, and the sweet fragrance of her body that sent thrilling sensations like electric currents going through his body. Then Rachel stirred, and her body turned towards John. Her face touched his momentarily and then turned away. He kept still, afraid to move. He was overcome by the fear that she might scream, but then nothing happened. He remained motionless the next few minutes. He then felt Rachel’s hands on his face, touching him. Her eyes were open as she continued to stroke his face. She did not say a word as she stared at him. She sighed a little, and then she leaned towards him and kissed him on the lips. John’s heart was pounding wildly as he held her close, kissing her passionately. He touched her thighs lightly and she moaned. She rolled her body to face him and hugged him tightly. Her body was shaking as she started touching and stroking his shoulders gently. He responded by moving his hands inside her nightgown. He fumbled with her bra and removed it, exposing her breasts. Her body trembled as he touched her nipple. He sensed her natural shyness and noticed the red glow on her face. She felt his gentle touch as an electric charge that shot along the nerves throughout her body. As his fingers stroked the sensitive areas near her abdomen, she moaned with delight, Her body twisted and turned in convulsive movements. When he entered her, she was in pain. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she hugged him close, urging him on with words of endearment. As they melted together as one, their movements were vigorous and wild, and finally there was rapture and thrill. As calm prevailed, they just held on to each other, lying there in their nakedness. When John left the room, he was stricken with a sense of guilt. He quickly changed into his pyjamas and went to bed besides his sleeping wife. His mind was swamped with images of Rachel. He let the exciting sensations of lovemaking fill his mind. Intermingled with a sense of elation of having made love with Rachel and giving her the first encounter with sex, was a heavy feeling of guilt and shame, and of betrayal to Jenny. He tossed and turned in his bed, unable to sleep. He still felt his heart throbbing, thinking of the night of passionate lovemaking. But John was basically a family man. Soon he realized the fact that temptations had come his way and he was too weak to resist them. He knew the dangers involved in any extra-marital sex. The dangers in his case seemed to be greater, since his sister-in-law was involved. He told himself that he would have to refrain from any future physical contact with Rachel. However, he knew that this would be easier said than done.

14

It was Sunday morning. John got up late, but still he managed to join Jenny and Rachel and his children for breakfast. Jenny did not seem to notice the way John and Rachel exchanged glances. She only noticed John’s tiredness, and she said coolly, “John, these late night sessions with Steve, playing on the Internet, are not good for your health. You look tired. Steve is a weird guy; he thinks of supernatural things and he talks about telepathy and all sorts of psychological nonsense. It is best to stay away from his Internet sessions.” “We had an interesting session. Steve seems to be able to make contact with some supernatural powers on the Internet. It is quite inexplicable scientifically,” John replied. He deliberately made things rather vague, as he was afraid of further probing by Jenny. To his relief, Jenny did not question further how he spent his time the previous night. She did not even ask him what time he reached home. She turned to the children, and started questioning them about their schoolwork.

15

Two
At eight in the morning on Monday, Michelle reached the C.I.O. office at Robinson Road. She walked briskly to the rear of the building. This part of the building looked deserted. She glanced around quickly; no one was in sight. She walked towards a car porch and carefully took out a security card from her bag, and tapped it against a sensor device mounted on the right hand side of the wooden door. The door opened and she entered the building. Her office was on the second storey. As she mounted the stairs, she was thinking of some nasty things to say to Steve 'Dammit, this guy was supposed to contact me the day before, to work on the reports to Defco. Not even a phone call from him all day!' she became angrier every minute thinking about his complacency in this particular assignment, and the boyish grin on his face, which gave her feelings which were not comforting. 'I will get him to wipe that grin from his face,' she muttered to herself. She glanced at her watch. Sure her time was precious, but it would be worthwhile to confront this young fellow, and give him a piece of her mind. But Michelle did have a problem. Computers. Michelle, with her beautiful hair, slender body, high cheekbones, and a face that would make any man's heart flutter, and a superb intellect, did have a problem with the use of computers. She needed help every now and then from Steve. If she started a row with Steve - how would he take it? Would he still talk to her? Would he sulk and avoid her the next few days? Then what could she do by herself, without any computer help? She knew she was caught in a dilemma - take a swipe at Steve, or pretend nothing happened and sucked up to him. She chose something in between. She entered Steve's office as usual without knocking on the door. 'That grin again,' she thought as Steve smiled sweetly at her and bade her to sit down. 'C.I.-5, have a look at this outline plan for the preparation of the Defco reports. Do make the necessary corrections on it, and let me have it back by the end of the day,' she added. 'Sure, I'll work on it right away. By the way, Michelle, do you have time for lunch? We can discuss your outline plan as we take our lunch together.' 'The guy had the temerity to ask me out, after failing to keep his word to contact me to work on something important, and here I am fuming inside and he still doesn't know it,' she thought. But she replied flatly and rather coolly: 'No, C.I.-5, I have an appointment. Sorry. By the way, I am surprised that an experienced agent like you would think of discussing secret office matters in public places.' She stood up, shook her head and with a sharp sweep of her long hair in several directions, she stomped out of his office and then up the flight of stairs to her own office.

16

Steve could sense the irritation in her voice, but he could not pin down the reason for her annoyance with him. The last few days had not been easy for him. His mind was troubled with the extraordinary experience he encountered at home nightly. And he thought about those images and sensations about Bali and Jakarta that plagued his mind. Steve was never petty when it came to human relationships. He always thought well of people or gave them the benefit of a doubt, and committed to love and compassion for anyone close or just getting near to him. Yes, there is one word to describe him. Bigness. It means being free of pettiness, grudges, prejudice or mindless cruelty or hatred of any kind. He had tried to get an opportunity to get close to Michelle, and there apparently came a little rebuff. Steve just dismissed any negative thoughts about Michelle, and convinced himself that she was getting impatient in taking off in the assignment given by K1. Steve had the rare gift of being able to switch off unpleasant thoughts when he needed to do serious work. He managed to concentrate on the assignment that Michelle thrusted to him so unthinkingly and unceremoniously. He worked furiously to get the Outline Plan in shape, motivated by the thought that Michelle would be pleased with a better approach, backed up with arguments and evidence to take certain courses of action. So rapt in completing this task, he even forgot about his lunch. At a quarter to five, he switched on the printer and printed out the new Outline Plan. He read through it a few times, made some corrections, reprinted the Plan. Sharp at five, he was all smiles as he stretched himself and then stood up, holding the document in his hand. He then rushed upstairs, and knocked on Michelle Kan's office door. 'Come in,' Michelle shouted rather peremptorily. Steve smiled and entered the room, holding the Outline Plan high to catch her attention. Michelle was surprised to see Steve. She did not expect such promptness from him. She always thought that he was the easy-going type. Yes - push him hard, and maybe you could get some work out of him. Her mood suddenly changed. She smiled at him and asked him to sit down, exuding some warmth that she reserved for her close female friends. She never like to courage her many admirers, for fear that she might lead them on, only to create unhappiness and frustrations later on. She often thought of the boys as some sort of MCPs (Male Chauvinistic Pigs). There was no disdain, but just indifference. Cupid's arrows had not pierced her heart - at least not yet. But Steve or C.I.-5 to her was someone she could push around whenever she felt like it. He was so boyish and innocent looking. Admittedly, he was good looking, charming and gentlemanly. Sometimes, she looked at him curiously just to scrutinize his Eurasian features and his fair complexion. Sometimes, she would say something hurtful to him, and as though she expected resentment from him, she would steal glances at his face, teasing him with a flirtatious smile.

17

There were occasions when she looked for him in a crowd during briefing sessions. Their eyes met, and he smiled. She stared at him when he went around taking attendance or jotting down particulars of participants. He was tall, and she liked the way he moved. His hair was dark and thick. But it was his light brown eyes. They caught her own on several occasions, held them - almost as if he was appraising her. Then he flashed an easy boyish grin and walked away, leaving her with bewildering images of those smiling brown eyes still lingering in her mind. They sat across the table. Most of the time, it was Steve that did the talking. He explained the various approaches referred to in the Outline Plan. He spoke softly and in a low voice, leaning towards Michelle occasionally to point out passages that were significant. Michelle knew his work was excellent, but she kept the opinion to herself, and quietly thanked Steve for his effort and contributions. After he left the office room, she went back to her computer to try out a few things that she had just learnt about the Internet. Michelle was thinking about Steve as she drove home in her BMW. It was a long drive from Robinson Road to her Sea View Apartment. Sometimes she hated herself for the way she had been treating Steve. She recalled her dismay when Steve was not around to help her to complete some of her assignments. She recalled the times when he sacrificed his lunch and even dinner to give her some assistance. She had run him down by talking to her female colleagues about his forgetfulness, and mocked at him in front of others when he came late to office. But she knew his work had always been excellent, and in an agent's work, it was results that would count - certainly not the normal office decorum. She also knew that Steve had to be in several places in a normal day. He had to show his presence in his clinic, working as a psychologist, and to report to C.I.O. regularly. Michelle felt a little remorseful. She could certainly understand. Her father, Kenneth Kan, a successful real estate man, also appeared to be forgetful and stayed late in bed each morning; and yet he was a gentleman in every way. He never failed in getting the big things done and still able to spend all his waking hours helping other people, including the sick, the poor and the unfortunate. Bigness. That's it! His father was like Steve - he carried no grudges, no pettiness, no fear, no insecurity, and no intolerance. He was always willing to make some sacrifices to give a little happiness to others. Yes, he was big-hearted like his father. There is nothing new in this - envy, sneaky and subtle, a painful and resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by others. Shakespeare called it "the green sickness." It is a strong passion rooted in the human heart, and in Sheridan's words, "the most corroding of the vices." It's as old as the hills and is typical in office relationships. Some people like Steve could outshine others in whatever tasks assigned to them. So, this brought out one of the most tormenting of human passions, like coal hissing hot from hell - sending out sparkles of fear, greed, ambitions and a desire to surpass.

18

Michelle was smart enough to understand her own feelings, but often she could not help but join the mediocre majority in the office to criticize, question, and search for flaws in 'super' workers like Steve, and failed to applaud their achievements. Someone does a good job. The envious ones would cast a shadow over it by questioning the motive. Their targets are usually professionals, the gifted or the highly competent, whose individual flairs would be derisively labeled as eccentricities; and their unusual or unique approach to problem solving would be frowned upon as reckless pursuits, or arbitrarily condemned as cheap and shoddy gimmicks. Michelle reached her Sea View apartment around seven in the evening. It was already dark as she drove into her car park. She took the elevator to her apartment on the third floor. She went into this lonely apartment, and sank into a massive armchair in the hall. Her roommate, Mei Ling was not in. This was expected as Mei Ling worked in a bank and often had to work overtime. 'Another lonely night,' she thought, as she switched on the television set in the hall. She watched TV in a desultory manner for fifteen minutes; then she went into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. She sipped the coffee with her eyes fixed on the TV. Channels were switched every few minutes. She just could not devote her full attention to any of the shows. In the loneliness of the apartment, she felt the need to reach out to someone. Yes, even a lovely girl can have moments of loneliness, moments when she wanted someone to listen to her. Michelle's parents were too pre-occupied with their own work. They doted on her younger brother of six, and appeared to have little time for her. When she studied in the university, they placed her in a hostel, far away from home. There were not many telephone calls or letters. She was just left alone. Years passed. She learnt to be a loner, confident in herself and a little arrogant in her relationships with the opposite sex. She knew her parents still loved her and accepted her, and had never developed into a teenage rebel. There was no anger in her heart, and she never had to lash out at anybody. But overtime, she kept very much to herself, walked in the parks alone, walked the streets, spent every week-end in window-shopping, swam alone in the pool of her favourite Changi Beach Club, and stayed at home either watching TV or surfing on the Internet. True, she had Mei Ling to talk to, that is, when she was not out with her boy friend, Jim in the evenings and on weekends. She could also talk to another friend, Pamela, a schoolteacher, but she appeared to be busy on certain days of the week. She knew it. Somewhere in this vast and impersonal international city, for reasons that she could not understand, she was forgotten, unloved and unwanted and strange though it might seem, she was lonely. Why was that so with a sweet young thing like Michelle Kan? Stranger still, she was the type that was most difficult for anyone to get near, let alone, to love. Michelle was ostensibly too smug, too sharp, sometimes with her tongue, and too showy in the way she seductively dressed. So many negative "S's." People had to wrestle with their self-image when they got near to her. What they did not realize that behind these negative twisted images, there was a pretty girl with a soft compassionate and loving heart.

19

Oddly enough, her outward behaviour and lifestyle were an asset for the perfect agent. She could even act as an agent extraordinaire cum femme fatale. If you were a movie director, you would expect her to wink at her suitors and kick them mercilessly around with a flourish. But the Michelle in the lonely Sea View apartment was a picture of innocence and simplicity. She was just a young lady, inexperienced in love and life, but she was a real person, in the sense that she was having a heart that was warm, compassionate, kind, tender, transparent, gentle, patient, forgiving, loving and lovable. All those things spell R-E-A-L. but they have been hidden away under the mask of toughness, arrogance and smugness. Perhaps only the sharp professional eyes of a psychologist could see through the invisible mask to find the real person behind it. Don't laugh. We all wear masks - of different sizes, colours, shapes, thickness and expressions. There are some who wear veils. Whether masks or veils, some of us take them off once in a while. Some don't. The TV in the hall blared away with another ten minutes of advertisements. Michelle yawned, and got up from her massive armchair. She went into the kitchen to prepare dinner. Her eyes were fixed in a vacant stare at the kitchen wall tiles as she took her dinner in the big kitchen, which had a breakfast corner. As she ate, she listened to the creaks of the swings from the garden on the ground floor, the whispers of the neighbours at the balcony that adjoined hers, and the yells and yaps from the TV. She could picture herself sitting there on other occasions. Only the sounds she heard were different. But it always ended the same way. She finished eating, washed the dishes, cleaned the table, switched off the TV set and went straight into her study, and spent her time there surfing the Internet and going through her emails. She got another email from him, someone who signed as Robin Hood. Robin exploded into her dreary evening hours when she visited one of the Yahoo Personals sites. She found his approach unique and interesting. Normally, when a guy meets a gal through email, an exchange of each other's profiles would take place sooner or later. But Robin had laid down the condition that the identities of both parties and their profession or work must not be revealed. Even a description of one's physical characteristics was taboo. Michelle got a kick out of this, pretending to be a Princess, staying in a castle. She expected Robin Hood to act his part as well, and he had played along on this theme. Robin then quoted from William Shakespeare's play "As You Like It" "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women, merely players. They have their exits and entrances, And each in their time, Plays many parts."

20

Not all emails received by her were interesting. There were a few dullards, and numerous "wolves" that would hound her to accept actual dates or lure her with vague promises of gain or enjoyment. Some were even blatantly lewd and obscene. Michelle had learnt to be circumspect and astute in playing the email game. She kept a few decent ones. She felt safe with Robin Hood, though she suspected that behind the anonymity might be a fat ugly old man or even woman who had nothing to do but to seek amusement or enjoy life vicariously through this form of nocturnal literary pastime. A few clicks of the mouse and Michelle found a new email message in the 'In-box.' It was a very short message: 'Hi, Princess, welcome to Sherwood Forest. How's the day?' Michelle pondered a while and then replied, 'Another dreary day, I'm afraid, but I have been sitting down thinking about the way people reacted to me. The answer is of course to befriend them, to make them feel I am nice. If I am the answer, what are the questions? Sounds like a riddle, right? So, I will let you think of the questions that should be addressed.' The reply came after a pause. 'The big question is what are you doing about it. Stop searching for explanations, go for decisions and actions. You need to think deeply and act decisively - not just to make a few quick thrusts to give answers that nobody's asking.' And the email messages went to and fro. Michelle admired Robin. He never probed, never pried; always sincere and supportive. He seemed to sense her feelings better than anyone else. The sessions always ended around eleven forty five, and he would politely request to be excused. How she wished he could go on communicating with her - but then she already knew him well enough to respect his wishes, and he was quite firm about signing off punctually. 'Perhaps he is a stubborn old man with very fixed ideas and habits,' she thought. She started emailing to her schoolteacher friend, Pamela. 'What is he really like, this guy, Robin?' Pamela asked. 'He is not like any of those guys in my office. He tunes in to my thoughts and feelings, and is very patient. He is critical but never petty, and is never vulgar or crude. I don't know what work he does, but it must be something important. About his education, I guess he must have a degree or something, from the way he writes and the expressions he uses. The only unusual thing about him is his fixed habits. He is quite firm. Whatever the time I begin sending emails to him, he will not reply after eleven forty five. He seems to be a man or a woman with fixed habits. Maybe, he is like a child who must go to bed at a certain time. Just fancy that!'

21

'That's unusual for a man. But do be careful, Michelle. There are lots of loonies and malevolent pranksters and schemers on the Internet. Don't get too carried away and then meet them in the real world outside of the net. Treat this type of social emails for what they are - a pastime, a way to while away the dreary hours, that's all. Everything is unreal, the setting - faceless, voiceless approach - your five senses completely switched off - everyone spins a yarn - telling tall tales, masquerading in masks of make-believe, or worse still, concealing the cunning con-man's craftiness. Remember, the net is a veil. It is a convenient veil for the deceptive person. It is a deadly twenty first century game, not a child's play. But the game is pre-historic - the hunter and the hunted, the predator and the prey. One rarely gets a dreamboat at the other end; more likely a ravening wolf in sheep's clothing and the "animal" is more dangerous because he is in every sense an invisible one.' 'Some people have the Wisdom of Solomon and the uncanny ability to look deep into a simple shallow thing. I see your point, Pamela. I'll be careful.' Michelle went to bed thinking about the many faces of Robin Hood. Her curiosity was aroused, but they had made a pact to respect each other's privacy, not to probe or pry. But some elements of raw suspicion burnt her. Is Robin using the net as a veil of secrecy, but for what reasons? The "detective spirit" in her was aroused. Would she probe for motives, analyze the evidence and ponder Robin's next moves? Mistrust, skepticism, doubt - all these crept into her drowsy head as she muttered, 'all the world's a stage indeed!' She also thought about the challenging question he posed to her -'what are you going to do about your problems. You need to think deeply and act decisively - not just to make a few quick thrusts to give answers that nobody's asking.' Her mind was dazed as she dozed off.

22

Danielle Didier landed in the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport after a long flight from the Middle East. Her assistant, Marie sent a limousine for her. She rode without speaking a word reading her pile of documents as she traveled another 26 kilometres to reach Paris. By the time she reached her office in Pigalle in the heart of Paris, she appeared to be rather irritable. It was already three in the afternoon. Marie looked long and hard at her, and noticed she had changed. She had got off the plane in a plain blouse and long skirt, her hair pulled back in a bun. She seemed to have gone slightly thin, but she was still very beautiful and alluring. But something in her eyes scared Marie. They were cold piercing eyes that had seen deaths in many places, and she had been to a number of battle zones. 'You've got a rough time there,' she said without asking anything, and she tried to smile as she nodded. Danielle noticed Dr. Madini Mephis, the Company's Consultant, glancing at her from a corner of the office lounge. He was talking to a few staff members. He left them immediately and walked towards her. They shook hands. He smiled at her and in a low soft tone, asked, 'How was the trip? Did you manage to meet those people in the list I have given you and get good response from them?' Noticing she had nodded her head, he whispered, 'Looks like we've got plenty to do for the year. We need to increase our production, now that more buyers are found. Let's discuss this in your office later. Call me when you are ready, Danielle.' Danielle Didier, or DD, as her associates called her, was only twenty-three. Though she was born as a Parisienne, she was actually brought up in Saudi Arabia by her mother, a rich Arab lady. Both her parents had passed away, but they had left her with a huge fortune and some valuable properties, both in Pigalle and in Saudi Arabia. After she had completed her university education, she started to venture into business with Dr. Mephis as her business consultant. Subsequently she had developed good connections with both the French government and government authorities in the Middle East, and her business had grown. She became more and more daring. Her latest business venture was the setting up of several factories to manufacture weapons. A few other staff members later came forward to greet her at the office lounge. She looked grimly at them, asked a few questions about their projects, and told them she would call each of them in turn for a brief discussion.

23

To the staff in Terra Rosa, the organization in Pigalle was one of the top overseas investment firms in Europe. Most of the staff, however, had no opportunity to travel overseas. The final contact and the follow-up would either be handled by Dr. Mephis personally or one of his special overseas agents or agencies. But Danielle made the decisions, and she took the limelight in the world stage. Any initial contact with clients was to be made by her. Mephis was supposed to follow through with her instructions. Through this mode of control, DD had become more powerful. She became more demanding as her power grew, but she still continued to rely on Dr Mephis to advise her on important matters. Soon her business operations had spread to all the continents, involving a large number of operators and agencies worldwide. She made no bones about her business operations. People knew she had a number of factories including those in America, Europe, Latin America and Pakistan, where weapons were manufactured, and sold throughout the world, especially in countries known to be engaged in warfare and conflicts of any sort. Some people secretly called her 'La femme fatale.' DD ignored such snipes at her and continued to extend her weapons business, which greatly augmented her wealth and power. Mephis had made reservation at a restaurant near the Terra Rosa office. He left the office at five and drove off alone in his Mercedes car. When he reached the restaurant, he parked the vehicle in the underground car park. As he hopped out of his car, he looked around to see whether there was anyone watching him. He seemed nervous as he checked a few cars thinking there might be someone there, someone who could do him harm. When he felt safe, he went into the lift, which took him to the reception lounge. A young lady at the reception desk recognized him and greeted him smilingly, ' Monsieur Mephis, bon soir. Comment allez vous?' 'Tres bien, merci' he replied, ' ou puis-je trouve une table pres de le fenetre?' 'Oui, Monsieur Mephis,' she replied and ushered him in and showed him to a table near the windows. Mephis sat down at the table. He looked a little impatient, as he glanced at his wristwatch. His long white face showed a rueful look. He took out a few documents from his brief case and read them. Then he glanced at the watch again five minutes later. His eyes fixed on the documents for a few minutes, and then glanced at the watch. Occasionally, he stared out of the window and looked a little impatient. The he smiled as he saw from the window two figures stepping out of a limousine that just arrived. The waiter ushered two short dark-skinned men, dressed in black business suits, to the table. The two men looked like Arabs or Iraqis The three men at the table chatted endlessly and laughed occasionally throughout the meal.

24

Every now and then, the two men talked very softly, as they studied the documents brought by Mephis. They then left the restaurant just before midnight. Mephis grinned and whistled as he walked to the car park. His gaunt face took on a smug and mysterious look. He hopped into his Mercedes, switched on the ignition quickly and drove off with a thunderous roar from the engine exhaust. Mephis lived in a penthouse apartment in the suburbs of Paris. The apartment located on the twenty-first storey, looked very spacious and well appointed. Its lavish design and décor gave the impression that the best that money could buy in Europe, had been picked for the apartment. Expensive marble and carpets had been imported from Italy for the flooring. The drapes and the furniture were all custom-made in France and Switzerland. Everything, from wine glasses to porcelain wares, wall decorations, lamps and clocks, had been specially ordered from various European and Asian countries. Such was the luxury that surrounded Mephis in his penthouse apartment. However, Mephis seldom invited guests to his apartment. Those who came to visit him were foreigners of all types - some fair-skinned, some dark in complexion. They usually came for one or two hours and left the apartment in big cars or limousines. Neighbours never had the chance to talk to Mephis or his mother. They never saw them walking together. Sometimes, they could see his mother, a lady with dark glasses and shoulder-length hair, near the kitchen window once in a while, and she waved at them, but she never uttered a word. But when they wished Mephis with a polite "bonjour," they never got a reply. The most they got from him was a stern wry look or a nod, but never a smile or a word. They regarded him as an eccentric and reticent man, who probably wanted to be left alone. There was an aura of mystery about him - a person of mixed blood - Arab father and a mother most likely of European descent. He seemed to have an electrifying effect on some people, with his piercing eyes, a grin and sometimes a sneer on the face that was a mixture of haughtiness, snobbishness and mysterious detachment. Danielle first met him when he was pursuing his doctorate degree in a British University. After his graduation from the University, he joined Terra Rosa and had been Danielle's Consultant ever since. Danielle trusted him and relied on his judgment in almost all-important matters. He never talked about himself or about his family. His personal life and even his work in the office were shrouded in mystery. There were times when some inquisitive colleagues wanted to ask him personal questions, but they were quite rudely put off by his stubborn refusal to give any information about himself to anyone. They just took him to be a loner and an eccentric scholar. Few really bothered about him, as they did not realize the extent of his influence over DD and the Company's operation.

25

Three
Danielle thought she had picked Mephis to work in Terra Rosa to boost the Company's stature and expand its business operations in the international scene. Actually, it was Mephis that had picked Danielle to fulfill his Machiavellian dream of wielding power and controlling power politics. He was using her network of business organizations as a veil. Many ancient books he had read in the course of preparing for his doctoral thesis affected Mephis's thinking about life. He came to the conclusion that mankind would be heading for a clash of civilizations that would inevitably end the world. But before that, there would be more wars, plagues and environmental disasters. He felt that something must be done to prevent the world from slipping back into barbarism and greater sufferings. Only he and a few chosen elite groups could steer the world into a political system, which would not allow any political or social groups to co-exist. Such a system would ensure the continuity of mankind into a future of stability, and a destiny not based on survival of the fittest, but based on survival for all regardless of or despite one's fitness both physical and mental. In Mephis's plan, Terra Rosa must be strengthened for its role. Its influence must extend beyond Paris and the Middle East to reach all parts of the world. The existing power bases, whatever, they were, must be destroyed and replaced by those that followed certain guidelines dictated by Mephis and his agents. Danielle did not realize yet. Her network of companies throughout the work was being used as a veil of terror. Mephis relaxed when he entered his apartment. He imagined that his mother must be in her room. He did not want to disturb her. He sank into a beautiful velvety floral armchair, and gazed at the ceiling, smiling at its expensive multi-coloured abstract art patterns. He felt very satisfied with his discussion at the restaurant with the two foreign agents working for him. He had given them clear directives and an outline plan on what to do in their country and in the Asia Pacific region. These people would receive their funds through Terra Rosa. Danielle would only know this as another investment plan for setting up another weapons factory. In the evening, he left his apartment to meet some dark-skinned people in Pigalle. As he shambled down rue Pigalle in his casual attire, nobody would expect a top executive like him in this neighborhood full of black people. Mephis had a way about him and seemed to be able to get on with the colored fellows who lived in Montmartre. He drank and danced with them quite frequently. Many of them heard him speak of his intense hatred for the white folks. These people knew that it only took two Benedictines to make him start talking about his pet hate.

26

Rue Pigalle in the early evening had a sombre gray atmosphere. To those who knew the district, it was the Harlem of Paris, and rue Pigalle was its dusky Seventh Avenue. Most of the colored musicians, that furnished Parisians and their visitors with entertainment lived somewhere in the neighborhood of rue Pigalle. Dark-skinned hoodlums from other countries also gathered in the area. Little wonder that almost every week, Mephis could be seen shuffling his way up the same street. When he reached the corner of rue De la Bruyere, he would stop and turn into 'the Pit'. Its full name was The Flea Pit. If you should ask one of the Parisians staying there why it was so called, he would answer you to the effect that it was called 'the Flea Pit' because all the 'fleas hang out there.' Dr. M was not drunk. Neither was he a great lover of Negro Jazz. He was there for a deadly purpose - to gather fleas for his evil schemes. Danielle was watching television as she took her supper at her villa in the suburbs. The villa was a two-storey structure of contemporary French architecture. There were five rooms, all superbly decorated and furnished. She lived alone, and spent most of her time surfing the net, writing emails to friends, watching TVs or DVDs, or playing computer games using the latest play stations. After watching a few programmes desultorily, she switched off the television set, and began to reflect on the events of the past weeks. She remembered her afternoon meeting with Mephis four weeks ago. He had prepared a list of weapon buyers in the South America, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia and they were for her to finalize the deals. She had tossed the papers aside, and told Mephis that enough was enough. As much as she wanted the business to thrive, she had indicated to him that weapons production and the sale of these deadly instruments of death was against her nature. She inherited her wealth from her French father, and her Arab mother, both of whom, were kind and caring religious folks. They had brought her up with an education that combined the best of both Western and Eastern cultures. Her early education was in Egypt and France, and later, she attended colleges in France, Britain, and America. Her good grounding in education had given her a sense of dignity and worth and a foundation in character development. Her vision of life and the world to be was inspired by her belief in universal brotherhood, and such universal values as tolerance, compassion, justice, equality and mutual respect. She was not cut out to be a cold-hearted purveyor of deadly and destructive weapons and bombs. The flaw in her character was her ambition and her thirst for power and recognition. Dr Mephis had played on her weakness. He made her feel that everything was under her control. She made the decisions. She called the shots. Mephis convinced her that sometimes she needed to take a political stance, since her business had an impact on the geo-political situations in both the East and the West.

27

He had instilled into her a hatred for what he called a form of Western imperialism, which was a threat to the stability of the world. Its power was driven by greed for trade, oil and financial control, and territorial gain. According to him, this had already resulted in untold human sufferings and senseless destruction of human lives all over the world. Danielle was convinced, and she continued to support the industry of death. She had visited several contacts in the Middle East and in South America, and signed several contracts for weapon and bomb delivery. Now in the loneliness of her comfortable apartment, she began to reflect deeply. She was perplexed and a little confused, and her heart was filled with a sense of remorse. Danielle took a shower. She felt a little refreshed as if the shower helped to clear the images that swamped her mind - of deadly weapons, victims of killings and explosions, of intrigues and plots. She stood before the mirror in the bathroom and smiled as she admired her own complexion and her beautiful features. She was tall and slender. Her legs were good, and her hip slim. She looked at her full breasts. They were incredible looking and could seduce any man. She slipped into her woollen dress and walked into her study. She switched on her computer, and started composing an email to one of her favourite pals on the Internet - Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest. She knew this name was fictitious, 'but who cares?' She also used the name "Denise" for her emails. She loved the stories about the East that Robin had penned. He was amusing and witty, and he was indeed very patient with her, even though she sometimes wrote angry things and chided his youthful idealism based on trusts, love and compassion. He seemed to be such a pacifist, and his viewpoint slightly romantic. 'Zut! Il est varaiment romantique. Mais, est il un garcon? Celibataire?' Then as though addressing Robin, she muttered, 'mais, vous etres un lache,' as she referred to Robin's refusal to meet her in France, although she agreed to meet his travelling expenses. Danielle's eyes were shining. She received another email from Robin. It was written with warmth and feelings of love. She read it over and over again the words, 'though we were far apart, I thought of you very often. You have time and time again enquired about my well-being. I have told you about dangers in my line of work and you said you have prayed for me. I pray for you too constantly. You are in business and have to fly around. We live in a dangerous world and flying is particularly dangerous with terrorists' activities being so rampant. Although I have not seen you, I can see beauty in you - inner beauty in your thoughts and feelings, and external beauty the way I imagine it to be, and I know God has given you great beauty. I know it will be confirmed when we finally meet. I feel love now in my heart, though we are so far apart. But whatever the future may be, I will always love and cherish you. Robin.'

28

Danielle kissed the printed email. Strong emotions overwhelmed her. She had been lonely since her parents passed away. She had to bear her misfortunes with stoicism, and counted the lonely hours, days, months and years with fortitude. Alone she dwelt in a big house in the hills, walked the streets and flew from city to city, staying in unfamiliar hotels, all on her own. True, she had become strong and learnt selfreliance. But always, there was a secret longing that she would meet the right man, someone warm and caring, who would fill the vacuum in her heart. Mephis was in his luxurious penthouse apartment in Pigalle. He awoke early in the morning. He heard the sparrows chirping on the ledge of his bedroom window. He made a cup of coffee, and sat down to read the morning newspapers, and sipped the coffee. He skimmed through the headlines of the papers very quickly, as though he was searching for some news items. His eyes betrayed the disappointment in him, as he put down the newspapers to switch on the television. He waited for the eight o'clock morning news. He reached for his cigarettes on the night table. The pack was empty. He banged the table in anger, and turned around to reach for his cup of coffee, rattling the cup as he did so. Then his eyes turned to the television set just in time to watch the morning news. An announcement caught his attention. Somewhere in Indonesia, there was a bomb blast at the American embassy but little damage was done, and nobody was hurt. He listened for more details; then he continued to sip his coffee and seemed to be deep in thought. A while later, he reached for the phone, and talked briefly to someone, shaking his head and yelling some expletives, Damn it, he would have sworn people he hired were experts, and yet they often disappointed him in doing jobs not entirely to his satisfaction. He usually could spot an expert, but sometimes, the agencies that worked for him gave him amateurs and people who were mediocre. The fellows he had hired for one job must have fooled him, but maybe because they were not paid enough. Damn the lady boss, she started asking too many questions on budgets and expenditures. He had to be careful and could not go overboard with lavish expenditures on things he regarded as top priority. Well, at least, something was done, though the results were not up to his expectations. He grinned and looked at his watch - almost time to leave for office. He suddenly thought of his mother. He knocked at her bedroom door, and said, “Mum, I am leaving for work.” Without waiting for the bedroom door to be opened, Mephis walked away. He took his briefcase from the desk and put on a pair of sunglasses. He just yelled again, “Bye, mum,” and dashed out of the apartment door.

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Four
Steve attended a briefing at the C.I.O. following reports of the death of 202 people due to bomb blasts by terrorist groups in Bali. The first bomb went off across the road, outside Paddy's Irish pub; the second much bigger, hit the Sari club. The patrons nearest the front doors of both bars died instantly, incinerated. Others were saved by the sheer density of the crowd. But no one escaped that fierce blast of flame. It seared eyes, flesh. Steve recalled the images that swarmed his mind one evening when he was surfing the net. He regretted not being able to do something to alert the Indonesian authorities to pre-empt this disaster. However, he kept these thoughts about weird things to himself. In any event, who would believe what he said. People would have labeled him a nut or a person with one screw loose. In the office, he took some documents obtained from TWIG in Indonesia, yielding some clues on the types of explosives used in the bombings there. Some of the materials appeared to homemade, and the work of the terrorists was quite amateurish. He worked on his computer all day but found very few leads. It was almost nine in the evening when he reached home. He was alone in his quiet apartment. The silence of the night was disturbed occasionally by the murmurings of some pigeons at the balcony, and sounds of a few people talking in the adjoining flat. He knew he had to continue using his computer to work on those documents given to him. But as he felt hungry, he reached for the phone and ordered a Hawaiian pizza from Pizza Hut nearby. Then he took a shower, and changed into a T-shirt and his favourite sports pants. He was just in time to answer the doorbells. It was the delivery boy who brought the pizza. He paid for it, closed the door and went straight into the kitchen. He took a couple of beers, and walked into the hall. He switched on the television. His eyes were riveted on the screen, while he took his dinner and drank beer. The news feature on the Indonesian bomb blasts caught his attention. He noted all the details into his notebook as he watched the programme. Steve watched until the end of the nine o'clock news; then he switched off the television. By the time he finished his dinner and the washing up, it was already nine thirty.

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He scrounged for some tit-bits from the kitchen, and sat in front of his computer. As he switched it on, he noticed that he had received some emails. The first was from the Princess. It read, ' Robin, you and your merry men at Sherwood Forest knew exactly who were the bad guys attacking you, or killing innocent folks in the town. But the spate of bomb attacks all over the world seemed to be done by faceless terrorists, and so far no political groups have claimed responsibility for such senseless actions. What are your considered views? Do you think that the bomb blast at the American embassy is the work of mindless lunatics or is the planned and concerted action of organized terrorism?' Steve's reply was to the point, 'Princess, there are few heroes left in this world, and fewer ladies in distress. With the dissipation of monarchies, it would be rare indeed for a princess, like you, to be found for heroic deeds and brave rescues. Hence, the perverted human mind turns to the championing of vague and often undefined causes, like Don Quixote. Values become twisted and mangled, and people often take the easy course of aping any fads and fetishes of modern culture. And human perception, which should be the fog-lamp of reason and logic, has turned into a dim light controlled by a simple two-way switch, giving a vision and understanding that things are just plain black or white. Universal brotherhood and love, embodied in most religions, have often been cast by the wayside, and replaced by myopic visions of narrow nationalism and parochial interests and concerns. Even the stability of family values has often been replaced by human relationships, which have become fragile and frail at whatever levels. Human nature given to us as good as gold by God at the beginning has become perverted through social and political erosion overtime, and at best, it is unpredictable. The common destiny of mankind and the larger survival issues of the world have been overshadowed by inane ideals of purity and pride of race or culture, narrow national or territorial integrity, infallibility of religious doctrines, and selfish solidarity behind groups, cultures, credos and creeds, and including even corporations and activities of any sort. Acts of terrorism are seldom the spontaneous, impulsive, random, bizarre outbursts of destruction and killings carried out by mindless lunatics, but the deliberate, planned and organized campaigns of infliction of human sufferings and the merciless wanton killing of innocent people for causes, both known and concealed. People could not be heroes in these days when forests and castles are gone; so they try to catch the world's attention in other ways, sometimes the way of death and destruction, with or without the help of the mass media.' Terrorism is a deliberate and brutal use of violence against non-combatant people to create fear and panic, usually for some obscure political or religious causes. It is intended to rattle and influence an audience.

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One terrorism expert, Brian Jenkins, bluntly put it in 1974 that “Terrorism is Theatre.” And all it takes to obliterate everyone, everything and everywhere is a nervous finger on a hair trigger, a faulty computer chip or some mentally deranged person who gives the instruction to fire, and then it’s curtains for all of us in this world. Yes, Curtains! Finis! The End! It is inane. It is also insane. Believe it or not, all the tragedies in the world, the holocaust that we have not forgotten, and those dark years of despair in human history, could be the work of just one mad man. Yes, One Mad Man!’ After sending the email to Princess, Steve resumed his search for web sites that might give some clues to terrorists' activities. He made a few calls using his mobile phone placed in front of the computer monitor. After making these calls, he worked at a feverish pace, clicking the mouse here and there, and browsing each site painstakingly to detect hidden messages, and scrolling rapidly pages and pages of data. It was an onerous task, but he plodded on confidently without taking any pause to soothe his tired eyes. After a few hours, he began to feel some eyestrain. He eased the strain by closing his eyes momentarily. It was at this point that something unbelievable happened. As he opened his eyes, the monitor displayed a message, which read, 'Search end. Open attached file marked LB-1 and copy technical data for new hi-tech upgrading of Mobile Phone to equip it with laser beam. After upgrading, activate it by pressing 3456 forward and backward six times. Then switch on computer with phone touching keyboard, and follow instructions given.' Out of curiosity, Steve copied the technical data. The next day, he took it to John and some technical experts in C.I.O. to work on the upgrading of the mobile phone. After this was done, he brought the phone home. Steve could not understand the message, but he felt that the procedure appeared to be innocuous enough. He followed the instructions to the letter, and to his amazement the mobile phone lit up and a warm glow hit his face, followed by a tiny beam that shone into his eyes. He felt a chill down his spine, and for a few minutes, he was unable to open his eyes, as images whirled, flickered and danced in his mind. When he finally opened his eyes again, he found a new message on the Monitor screen, that read, 'Congrats. Make contact thru UUU on the Internet. To activate, place mobile phone touching keyboard and press 3456 on phone and keyboard simultaneously.' Steve felt strange physically and mentally. He knew that some form of transformation in him had taken place. He appeared to have full command of his senses through autosuggestion. By telling his eyes to focus on distant objects, his vision became enhanced telescopically. He could listen to distant conversations in the same way. He could not fathom how and why this had happened to him. He had not fully understood the transformation that had taken place. But he knew that his personality had not changed. He was still the simple nice and friendly guy. His initial reaction was not to find out the full extent of his superpowers, but to search for answers on what had become of him. He thought of Christopher Marlow's book, "Dr. Faustus." Faustus sold his soul to the Devil for superpowers and wealth. He asked himself, 'Have I lost my soul to whomever in control of UUU?' He had not asked for these powers; neither did he bargain for any of it. He knew he would rather die than become a slave or

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agent to do evil things at someone's bidding. His mind was clear; his determination strong. He would be the unwilling agent for evil; but the heroic force for good.

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Five
Steve woke up early in the morning at his Apartment at Fort Road. He yawned and then rubbed his eyes as he looked through the bedroom window, gazing at the hazy white clouds that scudded across the azure sky, and some birds that occasionally appeared from nowhere. He stretched his limbs a few times and sat up slowly with the knowledge that he had a sleepless night, thinking of the things that had happened to him. He stroked and massaged his arms and legs, and moved his head in different directions, as though to reassure himself that he was still alive and well. He heard birds chirping outside the ledge of his bedroom window, and noises of children playing in the playground below. He looked out of the window to fix his eyes on the cars that were traveling along the Expressway some distance away. Using his super vision, he could see the drivers' faces clearly. He could also tune to their chatters and the blaring stereo music. He shook his head, and grinned as he muttered, 'it was not a dream. The powers are still there for him to use.' He made some breakfast, and poured his coffee. The bright sunshine peered through the kitchen and hall windows, creating a sense of warmth that enveloped his body. He picked up the newspapers from the doorway, and read through the pages methodically - his eyes searching for information of interest to him. There were a few more reports on bombings and terrorists' attacks in different parts of the world. He stared at some of the pretty models in scanty attires featured in the Lifestyle section, and he was visibly aroused. He chuckled a little and scanned the other columns of the papers. He took another sip of the coffee. Some of his good mood disappeared with the hot coffee. He intentionally turned his thoughts to his newly acquired powers in relation to his work. He conjured up the image of Michelle wearing a stunning dress, glancing at him with admiration, as he put his protective arms around her. There was something about another girl who invited him to France. He could sense the warmth of friendship in the way she emailed to him. He felt the thrill and excitement in these illusory images, but they just appeared in his mind in one quick flash - or twice. He longed to be with them, but his feelings were vague and seemed to be unreal. He turned his thoughts to his work as an agent. He realized that he should keep his powers secret, and use them discreetly and with circumspection. He arrived at his Joo Chiat clinic at nine. Wednesday morning was usually filled with appointments up to three in the afternoon. On other weekdays, his secretary only scheduled appointments up to lunchtime. Nancy, the young pretty secretary with beautiful full breasts, greeted him, 'Mr. Lee, you have three patients waiting for you at the waiting room. Shall I send the first one in?' She disappeared behind the counter, after he nodded in reply.

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Steve talked to the married woman in her thirties, and asked her a few questions relating to her inability to sleep. Ordinarily, the process of psychotherapy would take a long time, as the therapist would have to probe for a lot of details on her early life to make a tentative diagnosis. Steve, with his newly acquired mental powers, could sense the mental waves from his patient. He gradually helped her to develop an insight into the causative factors, and was able to tell her at the end of the half hour session, ' A few more sessions, you'll be okay.' Another patient came in. Sheepishly, he confided that he had trouble urinating in public toilets where other men were around. After some probing, Steve knew that this condition had something to do with the patient's early childhood. Without the use of drugs, Steve stared into the patient's eyes as he verbally suggested that he became drowsy and sleepy. Within minutes, he had put the patient under hypnosis. Using regression techniques, he probed his subconscious mind, and found the cause. It appeared that when he was a child, he had the bed-wetting problem, and a maid had made fun of his diminutive sex organ. The insight developed through hypnosis, enabled the patient to overcome his problem speedily. After he had finished with his appointments at the clinic, Steve drove to Shenton Way to have lunch with John Chen. They had lunch at a quiet Chinese restaurant along Cantonment Road. As they ate, their conversations turned to the episode witnessed by John at Steve's apartment. 'Have you checked your computer lately?' John asked as he made reference to the shaky movements of the monitor display. Steve shook his head, and added, 'nothing unusual with the monitor display nowadays. I suppose what happened must be a freak incident.' He decided to keep the strange happenings under wraps. He was afraid John might start talking at the C.I.O. and this could complicate his life. After they finished eating, Steve poured himself some fresh coffee, while John took a sip from his glass of beer. Steve grinned as he looked at his friend. He could sense the thoughts in his mind, 'Damn it, why is Steve covering up a strange phenomenon? It cannot be a computer problem. Steve knew it, and I knew it when the computer display acted in an eerie manner. Most likely, it was a supernatural thing. There was something spooky. Perhaps, an exorcist is needed to propitiate the deities in his apartment.' Steve thought it was a great lunch. At least, he knew with certainty that he could sense the thoughts of a friend. Perhaps, he could check on K1 and the big bosses to see whether they thought he was good enough to get a raise. He was quite amused and muttered, 'wow, I should be in foreign affairs and trade. Just think of it - the advantages I have in conducting negotiations.'

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After the lunch with John, he returned to his clinic and stayed there until he finished the day's work. At half past three, he left the clinic and headed towards the car park at the rear of the clinic premises. Suddenly, two foreign workers jumped at him. One of them attempted to wrest the briefcase from his hands. He held tightly to it. He stared at both the dark-skinned men in their twenties. Then he took out the mobile phone from his pocket and pressed a button. A tiny beam of blue light hit one of the attackers at once; the other tried to run away and was hit by another beam. Both fell down unconscious. Steve looked around. Nobody seemed to have noticed the incident. He went into his car and drove off, leaving the two men lying unconscious on the ground. He knew they would recover in about fifteen minutes' time, and would not be able to remember anything. His heart was unmoved by the pathetic state of the two unconscious men. In fact, he was somewhat amused and enjoyed using the weapon in his pocket, grinning boyishly, like a child playing with his new toy. The Mercedes cruised along the Expressway. Steve relaxed and enjoyed listening to some pop music from his car stereo amplifier, slightly nodding his head following the rhythm of the stirring drumbeats. As he drove into the C.I.O. building, a car park attendant waved at him and directed him to park his vehicle in one of the vacant covered lots. He noticed Michelle coming out of her BMW and waved at her. He was in a flutter. The sight of this beautiful girl made him think of the many occasions when he dreamt of her. Not all his dreams about her were erotic. Sometimes, he was featured in heroic deeds and Michelle was the lady in distress. Often, he found himself unwanted, unloved, and he showed a rueful face. It was a forlorn hope in getting her to like him. The distance between them seemed to be cluttered with too many hurtful remarks affecting his pride and dignity. As he thought about her, these words echoed in his mind: 'Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, so haggard and woe begone?' Steve wished he had more confidence in himself. But as always, he was spellbound and unable to make the bold move to get her to notice him more. His voice was hoarse when he opened his mouth. 'Hi, Michelle what's up?' he stammered a little as these trivial words were uttered. 'C.I.-5, you are just the person I need for this evening's interview with two guys from Pakistan, The appointment is at seven thirty in the Chinese restaurant in the Lion City Hotel at Tanjong Katong Road. How about it?' Steve was delighted. He nodded his head, smiling at her warmly, and asked, 'could you fill me in with some details about these two men?' 'Sure, C.I.-5, I'll send a dossier on these two guys to you, before six. We'll go to the hotel in separate cars. Remember to be at the Hotel Lobby at seven fifteen.' With these words, she walked away from him.

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It was close to five thirty when he received two dossiers from Michelle through the Dispatch Department. He read through the dossiers, which contained only a few pages of notes, most, of which were obtained from monthly TWIG reports, and from the Intelligence Library. The two men were from Pakistan and the reports indicated that they were active members of several religious organizations known to have terrorists' connections. Steve had a gut feeling that these men were tricky and dangerous. He also felt that Michelle was unnecessarily exposing herself to these people, and might place herself and C.I.O. in danger. He decided against accompanying Michelle, so that he could protect her from a hidden position. He called her on the phone and gave some excuse. As expected, Michelle was furious, and yelled at him. He mumbled some apologies, and stayed calm. He then proceeded to work out a plan to help Michelle. Steve was already in the Lion City Hotel at seven in the evening. He stationed himself inside the Manager's office. The Manager had allowed this, after Steve showed him his special agent's pass. He sat on an armchair and sipped Chinese tea as he peered through the office window occasionally. Thick curtains of floral design covered the glass window. Steve pulled the curtains slightly apart to enable him to have a good view of all the dinner tables at the restaurant. Steve waited for Michelle and the Pakistani men to arrive. Nothing happened at 7.35 pm. Steve became impatient and a little worried. Could something have happened to Michelle? He knew Michelle always carried her weapon in her purse. If something happened outside of the restaurant, he would have heard something, sounds of commotion or even gunfire. Then they came - Michelle and the two foreign men with dark complexion. They sat at a corner of the restaurant. Steve heard their casual conversation quite clearly. He also noticed the two men exchanging suspicious glances as they took their dinner and talked to Michelle. He could read their minds. They wanted to kidnap Michelle and take her to a bungalow in Katong. Then they would send a ransom note to C.I.O. Michelle wanted information so badly and did not realize the danger of meeting these foreigners who sneaked into the country without proper travel documents and might have links with terrorists’ organizations. Steve noticed Michelle questioning the two men and taking down copious notes. So intent was she in writing down the interview notes into her notebook that she did not notice the evil grin on the faces of the two men. At this point, Steve could sense that they wanted something more than ransom; they wanted to rape the pretty alluring girl in front of them. Their sexual instincts were aroused, as they sniffed the fragrance that surrounded the seductive body besides them.

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At nine, the interview was over. The three of them walked towards the car park at the rear of the Hotel. Steve followed their dark shadows moving amongst several rows of parked cars. He could hear the men requesting Michelle for a lift to their hotel in town. The car park was dimly lit. There were a few puddles of water reflecting flickers of light. The tall trees that lined the open car park cast mysterious moving shadows over bare concrete ground. As Michelle opened the car doors, one of the men snatched the car key from her, and ordered her to sit behind with the other man. At this point, Steve sprang into action. He hit the man outside the car with a tiny beam of blue light from his mobile phone and put him to sleep. Then he aimed at the man inside the car and he also became unconscious. Another beam hit Michelle and she fell asleep in the car. Steve dragged the man who fell on the ground into the front passenger seat. He took the ignition key from him. Then he started the car engine and drove the BMW to the nearest police station. He left the two men at the front door with a note that they were kidnappers, and drove off with Michelle still asleep on the back seat. It took only five minutes for the BMW to reach Steve's apartment. Steve had no choice, as he could not find Michelle's address. After he parked the vehicle, Steve carried Michelle who was still unconscious out of the car, and took the elevator to the 20th floor. He placed Michelle on the sofa in the hall. He switched on the wall lights and closed the apartment door. He gazed at the girl of his dream. He looked fondly at her beautiful face, bathed in the soft lights of the wall lamps. Her eyes were closed, showing her beautiful long eyelashes. As she slept, he observed her gentle breathing and the movements of her full breasts. He looked at her slender body and her small waist. He touched her hands and her face. They were smooth and soft. Steve could not control himself. He bent down and kissed her face and her neck. Sweat poured from his forehead as he touched her body. To Steve, the experience was novel as he was drawn into a whirlpool of animal passion. As he stroke her body and her thighs gingerly and timidly, he could hear her sweet moans as she trembled with every touch that gave her sensations that were pulsating and titillating. Steve was suddenly overcome by a sense of guilt and shame, and he stopped there. He sat next to Michelle passively, waiting for her to wake up. But for some reason, she continued to lie there with her eyes closed. For hours she lay there with Steve sitting at her side. Soon he was overcome by fatigue due to the events of the day, and he also dozed off. His head rested on Michelle's body without his realization. They slept through the whole night in this position. Michelle's virtue was not tarnished. She remained the beautiful agent with virgo intacta. Steve was too tired to exert his manhood.

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Steve rubbed his eyes and noticed that his face was buried in Michelle's bosom. Her arms were around his neck. He lingered in that position, sniffing in the sweet fragrance and feeling the warmth of her body. His heart started throbbing, as it responded to the sensations of touch. He sucked in these sensations like a ravening animal, and he kissed her gently on the cheek. Then he disengaged from her, and left her to sleep alone. When Michelle woke up, she was bewildered to find herself in Steve's apartment. By this time, Steve already bathed and changed into new clothes. He wore a tie and put on a business suit. Michelle could not remember exactly what happened. She remembered her meeting with the two foreigners. She could recall that one of them had pushed her into her car and took the ignition key from her, but could not recall much after this point. She had some vague recollections that Steve carried her and placed her on the sofa, and he had stayed by her side the whole night. She felt good in the early morning and she could understand why. The lonesome feeling and dreariness in her heart was replaced by sensations of being loved or wanted by a gentle caring heart. She was puzzled. Did Steve make love to her? Not likely. He was a picture of innocence. He looked cool, never said a word, never apologized for any wrongdoing, and kept the distance from her. She was sure Steve had not made love to her. They took breakfast together. Steve prepared a simple breakfast of toast and eggs. Steve did not tell Michelle much about the way he rescued her from the two foreigners. He told her that he watched over her at the Chinese restaurant. When one of the men tried to kidnap her, he jumped on them and knocked them cold. He told Michelle that he had already handed the two men to a police station and they would be charged. He praised her for her dedication to her work in trying to get information from these men, but advised her to be careful with foreigners in the future. Michelle later sent Steve to the Lion City Hotel car park to collect his car. She then drove home to her Sea View apartment to change her clothes before going to work. When he entered her apartment, she was surprised to find Mei Ling in the kitchen. Michelle was reticent about her adventure, because of the confidential nature of her work. Mei Ling, on the other hand, was very cheerful and effusive in her description about the party she attended the previous night. She told Michelle that her Filipino boy fiend, Jim Manalo, took her to party in an expensive ballroom.

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“Michelle, it was a really smashing party – a glittering affair,” Mei Ling said. Her tone was neither warm nor cold, just subdued. “The food was heavenly, and there were so many entertainers. Every important person in town must be there at the party. The function was held to raise fund for charity, and Jim was one of the organizers. You know, that guy is loaded. One day when we get married, I will be able to travel around the world and enjoy all the luxuries. Jim is a property tycoon and has investments in many countries. But he seldom talked about his wealth or his work.” Then Mei Ling added in jest, “ It’s a pity that your boy friend, Steve, comes from a humble background; otherwise I go for him too.” Michelle smiled. She was still thinking about what happened the previous night. She left Mei Ling in the hall. Mei Ling seemed so happy and energetic that morning, singing aloud while doing her physical exercise. Michelle admired her carefree ways. She went into the bathroom, and looked at her face in the bathroom mirror. She realized she appeared a little tired, but still looked radiantly beautiful. She wondered again whether Steve touched her or kissed her in the night without her knowing. Her face was aglow. Her face was flushed with a reddish glow. Could this be due to her natural shyness as she thought about the night she spent in Steve’s apartment, or could it be due to a sense of newfound happiness? She wondered. She continued to wonder while she was bathing and dressing up to get ready to go to the office.

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Six
Dr Madini Mephis was alone in his office, waiting for a call from one of his agents in Singapore. He paced up and down impatiently, glanced at his wristwatch every now and then, and muttered to himself. Then, his mobile phone rang. He answered immediately. 'Doing what?' he shouted. The caller repeated the message, 'one of his friends was arrested by the Singapore Police for attempting to kidnap a reporter.' 'What the hell is going on?' Mephis yelled as he became very annoyed. 'Why do they get involved with reporters? Are they crazy? Anyhow, the important thing is to stay away from the police and the press and do not reveal any connection with us. Do you understand?' The call ended after Mephis gave some other instructions. A sense of panic was building up in him. He knew the Singapore Police. They were noted to be very efficient and had strong links with numerous intelligence organizations. He was sure the two Pakistani agents would not be let off Scots free, without lengthy interrogations. The Government there could detain them for questioning and investigations for years without trial. 'What a mess these people got into!' he mumbled. Mephis sank into the massive armchair in his office. He began to think hard and fast. So far, his operations had been very discreet. His network of agents had left no traces anywhere. These two Pakistani men would spill the beans, and his network would be blown apart. Something got to be done quickly. His agile mind conjured up a plan of action immediately. He went to his desk, switched on the computer, and emailed a message to Danielle telling her that he had to leave for Paris and would be back after a week. Danielle trusted him and he did not have to seek permission to leave Paris or even leave the country. Then he made a few calls to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. He drove straight to the Paris Orly Airport Hilton and left his car there. Then he took the hotel's limousine for the Orly Airport where he boarded the plane to KL International Airport in Malaysia.

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He landed at KL International Airport after a fourteen-hour flight. It was already two in the morning. During the entire flight, he had kept to himself and never talked to anyone. He was nervous and damp sweat broke out on her forehead, and could barely control the panic in his mind. Nobody was at the airport to meet him. So he hailed a taxicab, and mumbled, "Jalan Bukit Bintang." Then he leaned back against the seat. He would have to wait for several hours before meeting the guys from the Middle East in Malaysia, but it didn't matter. The taxicab turned into an expressway and sped along a dark road, lined with tall trees on both sides. As the vehicle swerved into the narrow city streets, it slowed down and cruised along the main road leading to the city center. It coasted past the Chinatown shophouses and stopped at a small hotel along Jalan Bukit Bintang. Mephis checked into the hotel under an assumed name. He entered his hotel room and stayed awake for two hours. He unpacked his things, bathed and went to a café downstairs to eat, and then went back to bed and slept until morning. At ten in the morning, he left the hotel and hailed a taxicab that was cruising along the streets. He gave some directions to the taxi-driver, speaking in Malay. The taxicab stopped outside a factory building in Sentul. He paid for the fares, slammed the vehicle door shut, and walked into the building. There was a grim silence as Mephis entered. Several burly looking men greeted him. They were nasty dark-skinned desperados or hard-luck hooligans from the Middle East. They looked rough and gross, and a little soldier-like. Enthusiastically, they shouted out in chorus, "Selamat Datang, Dr. M." They knew Dr Mephis as Dr. M and they could recognize him. The men, about five of them, were so fierce and tough that they'd make any Italian mafia sleep with a night-light. Then they huddled together and started their discussion, which took several hours. Dr. M gave the men a bag, which contained some money after the discussion. After the money was given to this mob of miserable humanity, the mood changed. There were loud cheers and laughter, and the discussion turned into wild chatter and banter. Mephis was in a jubilant mood as his taxicab stopped at Jalan Bukit Bintang. He walked over to the Petronas Tower, which stood at 451.9 metres high. He obtained a ticket and went to the skybridge, noted to be the highest skybridge in the world. Then he took a taxicab to Central Market, which had an art deco façade. After that, he strolled around the streets of Chinatown, and bought some clothes for his mother near Petaling Street. He later spent his time shopping around the Suria KLCC shopping complex. After completing his shopping, he returned to his hotel room. He relaxed in his armchair for a while, and then he took out his notebook and made a call to someone. He was jovial as he talked on the phone.

42

After making the calls, he asked for some food and drinks to be brought up to the room. He lit a cigarette. He stared at the mirror, then at the flowers and then switched on the television set. He sat down in the armchair again and watched the TV programmes desultorily. His thoughts were somewhere else as he grinned with the knowledge that he had achieved what he had set out to do in Malaysia. Then the doorbells rang. The hotel boy brought in the food and drinks and lay them neatly on the glass-top table, and left. A few minutes later, he heard the doorbells again. This time it was the person he was waiting for - Annie, the singer from a nearby nightclub. Mephis met her in Paris a few weeks ago, and she had returned to Kuala Lumpur after a three months' working tour of Europe. Mephis had slept with her in Paris and he had given her a diamond necklace as a going-away present. She could still recall the amazement on his face when he found he had taken a virgin. Mephis knew how to play it cool with girls. As he had a fair complexion and looked European and rich, some Asian girls liked him. Some people thought he had a "lean and hungry look" but when the occasion called for, he could be charming, soft-spoken and oozing out smooth talk and pleasantries. 'How very beautiful you look, Annie! Looks like the cool mountain air of the Alps had made you even more elegant and sweet,' he recited, without any real feelings. 'Dr. M, it was really a surprise to get a call from you in Kuala Lumpur. I immediately cancelled all my appointments to see you here. Thanks to you, I had a good time in Paris, especially the sightseeing. I will never forget the sceneries - The Eiffel Tower, the Grand Palace, the Louvres museum, Notre Dame, and the beautiful cathedrals.' She went on talking about Paris like a tour guide. They continued to talk at the dining table. The Malaysian dishes were delicious and soon food became a subject of conversation. Mephis was in top form. He smiled broadly and joked with Annie. As they got more intoxicated, Mephis even started singing a Malay song, "Rasa Sayang," which Annie taught him. As they sang the song together, he leaned towards her and hugged her close, humming the tune when he could not remember some words. He stroked her body and her arms and heard her moan as he touched her soft full breasts. He then led her to the bedroom. As he took off her blouse, he kissed her ardently. He still remembered her as the virgin girl he took in Paris. The feel of her body, vibrant and soft - this had been in his dreams for weeks. And her breasts, such magnificent breasts - they created a longing in him - to suck her full breasts and worship them in his dreams. He removed her bras and put his face against her bosom, sucking in all the pulsating sensations.

43

As she cradled him, she stroked his hair and face and murmured, "baby, baby." This was the way they had made love in Paris. She always played the role of his mother, cradling him and stroking his face and body, and enjoying the long sessions of "breast-feeding." She could even climax with the ferocity of the normal orgasm in this way. But his needs for her bosom love appeared to be even stronger, and he remained in this cradled position for a very long while. There seemed to be a tremendous hunger in his soul for motherly love, as he clung to her breasts, sucking in the sensations that filled this hunger, a hunger, wild and urgent, that over-shadowed sexual foreplay. At length, Annie had to take the initiative. She stroked his body gently and asked him to remove her sarong. He pulled the panties down and knelt in front of her. He was gentle like a baby as they made love, and managed to climax, despite having a mind swamped by constant pre-occupation with wicked plots and intrigues. This man of evil did have a soft side. Something about Annie really excited him. It could be the symmetry of her slender body. It could be her seductive look or the prominent bosom. He did think that there was something weak about a man who wanted to lay his head against a woman with big breasts. Oddly enough, thinking about it even made him excited. It was coming back to him now. He had shouted something when he hit the climax. Yes, he knew there had been other times with other girls with big breasts when he had shouted and could not remember his words afterwards. They made love again. Then, they both fell asleep, locked in an embrace. After Annie left him alone in the hotel room, he sank into the huge armchair and stared at the empty bed. He lit a cigarette and turned his thoughts to his work. He then picked up the newspaper that had arrived with his breakfast. He read about the prison killing in Singapore. He poured himself some coffee and sipped slowly, cheerful that he had completed his mission in Malaysia. Mephis stared at the mirror as he combed his hair. He looked at himself. He had grown thinner and there were some lines on his forehead, and a few shadowy folds below his eyes. He had not been sleeping well. Then he thought about meditation, which would help him to go to sleep. His thoughts led him to think of his two friends, Jim and Gopal in Singapore. He called Jim on the telephone, but his line was engaged Then he looked for Gopal's telephone number listed in his notebook, and called him, using his mobile phone. 'Hi, Gopal, this is Mephis. I am now in Kuala Lumpur on some business. Go to your Mount batten Place? Why sure? Day after tomorrow - it's okay.'

44

Later, he booked a flight to Singapore. He expected to have a long discussion with Gopal, the guru. He could always be sure of getting proper spiritual guidance from him, and good advice on other things. It was raining heavily when Mephis arrived in Singapore at twelve thirty at night. It was dark and slightly chilly. He took a cab from the airport. The roads seemed to be deserted, but still the drive from the airport to town took a very long time. It was almost 1.30 in the morning when he reached the hotel at Orchard Road. He went to bed after a quick wash. The next morning, he got up very early. He managed to contact Jim Manalo on the phone even before breakfast. His face was flushed and his hands were shaking. Jim seemed to be shouting at him on the phone. There was cold sweat on his forehead, as he spoke excitedly to Jim. Later he nodded his head and said, “Okay, I will set up the company in Singapore, and get a local to run it. You will provide the funds and control the finance. We will discuss the details later when we meet.” He managed to get in touch with Gopal, the guru, in the evening. They knew each other when they were students in a university. He took his dinner in the hotel café. A long ride from his hotel to Mountbatten Road followed. It was a dark and rainy night. He dropped off a few blocks from Gopal’s residence that was used as a temple. He looked nervously behind him as he walked briskly along the dark road. There were pools of water on the road reflecting flickers of light. As he walked past a few big houses, he could hear the dogs barking at him. Shadows were everywhere. He noticed some lights shimmering from the car windows of a few cars parked inside the driveways of the houses. When he reached Gopal’s house, he pressed the doorbell. An Indian boy came out of the house to open the garden gate. He greeted Mephis, ‘Good evening, Sir. Follow me, please.’ Mephis entered the hall. He thought he had entered a religious shrine. It was cluttered with religious ornamental objects. The atmosphere was electrifying. The smell of dead flowers, and incense and smoke hit his nose. There were flickers of light from the lamps and urns. In the middle of the hall was a platform with a human figure sitting on a chair. The life-like figure seemed to be staring at him. He felt nervous, although he realized it was a plainly a statue. When Gopal appeared, he became more composed, but his fear had not been dispelled completely. Even Gopal’s appearance was shocking to him. He thought Gopal looked queer with his shaven head and bare body that was smattered with white and yellow paints. Gopal noticed his nervousness and laughed as he spoke, ‘Hi, Mephis, you must have felt that you have entered another world. How are you?”

45

Mephis felt relieved to see Gopal and hear his familiar voice. They shook hands – two persons from two different worlds. One was the head of an Inter-religious organization in Singapore imbued with wisdom and piety; the other a man of business and intrigue with an unpredictable and often nasty disposition. Gopal ushered his old friend into his study, a large Spartan looking room at the back of the house. The room was cluttered with furniture and religious objects. Gopal was full of praise for Mephis. He knew him as a learned man, a scholar. He did not realize that the moving finger of time had changed Madini Mephis. The person in front of him at the moment was no longer the scholar and gentleman he knew in the university decades ago. But then despite his intellect and religious training, Gopal could never fathom the mind of the person who sat opposite him in the study. Pleasantries were exchanged, and there were reflections on the good old university days. Beyond that, Gopal could not penetrate the deep and mysterious mind of Mephis, a man of the world, a Parisien, a man with global influence. He sighed inwardly, reflecting how far apart they had been. It was ages and ages hence, and the gap between them was a social distance between East and West. The two friends chatted on for hours. Mephis had enquired about the set-up of religious schools in Singapore, and the possibility of getting religious teachers to visit the country. He tempted Gopal by offering to help his religious organization to get more funds from abroad. After Mephis had exhausted the questions on this subject, he thanked Gopal for a wonderful evening and bade him farewell. The following morning, Mephis met Jim Manalo. He briefed Jim about the information he had obtained from Gopal. They talked in whispers in Jim’s office about the setting up of a company and a charitable organization for religious purposes. Both laughed aloud when they appeared to have reached agreement on some issues. The next day, Mephis met a few professionals in Singapore and had further discussions. He stayed on for a few more days in Singapore before flying back to Paris.

46

Seven
The Duty Officer, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, of the Katong Police Station was told that two men were found outside the station gate. He immediately instructed some of his men to carry them into the Station's lock-up. He checked their belongings and found some documents, which he took away for investigations. He found a note signed by an officer of C.I.O. alleging that these two men attempted to kidnap a lady. He called the officer, Steve Lee, to be at the Police Station to make a report. Then he checked the identification documents of the two men. They were found to be Pakistani, and the passports and work permits were false. So they had to be detained for questioning. Steve Lee arrived with Michelle. Their statements were recorded. The Pakistani men would be charged for attempted kidnapping, illegal entry into the country and possession of false travel and work documents. This case seemed quite cut and dry to the Station. But the Duty Officer later pulled Steve aside and asked how the two men, so burly and fierce, could be made unconscious by Steve so easily. Steve just laughed it off, and whispered to the Officer, 'We used a secret weapon in our intelligence organization because we suspected that these two men might have links with terrorists. We would still need to have access to them in prison.' The process of law did not take long. The two Pakistani, Malik and Latiff, found themselves in a Remand Prison. Both of them were placed in the same cell, meant for four persons. They were imprisoned for several charges involving illegal entry and use of false documents, for which they would be caned and sentenced to imprisonment of two years. A further charge of kidnapping would be heard in court later; so they were placed in remand. Malik and Latiff were still half asleep when they heard the bell for morning muster followed by a loud and rather stern warning message that was announced over the intercom speakers. Instantly, they sprang up, folded the blankets and the straw mats, rubbed those drowsy eyes, yawned, coughed and at once stood to attention in readiness for muster. Having been drilled daily for two weeks in remand, they knew they had to wait patiently and stand erect to greet the inspecting officer. Then came the sound of footsteps. In the silence of the cell, the sound of someone stomping around with heavy leather boots appeared strange and threatening. In the afternoon, they were taken to the prison yard to have their baths. The place was crowded with inmates, but they found a quiet corner to bathe. But after a while, several people joined them.

47

As the inmates lined up for the head-count before they were taken back into their cells, there was a commotion among the prison wardens. The count did not tally. Two prisoners were found missing. The process of counting took time, and everybody became a little impatient, and noise began to erupt. Another count was made. Again, it was the same result. At this point, the alert Duty Officer immediately sounded the alarm. Then came the shrill sound of the sirens. Words went round that two prisoners had escaped. Wardens with guns came in to ensure security and to search for the missing prisoners. . Furiously, the wardens searched every nook and corner of the remand prison. They checked every cell in the prison. Heavy steel doors creaked as they were opened, and then slammed shut with a loud clang-clang noise. The atmosphere was tense. Grim looking wardens with stern and solemn faces began to question everyone. Warden ran around panic-stricken. Then abruptly, the running around stopped and there was a deadly stillness in the air. The two men had been found - dead. They died with their throats slit. They were killed while they bathed the two Pakistani men, Malik and Latiff. The reports came to C.I.O. late in the evening. Both Steve Lee and Michelle had been notified. Steve kept silent. He knew that he had missed a good chance to get pertinent information from the two Pakistani men. He also knew that the reasons for their untimely death. Someone, out there, somewhere, wanted the two men dead. Undaunted, Steve drove alone to the remand prison. He spoke to the Superintendent and asked for the full list of new inmates for the last fourteen days, with photostat copies of their dossiers. He explained the importance of this investigation to his organization, and clarified that he would work along with the authorities to find the culprits responsible for the death of the two Pakistani men. Mephis was still in the Jalan Ampang hotel in the company of Annie when he read the newspapers, which carried a report about the prison killing. He was silent when Annie asked him to take her shopping. She needed a new dress for her gala performance in a government function. Feeling more relaxed and confident, he agreed to Annie's request. They left the hotel in a taxicab and headed for one of the most expensive boutique in town. While Annie was making a selection, he used his mobile phone and made several calls, ending with a lot of "Terima Kaseh." After the shopping trip with Annie, he visited a number of business associates in Kuala Lumpur. After concluding some business deals, he decided to return to Paris. Meanwhile, Steve helped Michelle to sieve through files of the few thousand new inmates who entered the remand prison during the last fourteen days. They shortlisted about a hundred odd foreigners who either came from Malaysia, Indonesia or the Middle East. Steve intended to interview them to look for clues as to the culprits' identities.

48

For several weeks, Steve plodded away all day looking through dossiers and interviewing the prisoners. For the ordinary person, the work would be an exercise in futility. Even with the use of the lie detector, it would be difficult to make any headway. But Steve was no ordinary person. He was better than the lie detector. He could read people's minds. It was a Tuesday morning, a week after the prison killing. Steve was again in the remand prison. He had spent the day checking the details involving ten inmates. Everything went according to his schedule. He had felt good. He came to one of the most fearsome burly Bangladesh man, whose name was Farouk. The man reiterated that he came to Singapore from Malaysia to find work, but was arrested when he started a fight at a coffee shop. Steve probed his mind. He was telling the truth. But his thought waves revealed that he knew Malik and Latiff, and was paid to kill them. There was indication that the persons who hired him were two Bangladesh men who met Farouk in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur. He did not know their names and they had put thirty thousand ringgit into his bank account at Sentul. The investigation drew a blank, if Steve was an ordinary person. But he recorded mentally the images of the two Bangladesh men when Farouk gave him a description of their appearance and the conversation that took place. Steve later shared his views with the police investigating team. He suggested that they should use the lie detector to get information from Farouk. The team was bewildered but they went along with Steve's suggestions. At last, Farouk was apprehended for his part in the prison killing. But who hired Farouk? The Police did not go further from there.

49

Eight
Steve's jaws were hard as he returned to his office. He was disappointed with the police investigation team that helped him to get information on possible terrorists' links with the killing of the two Pakistani men in prison. Now after spending such a long time in the grim and grimy prison hole, and isolated within the steel cage for so many days with people who did not care about death, but only cared about numbers, he still had no clues about the terrorists' organizations behind the prison killings. He remembered the chill that made him shiver, as he gazed into the evil eyes of Farouk in prison. The rattle of his heavy steel chains around his ankles and neck, made him aware of the serious nature of his investigation. Farouk was in PC - a punishment cell that was dark and grim. No gleams of sunlight penetrated the damp and gloom of that cell, and yet, despite the smell of death and of urine in this classic chamber of horror and feeling the gloom of despair and misery in the prisoner's eyes, he persisted to check out every bit of information he could get from the sick mind of this miserable killer. But the moment he reached his office, he sprang into action. He talked to Michelle about his plan of taking the investigation to Malaysia, and asked her to accompany him. Both of them then had a discussion with K1 who agreed with the proposal. The organization would defray all expenses incurred in this exercise. Steve wasted no time to make the preparations. He collected more information about Farouk from the prison authorities, and took away copies of dossiers of ten other inmates. He then drove to Michelle's house to pick her up. Michelle's face was radiant, and glowed with happiness. Lately, she looked forward to be with Steve. Since the incident at the Lion City Hotel, she felt attracted to Steve's mysterious personality. Sometimes she would stare at him, and admire his smile and the boyish grin on his face. She used to regard his good-natured grin as an expression of his boyish nature. But her feelings towards him had changed. Her resistance appeared to have become liquefied whenever he flashed an easy grin at her. The charisma of the grin was electrifying. She desired him, though she would not acknowledge it. But there was still a mental block between the two. She just could not put aside the mental picture of Robin, and still treated Steve as second best. Steve, on the other hand, always had a soft spot for Michelle. Even when she berated him like an untamed shrew, he would still respond with warmth, patience and love. Right now, as she stepped into his car, looking so beautiful and alluring, he became intoxicated with her charm.

50

The Mercedes cruised along Bukit Timah Road, heading towards the causeway leading to Malaysia. It took them about half an hour to reach the Malaysian side of the causeway. After they reached Johor Bahru, the Malaysian town nearest to Singapore, they decided to take the Highway. The car cruised along the long and lonely expressway. Michelle leaned back in a relaxed mood, as she listened to the music. Playfully, she touched Steve's shoulders and drew the letter "G", as they reached Gemas. Steve smiled at her, and asked her to sleep awhile, as it would take another two hours before they could reach Kuala Lumpur. Then Michelle asked, 'Do you have any drinks in the car?' He nodded and fumbled to take out a small flask from the car door. She opened the flask and drank directly from it; then she passed it to Steve to drink. Steve put the flask against his lips. He could taste Michelle's lips sticks. He felt elated with the intimacy shown to him. Then he touched her soft arm, stroking it lightly. He noticed that her eyes were closed, and she did not move her arm away. He continued stroking it, and glanced at her lovely face once in a while. Noticing later that she had fallen asleep, Steve slowed the vehicle down to cruising speed, and drove on. Suddenly, a Malaysian car overtook Steve's car and steered into his lane. The car slowed down, and the driver motioned him to stop. Steve had heard about the spate of highway robberies in Malaysia, and he sensed danger at once. He stopped his vehicle, but he did not leave the car. He took out his Mobile phone from his pocket and held it in his right hand in readiness. His face shone with a grim and arrogant look. His eyes were cold as he stared at the three hooligans walking towards his car with weapons in their hands. He gritted his teeth and waited for them to come nearer. Before they could reach his car, Steve fired the beams at the three men in quick succession. They fell down like ninepins. Steve noticed that Michelle's eyes were still closed and she was not aware of what had transpired. He reversed the vehicle a little to get away from the unconscious bodies lying by the roadside. He turned the steering, changed to forward gear and drove off with a loud roar from the engine exhaust. He was not bothered with highway robbers. His heart was cold towards tough mobs and rough hooligans. 'Let them die on the road or rot there! Who cares?' he murmured. He was not in a good mood as he pressed the accelerator down to the car floor, driving at high speed for several minutes. Then suddenly his thoughts turned to the lovely Michelle besides him. He slowed down the vehicle and cruised along the highway. He took a quick glance at Michelle and stroke her shoulders as she continued snoozing in a sideway position with her face towards him. Only then, his eyes turned warm and loving, and the boyish grin returned to light up his countenance.

51

It was a long and tiring drive along the Highway to get to Kuala Lumpur. Steve had to be alert, because of the large number of heavy vehicles using the same road. At certain stretches, there were jams and the road surface was uneven. It was really a nerve wrecking experience for him. He kept cool, listening to music, as the car overtook the heavy vehicles and drove on, town after town. Finally, Steve smiled as he noticed the exit sign for Kuala Lumpur. He swerved the car out of the expressway into one of the main roads leading to the city center. Steve cruised along Ampang Road. He woke Michelle up to look at the twin towers of Petronas Tower and its double deck skybridge. After visiting the skybridge, they drove to the next destination, the Menara Tower, noted to be the fourth tallest communication tower in the world. They parked the vehicle and went to the top of the building and stood at the observation deck to get a panoramic view of Kuala Lumpur. They stood close to each other as they watched the distant hills, including the Genting Highlands. Steve glanced at Michelle as she stood there like a goddess, her long hair fluttering with the soft wind, and her face filled with excitement. The air at this height was cool, and she seemed to shiver in her thin cotton blouse. Steve put his arms around her. Their eyes met for a few seconds. She gave him a smile and looked down. He observed the natural shyness in her, and held her shoulders tightly. Then they talked softly, pointing at the scenery below and the hills and buildings in the distance, pretending that nothing had happened. From the top of the Menara Tower, Steve could see Sentul with his telescopic vision. He fixed his eyes on the bank mentioned by the prisoner, Farouk. He noted the roads around there, and compared them with those shown in his street directory. Michelle looked at his serious face, and was amused She could see Steve as a man who could combine fun and work. It required a lot of self-discipline. After they descended from the Menara Tower, they returned to their car and drove to the Park Plaza Hotel at Ampang Road. Michelle had never been in a hotel with a man. Before checking in at the Reception Counter of the hotel, she sat in a massive armchair at the hotel lobby and indulged in flights of fancy. What if Steve were to sign for one room for both? Would she agree to such an arrangement? For a brief moment, she looked perplexed. Her heart was pounding and there was thrill and excitement building up in her, quite inexplicably. It turned out to be a moot point. Steve was too timid, and too much of a gentleman to do that. She was a little restless as she stood in her own hotel room, staring at the walls, the fridge, the television set and the flowers. Then she went into the bathroom. She took off her thin blouse and touched her own shoulders reflecting on the moments when Steve placed his arms there. She took off her bras and looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. The good Lord had indeed given her a beautiful face and a flawless complexion. Her body was gorgeous. God had been good to her. She then showered, and later slipped into a thin cotton dress, and walked into the bedroom. Then he watched television, and made a call to her friend, Jane, gossiping with her for quite a long while.

52

After talking to Jane, she called Steve who occupied the adjoining room. They agreed to meet at the hotel restaurant and nightclub for dinner at 8 p.m. Steve would reserve a table under his name. At five minutes to eight, she entered the elevator. The operator punched the button to the restaurant on the second storey. Michelle walked towards the reception desk, and one of the girls ushered her to the table reserved under Steve's name. She was just drinking a glass of red wine when Steve entered. It was a sumptuous dinner. The food was good. The hotel had engaged a chef who had worked in a famous restaurant in Paris. Steve talked confidently about food. He knew all the places in Singapore where he could get special food. Michelle knew that Steve could afford to indulge in this kind of gastronomic luxury, because of his double earnings. He obtained a good pay from the C.I.O. and kept the earnings from his clinic. She changed the subject, and asked Steve, 'what should I tell my friends about your profession? Shall I tell them that you're a shrink or a psycho guy?' He laughed, offering her another glass of sherry, 'just say I am C.I.-5, as you always call me. Don’t' worry, people will never believe you. Or you can choose to say I'm a writer, in accordance with the directive of K1.' 'Can you hypnotize a person, Steve?' she was curious. 'Sure thing, it is just our bread and butter business. But not everybody can respond to suggestions or go into a hypnotic state. Sometimes, you may need to administer a drug as an aid in inducing hypnosis. Drugs like Sodium Amytal and Sodium Pentothal taken orally 30 minutes before hypnosis can help to increase waking suggestibility and get a person into a hypnotic state.' 'What about ESP? Is there such a thing?' she persisted. He hesitated for a while and quoting a Greek proverb, he said, 'There is a proverb about ESP that 'a truth spoken before its time can be quite dangerous.' Once upon a time, King Croesus of Lydia in ancient Greece wanted to invade Persia. He consulted the oracle in Delphi on that matter, trying to find out the likelihood of success. The oracle told him that if he crossed the river, a great kingdom would be destroyed. The king confidently set out to war. However the kingdom he destroyed was his own.' 'Interesting,' she commented, 'but what is ESP? Does it include stuff like telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition?

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He nodded, and continued, 'Extrasensory perception or ESP is the ability to obtain information beyond the limitations of our five known senses - taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing. It is sometimes called our "sixth sense". ESP happens normally in everyday life, like when you simply have a feeling something important is going to happen for no reason and it does. Feelings of deja vue are believed to be forgotten precognition dreams. ESP also includes clairvoyance, which is remote perception, and as regards telepathy, it is the direct transmission of messages, or emotions from one person to another without the use of any sensory channel of communication. An interesting example of ESP comes from a young woman who woke around 2.00 a.m. with an urgent feeling that she had to go and see a friend very close to her. When she finally went to see her friend later that day, she found out that about the same time, her friend had been fighting off a rape attempt. ESP can take the form of a hunch, an uncanny feeling, an intuitive impression, or it can be stronger and more defiant, such as a flash, an image, or a warning voice, or vision. Everybody has an extra sense beyond the five known senses relied upon. One must accept the fact that some persons do experience and are capable of exhibiting such powers. For example, in the course of practice of mental concentration such as in Yoga, some people develop such mental powers "siddhis," and even skeptics admit that the state is a kind of altered consciousness. My ESP tells me that you are going to ask about psychokinetic energy next. Is that right?' Michelle was surprised, but she thought that it was just a shrewd guess on his part. She laughed, and drank some more sherry. She was impressed that he could talk so glibly about the subject, but like most people she was skeptical about claims that direct mind-to-mind communication existed. She could not resist needling him with a little sarcasm, 'well Steve, you may be wasting your time studying parapsychology, which we know is a new science, but it is a science that cannot even demonstrate that its subject matter exists, let alone offer explanations for it.' Steve laughed, and avoided further questioning by asking Michelle to accompany him to the dance floor. She was already slightly intoxicated at this point, and was all smiles as he took her soft hands and walked with her to the dance floor. He held her close as they danced to the tune of a romantic song. He felt the warmth of her body and her sweet fragrance. He stroked her back, giving her a thrilling sensation, and she placed her head close to his, dancing cheek to cheek. Soon they were in a whirlpool of emotions, sucking in the new sensations of being in close contact with each other. There appeared to be a voltage of electricity flowing through their bodies and souls, binding them together. Whatever past differences or irritations between them, seemed to have vaporized. They stood there, still moving in harmony with the music, but their two hearts began to beat as one. But even as she held Steve close to her in this moment of enchantment, Michelle could not dismiss her thoughts of Robin Hood, the guy who mesmerized her with his warmth and wit, through her regular emails with him.

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But Michelle was weak as a human being. Months of longing for love and affection and years of deprivation of parental attention, made her particularly vulnerable to Steve's charm. And she was curious about sex too. She had on occasions dreamed of love-making with her fantasy man, Robin - a man of super intelligence and wisdom, and one who possessed the charisma of James Bond, and handsomer than all the films stars that had ever acted in that role. She thought Steve's handsome features were good enough, but intelligence and wisdom - she had doubts. That guy behaved oddly at times, and had irritated her. Sometimes, he seemed to be in another world of his own, transfixed into another dimension of time. And all those odd things he bandied about - ESP, Para-psychology, Psycho-kinetic energy, which he claimed to know were just a small part of his many eccentricities - no wonder people had said that psychologists and psychiatrists soon became as abnormal in personality as their patients. They were queer people - oddballs. But she could not resist the strange sensations that sent thrills and excitement to all parts of her body - those pulsating passions that completely engulfed her whole being. Perhaps, her senses were partly numbed through a little intoxication, but perhaps she really desired him. So she followed him meekly to his room after the dinner and dance date - their first date. It was one hell of a start. Michelle found herself floating in the air, holding on to Steve as she stood in the center of his bedroom. The room was swirling around her. Vague images of the dim lights, the TV shows, more drinks, and the feel of Steve's hands on her body, flashed through her mind. Then she lay on the sofa with her eyes closed, giggling as she held Steve tightly against her. They kissed passionately. Her passion grew, wild and urgent. Her hands clutched his arms and shoulders as though she was clutching branches of a tree to stop her from falling down a cliff. She grabbed at him in jerky motions, and her body and limbs swayed and wriggled in convulsive movements. Steve unbuttoned her thin cotton blouse, exposing her bras. His fingers touched her neck, gently stroking it, and inching downwards under the bras to feel the soft warm breasts. Her body gyrated and trembled as he squeezed her hard and exposed her bare bosom to his gaze. She felt a sense of panic, as he slowly undressed her down to her panties and bras. His fingers fumbled with the bras. It fell to the ground. As they kissed, he touched her sensitive areas in the bosom and between her legs. Her sighs turned into inaudible hoarse moans and groans, but as he tried to remove her panties, she resisted with her hands and legs. She kissed him gently and implored him not to go further. In her heart, she knew she was not ready for more. She still carried the torch for someone she had not met but had filled her dreams with passionate longings. Yes, the Robin Hood that touched her lives through the net had cast a dark shadow over her relationship with someone real and near to her. No wonder Steve felt a sense of being letdown, as he stood back - his disappointment evident - but he was not angry. He could read her thoughts and he respected her wishes. She dressed and returned to her own room.

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Nine
Steve was red-faced as Michelle entered his room in the early morning. She took the initiative. She leaned towards him as he was standing near the entrance, wringing his hands, and kissed him on the lips. She snuggled up to him, and pressed his cheeks. Her apologies for the disappointment caused during the previous night were thus conveyed without a single word being uttered. After breakfast, Steve wasted no time. He drove the car to the Hotel entrance to pick up Michelle. 'Let's hope we find something in Sentul, this morning,' he opened the conversation. 'C.I.-5, let's go,' she quipped. They drove into Sentul-Timor, and went straight to the bank. There he met an Assistant Superintendent of Police, Mr. Samad, from the Malaysian Internal Security Department. The Twig in Selangor had arranged for this, in order to give Steve a hand in the investigations. Steve, Mr. Samad and Michelle then entered Manager's room. They went through the records, and looked at the video recordings of the bank's premises on the day when the thirty thousand ringgit was deposited into the bank account of Farouk. After almost an hour, they found the video-cassette. As the cassette was being replayed, Steve's eyes spotted two men that matched the recorded images in his mind. He pointed them out to the police officer, and asked for a check on their whereabouts. Mr. Samad was amazed how Steve could spot the two men, but he chose to keep quiet. They followed the police officer to his huge office building. There were so many files and so many computers in his department. The Malaysians kept detailed records of the foreigners residing in each state and each town. They knew some of them were up to mischief, and they had secretly monitored their movements. But still, it took several hours to sieve through the records to find the two Bangladesh men, with the aid of the pictures from the cassette tape, taken from the bank. The search ended successfully. The two men were identified as Thiru and Menon from Bangladesh, and they could be found in a factory at Sentul. Mr. Samad decided that the best way to handle the matter would be to round up everybody in the Sentul factory, and bring them back to his department for questioning. Steve called K1 in his organization and reported to him what had transpired, and obtained the go-ahead for the raid to be carried out at midnight on the same day. 'No time should be wasted,' said K1 on the mobile phone.

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So Steve and Michelle found themselves inside a dark police van with Mr. Samad. The police party consisted of five patrol cars and two police vans. Each van carried ten special combat-trained riot squad policemen, armed with automatic weapons. The police party moved along a stretch of road, which was pitch-dark. There were no street lamps, and few cars traveled along the roads at this time of the night. Silence was maintained as they turned into smaller lanes near the factory building at Sentul. As the vehicles screeched to a halt along the dark lane, the headlights were turned off. Quietly, the doors of the police vehicles were opened, and the policemen stealthily leaped out one by one. Soon they took positions around the building. The instructions given to everyone were very clear. They must attempt to take the people inside alive. But this was easier said than done. As soon as one of the policemen tried to open a steel door, the security alarm sounded and within seconds, gunfire broke out. The occupants were firing at the police with automatic weapons and grenades. Loud explosions were heard everywhere, and some of the police vehicles caught fire. Thundering footsteps were heard as the police personnel moved around to find places that were less exposed. There was a rush to take cover, as the firepower from the building appeared to have increased. Then there was a wail of anguish and a yell that pierced the air like an arrow shot from a great distance, as one of the policemen was shot. The gun battle became more intense as the police party returned fire. More police vehicles were burnt, as rocket launchers were used against the police. Mr. Samad later realized that they had stumbled upon a factory where terrorists manufactured weapons and bombs, and called for reinforcements from the police and the army. The silent raid turned into a full-scale battle as helicopters and the troops joined in. Steve realized that his plan would be a flop, if the battle raged on, and everyone inside were killed. The police and army commanders discussed the situation briefly, and it was agreed that nerve gas would be used against the terrorists. As the gun battle continued, the troops wearing gas masks moved forward, and fired the nerve gas into the building. They did not expect the terrorists to be well equipped. They had put on their gas masks, and were returning fire without any pause. Steve had to act. He went into a quiet corner where he could not be seen by anyone, and used the full power of his mobile phone to beam into the building. The beams pierced through concrete and steel. They weaved and turned like tracer-rockets to seek out sources of heat in the human bodies and in smoking weapons. After a few minutes, there was silence within the building. The troops ordered 'ceased firing,' and waited. The commanders were satisfied that the nerve gas had knocked out all the terrorists within the building, and orders to move in were given.

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They were caught and handcuffed - all fifteen of them. They lay there unconscious, still with their gas masks on. They came from various countries. Among them, were the two Bangladesh men, Thiru and Menon. The commanders were perplexed. They wondered why the gas masks used by the terrorists became ineffective all of a sudden. But they did not bother to check this out, and dismissed it as a futile question thinking that it would take time for the nerve gas to take effect. Steve and Michelle returned to their office in Singapore with bagfuls of documents, dossiers and other evidence. But after checking these through, there were no leads, except the name, "Dr. M from Paris." None of those caught during the raid had seen Dr. M.

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Ten
It took a few days for things to return to normal. Steve went back to his clinic. A few days away, and there was so much work there. He shook his head as he entered the clinic. The first case appeared interesting to him. This man had come to see him because he had been making love to his wife with startling infrequency. His wife first brought this up and made light of it, ' Hey, are you having a touch time in the office nowadays handling the business in this economic gloom, or are you playing too much golf? Have you forgotten me?' she asked. The man said he had gone to a doctor for a check-up and asked for a B-12 shot. The doctor said that he did not need to take the B-12 shot. So he came to see a psychologist. So the psychotherapy began. Endless hours of talking to find the root cause of the man's problem. Another appointment was given at the end of the session. Another patient came in. a man, Joe, in his thirties. He had been treated for split personality disorder. He had told Steve that he felt like two people, as if someone else was in him. He sometimes had sudden and violent mood changes. The core 'person' in this case of a multiple personality is generally not aware of the other personalities at first, and it can be many years before the condition is diagnosed. One part of Joe was a nice person, while the 'bad' part was Robert. At the beginning, Joe was the dominant side, with Robert only surfacing once in a while during times of stress. Joe cared about his family and friends and enjoyed a joke; Robert treated people rudely and threw things around. As time went on, Robert appeared more and more, until after sometime, Robert became the dominant person. Joe now realized and accepted the fact that he had a problem and he was given treatment. Then came another patient, and another. Steve began to feel the tedium of this line of work. He was also disappointed with his work as C.I.-5. After some much effort put in, his work there had developed into a gigantic zero. And Michelle, it was hell taking the letdown from her. It affected his ego. 'Damn it, these women, they live in a fantasy world,' he sensed the depression building up and he could not ignore it. He must go somewhere by himself, otherwise he would end up like one of his patients. Thank God he had other talents, and at the moment some special powers. Yes, he thought it would be a good idea to go away - anywhere, away from work for a spell.

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He was in a relaxed mood as he cruised along the expressway leading to his apartment. The deejays of a radio station seemed to know his thoughts, spinning out several selections of soft romantic music that matched his mood. Then came the melodious tune of "Moulin Rouge" and it struck a chord in his heart. When the song ended, he exclaimed, "oui, Le tour Eiffel. Comment aller a Paris?" His thoughts turned to the invitation from Denise, his favorite girl from gay Paris. Steve was fortunate to be able to contact Denise through email. In fact at that moment, Danielle who used the name “Denise” for her emails, was getting ready to fly to another South American country for business. Danielle was of course delighted to know that “Robin” agreed to meet her in Paris. She had not seen Robin in person. Though the words expressed through the emails were warm and affectionate, she still wanted confirmation of such warmth and affection in a real life situation. She realized that people could be wearing masks to deceive others in the Internet, where a veil of anonymity was placed. Although Robin had not told her how he looked, she somehow felt that he could not be a fat and ugly man. Her heart was throbbing whenever she imagined how he looked, the dress he would wear and the way he would walk and talk. It would be like meeting a blind date. At last, the veil of love between them would be lifted. Would it be a moment of truth, a moment when the glittering light of true love breaks through, or a dark hellish moment of revelation of deceit and lies, and of disappointment and despair? All the risks notwithstanding, honest disclosure and actual meeting between two hearts, should prevail over the keeping of a veil of ignorance and doubt and a shroud of mystery that had kept them apart and stunted the growth of a loving relationship between them. He had not forgotten the “Princess.” He still did not realize that the “Princess” was actually Michelle. There were several emails from her. Steve patiently read through the correspondence from her. Behind the words, he could detect deep feelings of loneliness and frustrations in her. He started composing something to comfort her. It was not an easy task, as he did not wish to get emotionally involved with the person; neither did he like to be used by her as an emotional crutch. He needed to be careful even when exchanging views and information with some friendly souls on the Internet. After almost half an hour of drafting, he wrote, ‘My dear Princess, faith in God can help in overcoming sorrow, miseries, loneliness and boredom. If tears were indelible ink, instead of clear fluid, all of us would be stained for life as we live through tragedies, disappointments, loneliness, frustrations and pain all the time. Life is never a bunch of roses, except the fortunate few. For a princess like you who live in a castle, perhaps the heartbreaking circumstances may be fewer and less severe. But for many of us, we constantly have to endure the pain and anguish of being shunned, abused or taunted for our mistakes and omissions in work, finance or social relationships, leading to failures. Such is the groan and grind of life. Human relationships at whatever levels are unpredictable and fragile. Ties of friendship or even kinships can also be weak. Love could turn to hate when things go wrong. Things could take a sudden turn and you could end up getting brutal verbal blows even from friends and people you love or have loved. But life or love, with all its pressures and inequities,

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tears and sorrows, tragedies or tattered dreams, can be lived on a level above its miseries. Faith in life or in the Almighty, the hope that springs eternal in the human heart and an indomitable courage to conquer life’s bitter battles, can help to overcome the many problems and challenges we face in life’s journey and the grim years of loneliness and despair. Life is like a compulsory roller coaster ride. You can close your eyes tight and let fear overwhelm you, or you can face up to each turn, each twist and each fall, overcome your fear and anxiety, take things as a challenge, and exult in the thrills and spills. We should always face life boldly. Get on the “roller coaster ride” or your life’s journey. Reflect on your heartaches and pain. Bear it with the attitude of that even when you are in the deep dark pit of despair, there is still hope and a chance to rebuild your life. Even if the heartaches and pain bring you to profound depths of anguish, remember it is that anguishing point that you either submit yourself to meet the challenges, learn the lessons of life and develop your resolve and maturity of character; or give up the struggle, give up hope, and become frustrated and despairing, and become embittered, drown by self-pity, smothered by self-will.’ Steve read one email from the “Princess” again and again. She betrayed her warm affections towards him. The words showed the tender and loving side of the writer. “Robin, something awful happened in the neighborhood last night. The ambulance came to our housing estate, and took away the dead body of a young girl who hanged herself. It seems that she committed suicide, because of unrequited love. Robin, I knew this lady. She was a very nice person, very gentle and helpful to others, and well educated. She was sweet girl with a beautiful smile and a gentle trusting nature. It’s so horrible for things like this to happen. It shows us that life is fragile, and love is a very powerful emotion. If I love a person like you, and you do not care a hoot about me, will I get so upset that I would choose death, than having to go through life without love? Would you feel sad in the circumstances? This is really a painful lesson on love. Can we bear to live on without the love of someone we really love? Can we bear the sorrow of lost love, sighing and crying through the passage of time, until we grow old, stooped and weary of life?” Steve was touched and later penned a reply to comfort her, before going to bed. He had to sleep early, as he would be taking an early flight to Paris. Danielle waited at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport information counter, wearing a yellow dress and a hat of the same colour and as Steve walked towards the counter, he noticed her at once. He greeted her with a face beaming with joy, and asked, 'Bonjour Madamoiselle, etes vous Denise?' 'Oui,' she replied, looking at the tall handsome man before her. Then she corrected herself, and switching to English, she said, 'actually, my name is Danielle, but you know, I used 'Denise' as a name for correspondence with people I don't know. And you, you cannot be Robin Hood, the outlaw of bygone days?'

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Then he flashed an easy grin and laughed. Their eyes met. Her clear blue eyes fascinated him. He stood there spellbound. Still gazing at her, he clarified that his real name was Steve Lee, not “Robin”. For a few minutes, neither of them spoke a word, while their eyes remained fixed on each other and held there in mutual admiration. In Danielle's heart, all her doubts and uncertainties about Robin or Steve had vapourised. Steve was everything she had been dreaming about - a gentleman without equal. He was amusing and charming. She liked the way he looked at her, smiling with a boyish grin on his face, and exuding warmth that filled her longing heart. She liked the way he walked. His gait and poise reminded her of her father - gliding along in big steps like a trained military officer. She could tell that he was strong and athletic. His remarkable charisma and a cheerful disposition hit her like a voltage of electric currents, paralyzing her composure. She stared at him in wonder, just to assure herself that he was real. She wanted to lean forward and kiss him, but knowing that he was from the East, she was not sure whether it would be all right. She desired him, more than what she would admit to herself. God to break through this air of formality at their first meeting …to hold his hands for a while ….to be in his arms for a few seconds! She noticed that he was a little embarrassed because of the silence. She quickly regained her composure and held his hand, leading the way to her waiting limousine parked outside the airport entrance. There was so much to talk about. They chatted on and on at the back of the vehicle. She wanted to know everything about Steve - his childhood, school days and his education overseas and an idea of his career. Steve concealed the part of his life involving C.I.O., as he had sworn to keep its secrets. Danielle, on the other hand, was quite open about her work and business. She even revealed her financial interests in keeping a number of weapons factories. Steve was amazed that his sweet young friend was so capable, and so rich and powerful. He saw in her a picture of innocence. She was without guile and had a wonderful sense of self-esteem and integrity. He felt the need to shield her, to protect and to love her, knowing that her work and business could be tainted by devilish intrigues and deceitful manipulations. Danielle showed that she was above conventions. She suggested that Steve should stay in her villa. He could occupy one of the rooms there. Steve felt that it would be a good idea, and so the limousine brought them straight to the villa. As the limousine entered the compound, Steve noticed the grandeur of the villa. It had a living room with a large terrace overlooking the river. As he went up the terrace, the splendour of the river scene struck him. It was sparkled with life. There were boats moving up and down with their lights casting shimmering reflections on the water surface. Some sidewalks along the river were lined with trees, shrubs and flowers, and there were people taking strolls along the sidewalks. In the distance, he could see the hills and some tall buildings. It was a picturesque landscape. He felt as though he was in another world.

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And it was another world he entered - the world of the rich and famous. The villa was contemporary in design, with a décor and furnishings that matched the best in Europe. From the glittering chandeliers that adorned the high ceilings to the elegant lights that lit up the walls and the porcelain sets displayed in glass cases, everything was specially selected from both Europe and America to add beauty and magnificence to the interior of the villa. Danielle showed Steve his bedroom on the second storey, next to hers. She left him there to take a rest, and went back to her room. The next day, a Sunday, Danielle took Steve for a walk to Notre Dame. They listened to a beautiful soprano voice singing the vespers in the cathedral and stayed on for the organ recital, which filled the cathedral with the sound of 7600 pipes. After being fed with spiritual food at the Cathedral, they had tea at a restaurant near L’Odeon Theatre. They then took a stroll in the Luxembourg gardens (Jardin du Luxembourg) where a familiar weekend scene unfolded - kids running and hovering round the circular pool, pushing their miniature wooden sailboats across the sparkling waters. They could see young and old sitting on the park chairs, their heads tilted towards the sun for maximum tanning. Some young couples could be seen clinging to each other, and children ran and jumped around the beautiful flowerbeds in the euphoria of movements. The scene was magical to Danielle and Steve. There was so much beauty and tranquility in the Luxembourg gardens. They then left the place and took a walk around the nearby streets. It was a delightful experience sight-seeing in Paris. The quick tour took them to Saint Chapelle, Sacre Coeur, Montmartre and the top of the Eiffel Tower, ending with a night cruise of the Seine. During the cruise, they enjoyed Parisian songs. At the same time, they could hear the lapping sound of the water against the embankment. Paris is a city of romantic love and unbridled passion. Never mind the chestnuts and blossoms, or the breath taking beauty of its wide avenues, Paris is a place where one dreams the impossible dream. It allows faint hopes to become a fabulous fulfillment. Steve came to Paris in search of some inspiration to fill the emptiness within his heart, which came about as a result of months of tedium and toil, and the perceived lack of response from Michelle. Sure enough, the moment the beauty of the Eiffel Tower, and the River Seine struck his eyes, he became aware that there was enchantment in the air. And it began with Danielle. He knew it. The moment he set eyes on her. The aches and pain within his heart seemed to have disappeared. In its place, there was joy and exhilaration. He experienced deeply a sense of fulfillment, mixed with thrill and ecstasy, when the smiling eyes of this rare beauty gazed at him. Yes, Paris and Danielle definitely had a therapeutic effect on him.

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As Danielle and Steve walked around the parks and the sidewalks, watching artists in the squares, and trying out the cafes and boulangeries, they sensed the vibrations within their veins as they clung together with arms around each other’s body. Two hearts were now beating as one. They were strangers at first, but they found each other through a new life force, which is the Internet, sometimes called the Information Superhighway or Cyberspace. The Internet was originally started as the ARPAnet or arpanet as a long distance computer network and a technological tool for communication in defence. But in the twenty first century, it has become an invisible link between nations, cultures and peoples. That new life force had linked Steve and Danielle together, though they were from different parts of the world. Their hearts had been in tune, even before their eyes had met. Such was the wonder of their love in the springtime amidst the gaiety and enchantment of Paris. Back in the villa, they were dancing in the hall. Danielle rested her head on Steve’s shoulders, as they waltzed. Both were good dancers. They whisked and turned gracefully in rhythm. Sometimes they spun around, and paused, following the symphony and rhythm of love as expressed in dance movements, as the music played on. There was magic in dance. They were spellbound. Eyes fixed on eyes – faces brushed softly together – soon their lips met and the synchronized movements of their dance of magic became transformed into a rapture of love as they locked together in embrace. Danielle was standing in the center of her room, holding a glass of sherry. She took a sip and flashed a smile at Steve. ‘Is there another girl at home, Cherie?’ she asked inquisitively. He laughed and shook his head. ‘Perhaps a few girl friends there, but nothing serious with anyone yet,’ he spoke convincingly, with an innocent look. He then walked forward to take the glass of sherry from her and put it on the table. He took her in his arms and kissed her passionately. Danielle giggled as he kissed her on her neck. His hands clasped hers, as he gazed at her lovely face. She was a rare beauty, a combination of the mystic charm of an Arabian princess and the alluring and seductive attractiveness, joie-de-vivre and elegance of a Parisienne. Unable to control himself, Steve pulled her closer to him and stroked her body. She responded passionately, clutching at him with eyes closed. She breathed heavily as she touched his face and gently massaging it. He then removed her blouse and her bras, exposing her lovely breasts. He gazed at every inch of her intimate flesh, and marveled at her remarkable loveliness. He caressed her flesh and his heart was throbbing. They

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undressed and made love. They were lost in a whirlpool of sensual delight. Danielle started to move convulsively as she was filled with a joy and thrill that pulverized her whole being, and then she screamed with delight as their bodies melted together, twisting and turning in rapture and moaning and crying out to him with endearing words. Then there was calm and a feeling of contentment. They held on to each other, still feeling the strange sensations of love and fulfillment that engulfed their souls and enveloped their bodies. The night was long, as they slept together. There was so much to talk about – so much to share and exchange. Strangers before, but as lovers, there was no distance between them, and no secrets to hide from each other. Both were simple and forthright. In the course of their conversation, or to be more exact, during their pillow talk, Steve discovered that Danielle was an immensely wealthy lady, and could wield tremendous political and financial power across the continents. Her financial interests not only encompassed real estate and financial investments, but also covered the production of weapons, bombs and explosives, and machineries and vehicles of various descriptions. She also confided in him the fact that she had left much of the control of the production and manufacture of arms and explosives to Dr Madini Mephis, one of her trusted consultants. Steve, on the other hand, could not reveal anything about his connection with C.I.O., because he had given an oath of secrecy to the secret organization. She was, however, told about his profession as a psychologist, and his desire to use his other identify as Robin to help the needy, and those in distress. She was ready to give him full financial backing for this aspect of his work. She felt that Steve should continue to work, but he must have enough funds to be freed from financial worries so as to concentrate on work in helping the needy and those in distress. The next day, she transferred millions of dollars into Steve’s bank account. Overnight, Steve had become a multi-millionaire. Danielle knew Steve well enough to realize that he would never indulge in luxurious living. In her mind, the money was earned through the weapons projects; it would be better for it to be kept by Steve to help him in his work. Steve was grateful to Danielle, but he still looked serious. He was shrewd enough to realize the danger that Danielle was in, because of her involvement with the production of weapons and explosives. He cared about her deeply, and took the courageous step of acknowledging his involvement with TWIG, the world body that was keeping a watch over international terrorism. Danielle was full of praise for his association with such work, and wanted him to do more. Knowing Danielle’s heart and convinced that she had nothing to do with the supply or sale of weapons or bombs to any international terrorists’ groups, Steve ventured to suggest a complete restructuring of her business organizations in so far as they related to the manufacture or production of weaponry and explosives. He was afraid that someone in her business empire could easily make use of her lack of control to lend support to international terrorism.

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For hours Steve talked on, waxing eloquently on his concerns about her business. Danielle was enthralled to hear him expound the idea that weapons and explosives could fall into the hands of irresponsible hands. Steve added, ‘with the proliferation of weapons and bombs, the machinery of destruction is complete, poised on a hair trigger waiting for some misguided or deranged human being to send out the instructions to fire. It could lead to a massive destruction of the infrastructures of civilized living and wanton loss of human lives. The real objective of terrorism is to spread chaos and disorder and create disputes or even wars.’ Steve convinced Danielle that there was a real danger in the production of weapons, and that modern weapons were potentially destructive beyond the wildest nightmares of imagination. He said, ‘during World War Two, more than 55 million people were killed, and in the more than 125 wars since World War Two, combatants have killed about one and a half million people and have injured more than one million people on the average each year.’ He went on to explain his theory. ‘All it takes is one mad man and there could be bloodshed and massive destruction anywhere. For this reason, no organization or country should be left under the absolute control of one individual. According to Lord Acton, all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ Then he looked whimsically at Danielle and asked, ‘Do you have one mad man in control of your organization?’ Danielle shook her head, but she was thoughtful, as she realized the implications of what Steve had said. The following morning in the office of Terra Rosa, Danielle spent several hours for further discussion with Steve on the re-structuring of her business organization. What concerned Steve most were the weapon factories, as they might have been used for illegal activities. In their secret discussion, they came to the conclusion that further investigations on some of the factories were necessary. Steve decided to accompany Danielle to visit one of them at night. Steve met Mephis for the first time on that day. While he was leaving Danielle’s office, he saw the man, and he disliked him immediately. ‘This man has a lean and hungry look. He is dangerous,’ Steve could not resist the thought of linking this man with “Cassius” in Shakespeare’s play, “Julius Caesar.” He probed his mind and came to the conclusion that he was behind the activities associated with weapon production and possibly with the terrorists’ connection in some of the factories. But the man was all smiles when he greeted Steve. Sweet words and smooth talk poured out from his mouth, and charm and cultivated grace oozed from every pore in his body. ‘I’m so happy to meet you, Steve. Every friend of Danielle is a good friend of mine,’ he grinned as he spoke.

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‘Oh, Dr Mephis, I heard so much about you from Danielle. Heard you are so sort of genius,’ Steve replied with a compliment, but in his mind, he was sure that the man was wearing some sort of evil looking mask, and there was a veil of terror behind his normal planning and operation work in Terra Rosa. He gazed in admiration at the gaunt face and the piercing eyes staring at him. As their eyes met, Steve knew at once that in front of him was a man of remarkable intelligence and capable of exerting tremendous power and influence on people around him. He seemed to be wearing a mask of coolness and indifference, making jokes and laughing as he talked, but he was hiding a great deal of hostility and anxiety in his heart. He was playing a game of masquerade with both Steve and Danielle. Every word he uttered was sweet and pleasing. Every gesture he made was an expression of friendliness and an attitude of humility, warmth and deep feelings and serious mindedness. He exuded so much kindness and compassion and cared so much about the misfortunes of others, that would have placed him way above Mother Teresa of Calcutta. It was a Saturday night. At ten sharp, Steve and Danielle drove off to the suburbs of Pigalle. When they reached one of the roads leading to the factory building, they abruptly cut off the car engine, and silently got out of the car. There were no street lamps. The surroundings were pitch dark. They switched on their torches and walked briskly towards the building. They could hear the sound of their own footsteps in the silence of the night, as they trod along the mud tracks. They could see flickers of light shimmering in some puddles of water along the tracks. Dark moving shadows from the branches of trees loomed through the cold misty air. Danielle was trembling with fear as they approached the few lonely buildings, which cast ghostly shadows across their path. At times, the silence of the night was broken by eerie sounds around them. Steve held Danielle’s hand tightly, as they moved gingerly forward, checking every now and then sideways and backwards to see whether there were people watching or following them. They could see flickering dim lights emitted from one of the buildings. They crept towards it, and peered through the windowpanes. Steve could see some strange burly men inside. They seemed to be chatting with one another in a language that both Steve and Danielle could not understand. Steve could read their thoughts. They were talking about the use of explosives on some targets in certain islands in Southeast Asia. This was enough to convince Steve that they were terrorists, or persons associated with terrorists’ organizations. He moved away from Danielle for a short while, took out his special hand phone and shot at them. Immediately, he made all of them unconscious. He walked towards the doorway and kicked the door open. Calmly, he walked into the building. He started to open some of the boxes, and noted the

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destinations written on the boxes. The boxes contained plastic explosives, intended for shipment overseas. Danielle was amazed to see the men unconscious on the floor, and was puzzled to find the explosives inside some many boxes inside the building. Steve then led Danielle out of the building. They ran towards their vehicle, which was parked some distance away. They drove back to the villa. Their hearts were pounding heavily, even when they reached their bedroom. Interpol was informed about the men in the factory, and arrests were made subsequently. Danielle called a meeting with the top management of her company, and announced drastic changes in the business operation and management structure, which included, inter alia, the discontinuation of the production of weaponry and explosives, and the resignation of Dr. Madini Mephis from the company. A few weeks later, Steve left Paris. Danielle was tearful as she waved goodbye to Steve at the airport. She could not follow Steve due to the load of work she had to carry, with the re-organization of her company and its numerous branches overseas. She vowed full support for Steve in his work as Robin.

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Eleven
To everyone at the C.I.O., it began as an ordinary Monday morning. The fifty odd staff and agents at the organization began work as usual, chatting away about their weekend exploits, checking for computerised data, browsing for information in the newspapers, or making telephone calls. The first sign of disturbance came when Steve Lee walked in with a number of agents from TWIG, bringing in twenty odd burly foreigners in their handcuffs. Immediately, the Monday morning blues disappeared, and there was excitement and thrill in the air. Steve went into K1’s room and quickly gave him a de-briefing of his work in Paris, leaving out all details about his romantic encounters there. The burly foreigners were locked in their cells for questioning by the staff and agents. Steve asked for a few days off to clear the pile of work he had to do in his clinic and to get some rest. His leave was granted. Steve walked into Michelle’s room to surprise her. She was thrilled to see him again, but she did not show it. Her feelings were quite mixed. One part of her was filled with joy and elation as he held her hands; but another part tortured and tormented her with resentment and spitefulness. This part of her became more dominant and expressive, as she pulled away from him with an air of indifference, and a coolness that froze the blood in Steve’s vein. He reacted instinctively with a grin, and politely retreated to his office. He called John from his office to have lunch with him at the Hyatt Hotel. John Chen was punctual as usual, as they met at the Hotel lobby. Steve looked at him and teased him with the remark, ‘John, you have become slightly bald at the back of your head. This means you have become sexier. You know, people who become bald, both in front and at the rear, are those who think they have become sexier.’ John laughed and retorted, ‘I heard that you had a gay time in gay Paris. Hope you have not become gay in the process.’ He then snorted with his short nose and mumbled, ‘somebody had all the luck to go for a long holiday in Europe, while others had to slog away in this hot and humid place, with no romance and little relaxation.’ But soon they talked in a more serious tone. Steve asked John for advice regarding his work. He said that he needed more time to do professional work, and to travel around. He wondered whether he should resign from C.I.O. After some discussion, John convinced Steve that he could speak to K1 to allow him to work part time for the Organization. John would speak to K1 on his behalf. He never told John about his wealth and his connection with Danielle.

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As they were talking, two foreigners walked towards their table. One of them pointed a gun at Steve. Another man, the taller of the two, grabbed John’s arms from behind and said, ‘just move out of here quietly and no one will get hurt.’ Nobody in the restaurant seemed to notice what was going on as the pair forced Steve and John to walk with them to the car park. John tried to struggle free, but the shorter man knocked him on the head. At this point, Steve could read their thoughts. They wanted them killed in the car park. He had to act quickly. He was still holding the hand phone while he was walking. It just took a few seconds for him to put the two men unconscious, in front of John, who appeared to be shocked and amazed. ‘Come on, John! Let’s take these two chaps into our car back to C.I.O. You go and fetch the car here, before the crowd turn up,’ Steve spoke calmly and passed his car key to John. John dashed to the car that was parked nearby. He slammed the door shut and entered the driver’s seat. He had some difficulty getting the car out of the parking lot quickly, reversing and moving forward several times. Finally, he managed to swerve the car out into the driveway. The car screeched to a halt near the place where Steve was standing. He jumped out of the car and opened the car doors. Together, they bundled the two men into the back seat, and drove at great speed to C.I.O. Everyone in the office was amazed, as John related the story. Steve was amused. ‘John should be a fiction writer,’ he quipped. He was asked how the men were made unconscious. He had to tell a white lie, saying that he used hypnosis to put them into the unconscious state. John was not really convinced, but he chose to keep quiet. As a scientist with a critical mind, he thought it impossible to apply hypnosis in such a situation. He had known for sometime that Steve could do weird things. He just could not accept the fact that in these modern days and age, supernatural things could happen. He still held the view that Steve was wasting too much time with his parapsychology nonsense. The two men who were caught turned out to be employees of a weapon factory owned by Danielle. They had some terrorists’ connection and were handed over to TWIG in France for further investigation later on. Left alone, Steve’s mind turned to the lovely Michelle. He was so accustomed to have Danielle besides him all the time in Paris that he felt quite lost and lonely. He gathered up his courage and called Michelle. ‘Hi, Michelle, are you free to talk?’ he asked.

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‘Sure, Steve, what’s up?’ ‘Just thinking it would be nice to have dinner together, this evening. How about it?’ he replied. He was overjoyed when she consented, and even exchanged some pleasantries with him. She also praised him for bringing in with John the two men from France. ‘At least she did not call me C.I.-5, this time,’ he mused. Steve returned to his apartment. In his room, he whistled as undressed to take a shower. After the shower, he prepared a cup of coffee in the kitchen, and returned to his room to drink. As he sipped his coffee, he read a letter from Danielle. He learnt that she was working very hard, and that she missed him very much. She expressed her love for him with a lot of endearing words. He was touched. Images of her beauty filled his mind. His eyes were moist and misty, as he read about the problems and difficulties she faced in re-structuring her business, and the trouble she had with the workers. Still he was aware of his dinner date with Michelle, and knew he was attracted to her. Unfaithfulness – this never crossed his mind. As a common man, he knew he was poly-erotic. He realized that some of his friends would point an accusing finger at him, calling him a sinner, a playboy, a dirty fellow, a rascal and other obnoxious names. He just could not be bothered about these sanctimonious people who liked to put sinful labels on love between young people. To Steve, love is a life force; loving and caring for one another, without guile, without pretence and with no bad intention to cause any heartache or pain, would not be wrong. There is magic, power and beauty in love. It is beyond man’s mind to fathom its significance and place in the heart and soul of a human being. It is too easy for people to adopt “the holier than thou” attitude to criticise or to condemn, or even to hurt and harm those young hearts in love when they are filled with the joy and exultation of love in all its simplicity. It is too easy for the uninitiated, the unloved, the dullard, the prosaic and the sanctimonious to pontificate sermons of shame and sin, but do they have the right to cast the first stone? As Steve reflected on his love relationships involving the two women in his life, he knew he would always cherish them without any shame. Shame to him was for the fornicators, the fickle, the false and the flirt. At seven in the evening, Steve drove to Michelle’s apartment. He stood in front of the apartment door and pressed the doorbell. To his surprise, a beautiful Chinese girl, who appeared to be quite scantily clad, opened the door. She had long black hair streaming to her shoulders. There were a few strands sparkling like pure gold. Her face was a

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gorgeous – lovely big brown eye with long eyelashes, smooth satin-like complexion and sensuous lips. She was wearing some sort of bikini dress. Steve could not help but fixed his eyes on her face and her shapely body, but managed to compose himself with an introduction and a face slightly red, ‘I’m Steve. You must be Mei Ling, Michelle’s friend.’ She smiled and nodded her head. She was struck by his good looks and the shyness on his face as he gazed intently at her. She had heard so much about him from Michelle, and though Michelle did make some critical remarks about the person, she knew Steve to be a wonderful and dependable man, always considerate, kind and caring and could make any girl’s heart flutter. ‘God,’ she thought, ‘if only I could hug and kiss him, and make him mine, to love and control. Michelle doesn’t seem to appreciate his good qualities, but to me, he’s a great catch.’ She pretended to be indifferent, and answered, ‘so you’re Steve. You’re a colleague of Michelle. I heard about some of your adventures, but you look quite different from what I expected. For one thing, you look so young and shy.’ Steve flashed a boyish grin, and chuckled, ‘I’m not as young or as shy as you think, Mei Ling. But if it is a compliment, I must return the compliment by telling you how gorgeous you are, and how ravishing you look. I believe I am interrupting you physical exercise session – I’m sorry but I come to fetch Michelle for dinner.’ ‘Come in, Steve, you’re not interrupting anything. I must apologise for the way I dressed while doing physical exercise. I’ll tell Michelle that you’re here,’ she replied, glancing at him with an impish smile and glided swiftly towards Michelle’s bedroom. A few seconds later, Michelle appeared. She looked radiant with a dark blue blouse with long sleeves and a long skirt also of the same colour. Her long hair was neatly gathered into a ponytail. She wore a beautiful diamond-shaped pendant round her neck. Steve looked at her in wonder. He was amazed to see her transformed into a beautiful picture-book princess with matchless elegance and grace. He adored her – every bit of her – her sparkling eyes, her gentle smile and slender body. He just could not lift his eyes off her and was speechless for a few minutes, just staring and admiring her face. Then he blurted out, ‘Michelle, good evening, you look really nice.’ Michelle smiled. She noticed the look on Steve’s face – the look of adoration and that intent starry gaze, searching for love and affection. She knew at once that Steve was enthralled and wanted her. She felt a little uneasy, but at the same time, she experienced a sense of thrill and elation to see him staring at her with such rapt attention. For a while, they just stood still. Their eyes met and rested on each other’s face. They seemed to be oblivious to their surroundings, but something magical was

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happening between them. Their hearts were beating fast, as they felt the warmth of the currents or energies that passed through their bodies, and images that danced in their minds. Such was the moment of enchantment, as two souls met and merged together. Time seemed to have slipped away elusively while they stood still, motionless and lost in another dimension where everything seemed to be apparelled in celestial lights, flickering and fading within their minds. ‘Hey, aren’t you leaving yet?’ Mei Ling’s yell startled both of them. Steve, somewhat embarrassed, nodded his head. He then took Michelle’s hand and walked with her towards the apartment door. They took the elevator to the car park, and still holding hands, walked towards Steve’s car, which was parked some distance away. Steve had chosen an Italian restaurant at Orchard Road. It was a good restaurant. The food and service were excellent, and not too expensive. They enjoyed the spaghetti and the wine. Steve was talkative. He spoke effusively about the things that happened in Paris and the places he visited, with the help of many glasses of wine. But he did not mention anything about Danielle. Michelle, on the other hand, was somewhat quiet. She chose not to encourage Steve further. Lately, she had been thinking a lot about Robin, and missed those encouraging words that came to her weekly through emails. She knew Steve was attracted to her, and she liked him. Beyond that, she was not sure of her own feelings. And yet, she held him close, as they danced in the restaurant dance floor. She did not protest when he kissed her on the cheek and when his hands stroked her back repeatedly. But Steve felt Michelle’s aloofness, as her mind began to swim with thoughts of Robin. Steve perceived those thoughts and was a little upset with the emotional wall that was erected between them. He reacted by ordering more drinks, as if to drown the unhappiness that seeped into his mind. Steve was a little tipsy. He continued to kiss her cheek, but that seemed to be as far as he could go. He felt a little awkward and uneasy, and was slightly depressed, but Michelle continued to remain cool and stiff, and did not seem to have noticed how Steve felt at that moment. However, she pretended that she enjoyed herself. She put her head on his shoulder and sang along with the music. She laughed a little every now and then, as Steve talked to her. Steve was well aware of the problem – Michelle’s infatuation with Robin, his alter ego, but what could he do in the circumstances? Nothing. It was midnight as Steve drove Michelle home. Steve was a little intoxicated, and Michelle thought it would be wise to let Steve sleep off in her spare room. So, Steve found himself in Michelle’s apartment. Michelle guided him to the spare room, bade him good night, switched off the lights of the apartment hall and went into her own bedroom and closed the door.

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Steve was sound asleep on a large bed in an air-conditioned room, which was kept as a guest room. He was sleeping with his clothes on. He had taken off his shoes. The room was dark, but some faint light came through the windows. It was a long night. Steve slept on for several hours, and did not notice that someone was sleeping besides him. The faint flickering light in the bedroom revealed the figure of a beautiful woman in a nightgown lying close to Steve. She was slender and shapely. Her long hair was on Steve’s pillow, as she cuddled against him. As she hugged his back, she started removing his clothing, touching him intimately as she did so. He moaned a little, turned and moved his limbs, but slept on. In the darkness of the room, Mei Ling found herself completely mesmerized by the naked man, to whom she decided to give herself. She clung on to him, whispering words of endearment to him, kissing him on his face and lips, and touching and stroking him. She was in a frenzy as she undressed and lay naked next to him. She had wanted Steve the moment she set eyes on him. She was captivated by his charm and his boyish smile. When she noticed Michelle guiding him into the guest room, she could not sleep and became restless. Now lying next to the person she admired, and feeling her own flesh against his naked flesh, she felt the thrilling sensations that pulverised her whole being. Impelled by the sombre mystery and the magical stillness of the night, she did not feel any shame, as she caressed him and took his hands to touch her breasts and other sensitive areas of her body. As the sensations in her grew, she could not control herself. She leaned towards him, kissing his lips as she covered his body with her own. Taking the initiative, she sat on him and let him enter her. Her mind was in a whirl, as she pounded at him, moaning and groaning in a voice that had become hoarse and inaudible. Then he stirred, and responded unthinkingly in the dark, murmuring Michelle’s name and holding on to her tightly, and moving his body against hers. The movements of bodies and limbs – the gyrations of hips – the swaying motions of arms and legs – became stronger and gained momentum as they kissed. Then Steve swung around and was on top of Mei Ling. At that moment, through the faint lights from the windows, Steve realized it was not Michelle that was with him, but Mei Ling. But he was still too intoxicated to think straight, and too enthralled to see the beautiful Mei Ling making love to him. He responded and moved in rhythm with Mei Ling, even moving, turning and twisting with greater fervour and vigour, until they climaxed together. They then slept on, exchanging a few words of endearment, until six in the morning. Then Mei Ling left the room in high spirits and with a strange smile after promising Steve to keep this encounter a secret from Michelle. As he watched the beautiful girl disappearing from the room, he realized he still could not fully fathom the mysterious ways of women, especially one who already had a steady boy friend.

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Twelve
The morning after was most difficult for Steve. It was Michelle who knocked at the door to awake Steve at seven in the morning. Steve had to keep a straight face, as he sat together with Michelle and Mei Ling to have breakfast. Mei Ling was jovial and charming. She led the conversation, chatting merrily about her keep-fit programmes. Steve was a little awkward and somewhat guilty conscious, looking at the two beautiful women that had entered into his life. Nevertheless, he controlled his troubled emotions, and behaved naturally, listening attentively to both girls, and joined in the conversations. He noticed Mei Ling’s knowing glances occasionally. ‘Thank God,’ he thought, ‘Michelle has not noticed anything unusual.’ As he left Michelle to return to his apartment, Mei Ling asked him for a lift to take a cab from the main road. In the car, she put her arms around his shoulders and whispered to him that she cared for him. She, however, made it plain that she had no intention to leave her rich real estate boy friend, Jim Manalo, and she did not wish to break up Steve’s relationship with Michelle. However, she expressed the desire to continue seeing Steve in the future discreetly. After Mei Ling alighted from his car, Steve drove to the C.I.O. in response to a call from K1. As he entered the building, he noticed that everyone looked serious, and the atmosphere was tense. He sensed that something dreadful must have happened. He met John near the entrance and he quickly walked towards him, and whispered to him, “What’s cooking, John?” “K1 wanted to see you urgently. An American airline was hijacked and landed in our airport. A hundred and thirty passengers and crew members are held hostage by the hijackers who demanded that the plane to be refuelled and be allowed to fly off without hindrance from our authorities. These people have guns and are dangerous,” he said in a solemn voice. As he was speaking, K1 was waving his hand at Steve, indicating that he wanted him at his office. As he entered K1’s huge and well-appointed office, he was shocked to find K1 slouching in his massive leather armchair by the window. He looked somewhat haggard. There were dark shadows around his eyes. The big man motioned to Steve to take a seat, and in a hoarse voice said, ‘Steve, I hate to upset your holidays, but something had happened in our airport, and you could play a significant part to deal with the crisis. One hundred and thirty five passengers have been held as hostages in a United Airline plane at the Changi Airport Terminal 2. According to reports, there were six terrorists inside the plane, all armed with machine guns and grenades. They

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demanded that the plane be refuelled and be allowed to fly off without let or hindrance. They said they would release the passengers, provided six Arab nationals under detention in Singapore would be released to them. Negotiations are underway. I remember in the past you had been able to put groups of people in a trance. You could be part of the government team to meet the terrorists face to face. See what you could do in the circumstances. The task is dangerous. The chances are slim. But there seems to be nothing else we could do.’ He paused and stared at Steve as though he was waiting for his answer. When Steve did not reply, he sighed and continued saying, ‘Steve, our organization is counting on you to play a part. The government has been informed about your ability to deal with this type of crisis situation, and much is expected of you. Are you willing to join the government group to conduct the negotiations with the hijackers?’ Steve nodded his head. After hearing what K1 had said, he really had no alternative but to reply in the affirmative. He knew the danger involved. He realized that saving precious human lives was all-important, and there was always the risk that the terrorists would blow the plane up if negotiations failed. When Steve left K1’s office for the government briefing at the police headquarters, he met Michelle who seemed to know that he had volunteered for the perilous mission. Her eyes were tearful as she clasped Steve’s hands. In a voice full of emotion, she whispered to him, ‘Good luck and take care, Steve.’ Steve replied rather calmly, ‘Michelle, pray for us, but don’t worry, I’ll be back soon.’ He then left the building with a group of police officers, and entered one of the waiting police vehicles. John and Michelle waited anxiously for news about the hijacking at the office. They could hardly sit down, as they sat close to the office telephones. Their eyes were fixed on the television set to get the latest reports. John noticed K1 pacing up and down in the general office, holding a walkie-talkie. Occasionally, he shouted some orders at the staff. John made a call home to Jenny to tell her he would be staying back at the office. He assured Jenny that he was not involved in any operation relating to the hijacking, but was just waiting for news at the office, because Steve was involved in the negotiating team. He also spoke to the children and Rachel briefly. Rachel was full of admiration for Steve, and praised him for his courage to volunteer for the dangerous mission. Michelle also telephoned Mei Ling to tell her that she would not be returning home. When Mei Ling heard about Steve’s involvement in the operation, she was in tears. She did not mince words as she sobbed aloud, “Michelle, why did you let Steve get involved with such a deadly mission? Why Michelle? Why can’t you stop him from doing such a foolish thing? I fear he may not return alive.”

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These words upset Michelle, and tears streamed from her bright eyes. Her heart was beating fast, and cold sweat poured down her forehead, trembling with anxiety and trepidation. She knew she had been taking Steve’s love for her rather lightly and sometimes with apparent indifference. She had taken for granted Steve’s warm feelings and his expression of care and concern towards her. She realized that she sometimes spurned his advances, scoffed at his boyish grin and abused him with brutal words for minor failings. She asked herself whether she had been unreasonably mean to him, and whether she had hurt him with her coolness and aloofness every time he tried to kiss her. On so many occasions, she told her friends, “He is just an office colleague.” Some of her friends took her quip as an expression of indifference towards Steve and said in jest, ‘Sure, Michelle, you are so beautiful. Why should you sit with this guy in an old Mercedes?’ But at this moment of truth when events that unfolded before her eyes were like a hideous dream, when reason and logic interplayed with the deeper emotions within her, she became confused and sorrowful. At this moment when Steve faced death, and having listened to the sobbing Mei Ling, and the emotional turmoil in her own heart, the poignancy hit home. She thought about the loneliness in her own life and the few friends like Steve who really cared for her. There was despair in her eyes, as she started to pray for his safe return, something that Steve had earlier asked her to do when he left with the police party to the airport. She prayed earnestly, crying out for God’s mercy and grace. Four brave men faced death, as they reached the airport. The sky was dark and gloomy as the drizzle continued. Steve felt the chill of the night air and the stings of rainwater on his face, as he walked with the police party through the crowd of onlookers and thousands of army and police personnel that had surrounded the plane. His eyes were dazzled by myriads of blue and red lights flickering on top of the numerous combat vehicles, and the floodlights that had been turned on. Sounds of car engines mixed with the noise from loud hailers filled the air. The atmosphere was tense. From the corner of his eyes, Steve could detect hundreds of heavily armed combat troops getting poised to storm the plane. The crowd was silent as people watched the three uniformed men and a civilian approaching the plane. They marched towards the plane slowly and solemnly, escorted by dozens of soldiers and policemen in a procession that resembled a funeral procession. They inched their way through the crowd, shaking the hands of some people who wished them good luck with a few encouraging words. As they walked nearer towards the plane, their faces appeared grave and pale, knowing for sure they were soon entering the ‘jaws of death.’ The Cabin door of the hijacked plane opened. Out came a bearded burly dark skinned man. Behind him was another fierce looking man. Both appeared to be heavily armed. They looked at the four men suspiciously, and then pointed their guns at them. In good English, one of them spoke menacingly, ‘we are from Pakistan. We can be mean

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and desperate. Ask your soldiers and policemen not to make any foolish move, or the plane would be blown apart with the passengers. Is anyone of you armed?’ One of the team members, Henry Tan from the Interior Ministry replied, ‘we are not armed. If you like, search us.” The fierce looking Pakistani searched the team members one by one. He took his time, going through their pockets, examined their wallets and hand phones, and even asked them to remove their shoes. Having satisfied themselves that the team members posed no physical threat to them, they then allowed them to enter the interior of the plane. Steve’s heart was deeply disturbed, hearing the cries, moans and groans of men, women and children in the passenger compartments. He noticed that there were three other hijackers there. All of them carried Armalite rifles. At length, the Pakistani who spoke good English, stared at the team members in front of him, and smashed his weapon against the back of a passenger seat. He appeared to be the leader of the group. “Our demands are simple. Let the plane be refueled and allowed to take off from this airport without let or hindrance to our destination. Free those comrades of ours in this list, who have been jailed in the countries mentioned. Pay us five million in American dollars. We will then release all the passengers here.” Henry Tan tried to calm him down. He said all the conditions except the one relating to release of prisoners, could be agreed to, as long as no one in the plane would be harmed. Release of prisoners involving other countries would require consultations with the respective governments, and that would need time. He asked for two days to finalize the consultations. The terrorist group then huddled together in front of the team members to talk things over. There were heated arguments and show of violent tempers. At this point, Steve took out his mobile phone ostensibly to contact the Government leaders. He pressed a button, and pointed the phone at the terrorist group. A tiny beam of light hit the group one by one, and within seconds, all of them became unconscious and fell on the ground. Henry Tan took charge of the situation immediately. He signaled to the combined operations group to storm in and seized the terrorists. When asked how the men became unconscious by the media. He covered things up for Steve, saying that this could not be divulged for security reasons. It was three in the morning when Steve returned to the C.I.O. office. There were congratulations all round. Michelle was shedding tears of joy as she hugged Steve when he entered the office. Steve grinned at the smiling John, as he held Michelle tightly, kissed her on the cheek. Many questions were asked, but Steve managed to

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parry them off. To everyone in the office, Steve was indeed a humble hero, not saying much, not claiming credit, and not blowing his own trumpet. There was a growing realization in the office that Steve’s boyish grin, his good-natured smile and air of humility and patience were positive qualities, something people should emulate, rather than ridicule or sniggered at. Yes, the man with the old Mercedes was indeed a man of substance. Rachel Lynn watched the whole episode on the hijacking incident on television. She heard about Steve from Jenny and John. Watching him on TV gave her a sense of excitement and thrill. At first, she was anxious and fearful, thinking that Steve might not be able to survive the ordeal. She wore the worried look the entire evening. It was strange indeed in the eyes of Jenny – strange because Steve was a stranger to her. But to an unattached young girl who just knew sex, watching a family friend in action stirred some emotional chords in her heart. She read a lot of romantic novels. Sometimes, her mind was filled with fantasies, some of which were sexual in nature. John, her brother-in-law, had made love to her on a few occasions. But they had both agreed to end this sexual relationship, because Rachel never perceived John as a lover in her romantic fantasies. John filled her physical desires, but had never been able to fill the longings in her soul, and meet her psychological and emotional needs. Just as well for John who was level-headed. He realized the error of his ways. A man like him analyzed everything scientifically through cold logic. He was married. The center of the universe was his wife and children – his family. The social and cultural milieu surrounding his existence would make him ugly and despicable, if not sinful to the pious and holy, if he were to step out of line in his matrimonial life. Could he live with two women, two sisters – it would have to be a joke. Watch those narratives in China’s long history and admire the men with many wives and concubines. Those were different climes, different times, different perceptions of manhood and social status. The men and women in modern society have been conditioned to perceive marriage and hence love, if it still exists after marriage, only in black and white. If one spouse were found to be unfaithful, even though it may be a casual affair, then the whole institution of family and marriage would be in the rocks. The dismantling process was perceived to be a logical consequence of sins, which have become unforgivable. Rachel, on the other hand, thought only of one thing. She was young and very attractive. She had a successful business career and lately she held a well-paid job in an international charitable organization with branches all over the world. Her boss, Jim Manalo and his deputy, Madini Mephis, spent a great of their time abroad, leaving her to work quite independently with a few junior managers. The recurring thought in her mind and the dreams that constantly haunted her nightly could be

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summed up in one word – romance. Sex to her was nothing. It had to be romantic love, a blending of physical and emotional desires, a fusion of heart and soul, of passion and thoughts, of dreams and reality, and a harmony of innermost feelings and vibrations, of hearts and bodies in tune and rhythm in a natural symphony of platonic and passionate love. It was Jenny who suggested to John that Steve be invited to the house for dinner. Naturally, Rachel was delighted to hear about the dinner date, when Jenny called her at her new apartment within the same estate. This morning she was particularly cheerful. She hummed a tune as she left for work. She was thinking of Steve. She had met many handsome gentlemen in college and in her work, but she had never felt this way before when meeting other men. At five in the evening, she quickly finished up her office work, switched off her computer, and rushed out of her office to be home early. When she reached home, she stood in front of her wardrobe, trying to pick a dress to wear for the evening. She had to look her best. Perhaps, she should put on something sexy and alluring, she mused. She changed her mind later. She decided to pick a plain dress with an elegant design. Then she entered her bathroom and stared at herself in front of a mirror. She looked closely at her own features. She was twentyfive, but looked more like a teenager. She was proud of her facial features and complexion. She had beautiful bosoms and a slender body. Thank God for her face and body, and for her hair and teeth. Her legs were good, and she was tall. God had been good to her. She wondered what Steve would think of her. To Jenny, this was an unusual day. She started the day slowly. She went to the market and purchased meat and vegetables for the dinner in the evening. She loved her sister and had noticed her infatuation with Steve, because she plied her with so many questions about the man. When she heard Rachel murmuring that she wished she could meet Steve, Jenny quickly told her to leave it to her to make the arrangements. She liked Steve and knew that he had helped her husband on numerous occasions. The two men had lived through some perils and survived, and on those occasions Steve always appeared heroic and brave. She liked his distinguished look and his boyish charm, and thought he would be a good match for her sister. But she had heard from John that Steve had many girl friends. She had warned Rachel about this too. At seven in the evening, Steve knocked on the apartment door. John opened the door and greeted him. Soon, both men started talking and laughing aloud. Jenny and Rachel were in the kitchen getting the dinner ready. Steve sat on one of the leather sofas, and John sat close to him on a massive leather couch. Jenny came out of the kitchen with a few cans of beer that she placed on the coffee table. She greeted Steve cheerfully, and asked him to make himself at home. Then she asked the children, Peter and Paul, to come out of their rooms to talk to Steve, saying ‘Pete, Paul, come out and talk to Uncle Steve.’ She returned to the kitchen to prepare food. John then

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switched on the television to keep the children occupied, and the two men began drinking and chatting merrily. Two friends working closely together exchanged views and information on so many things that happened in Singapore. Sometimes they talked in whispers when confidential information was exchanged. Steve was absorbed in the conversation with his head bowed thinking of something. Suddenly, he noticed someone standing close to him. He glanced up immediately and looked straight into the eyes of an exceedingly beautiful Eurasian girl. He quickly stood up, feeling a little embarrassed. He fumbled for words for a moment and then blurted out, ‘Good evening.’ ‘Meet Rachel, Jenny’s youngest sister,’ John started the introduction. Steve stretched out his hand to hold Rachel’s warm hand, but his eyes were still riveted on her face. He was attracted by her lustrous blue eyes, her exquisite smooth complexion and Eurasian features, the soft line of her curve lips, her mysterious smile, the glow on her cheeks and the enchanting swerve of her long soft hair. Rachel’s gaze lingered on Steve’s handsome features and his sparkling brown eyes. She liked the easy smile on his boyish face, and thought his laughter was infectious. She was surprised to find him so tall and with such a rugged and well-built body. She had watched him on TV and imagined him to be much shorter and less ‘macho’. She thought he dressed well considering the fact that John had quipped that he could only afford to own an old Mercedes. Steve was wearing a dark blue suit Danielle bought for him in Paris. Rachel’s simple beauty and shy look reminded Steve of the sweetness of Michelle. Her Eurasian look, which combined the sweetness and sensuality of Spanish feminine features and the elegant demure and graceful characteristics of Chinese girls, seemed to make an impact on Steve. John felt a little awkward as he watched Steve and Rachel admiring each other. He quickly walked away from them to help Jenny with the food in the kitchen. Rachel then sat next to Steve on the leather sofa. She faced him and referring to the recent hijacking episode, asked, ‘Steve, are you okay after having gone through hell and back?’ ‘Rachel, I am fine. No broken bones or smashed ribs. No bruise. Nothing damaged or torn. It’s just a job, and we were lucky, and managed to save some people without shedding any blood,’ he said modestly. ‘You’re brave, Steve. You could take things calmly, even when you look at death in the face. But why continue to work like this, taking risks all the time? There are many ways of earning a living. Even an average girl like me managed to get a well-paid job in a nice office. To me, job satisfaction is the key to successful living,’ Rachel deliberately expressed these views to challenge him.

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‘Rachel, what job are you holding?’ he asked. ‘Oh, I work in the Global Welfare Vision, an international charitable organization with many overseas branches,’ Rachel replied. ‘I heard about this organization, but this branch in Singapore must be new. Who are the people behind Global Welfare Vision?’ he asked inquisitively. ‘My boss in Jim Manalo, a local philanthropist and housing developer. Another boss comes to Singapore occasionally to handle special projects. His name is Mephis. I don’t know much about the network of branches and overseas directors. I only handle the finance and publicity locally,’ Rachel remarked. At this point, John announced that dinner would be served. The food prepared by Jenny and Rachel was superb. The two ladies managed to prepare a good selection of Nonya and Malaysian dishes for the occasion. Steve was amazed that home-cooked food could be so heavenly. He looked at John sitting there at dinner with members of his family. It was a setting that touched lonely hearts like Steve – family solidarity, and the warmth and love of being together in mutual care and support. John realized this and had chosen the path that ensured that family bonds would remain intact - not just family bonds but their extensions embracing a whole network of links with relatives and friends. But this evening, he asked himself time and time again whether he had done the right thing. Looking at Rachel and Steve, he was sure he did. The prelude of the evening was not over. Steve readily agreed when Rachel invited him to visit her club nearby. Steve thanked Jenny and John for a wonderful evening and left the apartment with Rachel. In the car, sitting beside Rachel, Steve felt intoxicated as the fragrance from Rachel’s body hit his nose. He could sense her nearness the moment the car moved out of the underground car park. Her arm touched his shoulders gently. He smiled at her to acknowledge this as a friendly gesture. They were on the way to the Changi Sailing Club. It was a long drive to the Club, traveling most of the time along dark and lonely roads. The car stereo was on, stirring them with romantic and soft music. The music, the drinks they had consumed, and the alluring beauty of Rachel, the enchantment of the moment – all had an effect on Steve. After traveling for about twenty minutes, Rachel was kissing Steve while he was driving. Steve had to stop the vehicle by the roadside to take her in his arms and kissed her in return. She pulled the lever of her seat to lie flat, inviting Steve to lean forward to kiss her. When Steve kissed her on the lips, she responded passionately, clinging on to him tightly and stroking his body. She then asked Steve to drive back to her house as her desire grew.

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In the privacy of her home, Rachel was in high spirits. She switched on the CD player, and invited Steve to dance with her. They danced on and on, clinging to each other as they moved and turned in rhythm with the music. They gazed lovingly at each other, hungrily searching for something there, yet not knowing what, and then they kissed, sucking in the sensations and thrills from their lonely souls. When he touched her face, he could feel her quivering, and hear her moan and sigh almost imperceptibly. He then touched her long soft hair. While stroking it, he kissed behind her ears and then pressed his lips against her neck. Rachel sighed as the ticklish and titillating sensation increased. Her hands began to touch and stroke Steve’s muscular shoulders and arms. The movement was jerky and wild, like the clawing action of fierce animals when they spotted their preys. Rachel was aroused. She pulled at him and clutched his hands. Her right hand caught Steve’s left hand, and jerked it to her breast. As Steve unbuttoned her blouse and his hand touched her exposed body, she trembled. Her body began to twist and turn in convulsive movements. Steve removed her blouse and skirt slowly, gazing intently at her exposed beauty in disbelief. He fumbled with her bras and pulled it off. He stared with amazement at her young slender body and her incredibly beautiful breasts. He touched her breasts gently and later stroked her abdomen and was unable to resist the temptation of kissing the jewel of a belly button and the intimate flesh in her lower abdomen. She screamed with delight, writhing her body with every intimate touch of her sensitive areas. She then tucked at his clothes, pulling off his shirt and then his pants, while he kissed her on the neck. He let his hands lingered on her panties and after a while, removed it. Rachel could not wait any longer, as she rubbed her naked body against his. Her body opened like a flower to him, and immediately they melted together in rapture. Screams of passion amidst guttural sobs, sighs and yells, echoed in the room. The air was filled with sounds like a symphony of love, with love being exulted simply through gestures, words both intelligible and unintelligible, sometimes in whispers, in murmurs or with a lisp and occasionally in cries, moans and groans. Rachel was drawn with Steve into a whirlpool of animal passion. Her eyes were misty, and tears flowed down her cheeks, as she was filled strongly and passionately. She responded to his thrusting movement fiercely and vigorously, knowing that love had suddenly and unexpectedly entered her life. For her in the climax of lovemaking, it was a moment of fulfillment. The experience had quenched her thirst and yearnings for romantic intimacy. There was no shame in this fulfillment of her womanhood, as she felt gratified that this wonderful experience had brought ecstasy and love to her life.

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Thirteen
Park Ming and his pretty girl friend, Lee Choo, came to Dongguan City in Southern China only two months ago from Hunan Province. Like many young people from various northern provinces, they did exactly what they'd set out to do when they'd come to Dongguan. Park Ming, a schoolteacher immediately went round various schools to seek an appointment for a job interview. He also scanned the newspapers for vacancies. After a great deal of effort, he still could not make any headway. His funds were running out. He was in a state of despair. Li Choo, on the other hand, was lucky. She was able to get a job as a photographer's model, soon after they arrived in the city. Perhaps, it was because of her beauty and graceful manners that attracted men wherever she went. Perhaps, Park Ming's computer knowledge made a difference, for he surfed the net everyday to search for opportunities, and found a job opening. He immediately asked Li Choo to meet the men involved. Li Choo recalled taking a bus to Tung Qing Road for the job interview. From the bus stand, she took a long walk along a row of shop houses. She glanced at the shops. They all seemed to specialize in the sale of building materials. She looked with interest at the show rooms, displaying kitchen cabinets, bathtubs, glass panels, doors and electrical appliances. As she walked along, she was thinking about the prospect of getting the job, and wondered whether she could really handle such a glamorous job. Her steps finally took her to the Tung Hu Building. She took out her notebook to check the address; then she took the elevator to the 8th storey. She walked around looking for Unit 812 and soon she was standing outside a massive wooden door with the number 812 displayed on the door. She knocked on the door with a grim look in her eyes. 'Come in, the door is open,' a man's voice could be heard from the inside of the apartment. She opened the door, and stepped into a carpeted hall, which looked more like a photo studio than an office. A middle-aged Chinese man, with a Taiwanese accent, greeted her and asked, 'May I know who are you, please?' 'I'm Li Choo. I called earlier about the job as a photographer's model,' she replied. 'Have you any previous experience?' he asked inquisitively, gazing at her from top to bottom with a funny grin on his face. 'Sorry, I have no experience whatsoever, but I'm willing to try. Please give me a chance.'

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He appeared to be quite indifferent to what she had said and continued to peer at her. He walked around her several times, nodding as though he approved of her. His piercing eyes still fixed on her body. She felt like a small deer being hunted by a wild tiger that was ready to devour its helpless prey. Finally, he spoke in a softer tone, 'Well, little girl, you must know that this job requires some daring and the ability to cope with difficult situations. Let me take a good look at your body, to see whether you could qualify.' She walked towards him. She then turned around a few times, swiveling round like a dancer doing a performance. 'No, no - not that,' he laughed aloud. 'Take off all your clothes, and let me take a good look. Your skin must be spotless, and your body must be well proportioned.' Desperate to get the job, she peeled off all her clothes, and stood nervously stark naked before him. He grinned when he watched the naked girl. After staring at her for several minutes, he asked her to put on her clothes. He disappeared into one of the rooms to make a call. Li Choo sat on the sofa near the wall and waited for almost half an hour. Suddenly, the door flung open, and in came three fierce rough looking men. They looked intrigued by her. All three seemed to be unable to resist their hungry longings. She shivered when the men started to bind her hands and her feet. She screamed and cried, but nobody seemed to hear her. Li Choo was kidnapped. The gang took her by force to Singapore to be sold to a syndicate running a brothel in the Geylang district. They threatened her that she would be harmed, and her boy friend, Park Ming would be killed if she resisted in any way. When Li Choo did not return, Park Ming went to the photographer's address to look for her, and later reported her disappearance to the police. From the police's records, he realized that the gang took Li Choo to Singapore. The word, 'Singapore' rang a bell in Park Ming's mind. He had been chatting on the Internet with Robin in Singapore. In desperation, he emailed Robin on an urgent basis and related everything including a description of Li Choo to him. He asked Robin to do whatever he could from the Singapore end. It was an anguishing cry for help that Robin could not ignore.

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Park Ming was wide-awake the whole night, after he had emailed to Robin for help. He could not sleep, and wept as he felt so miserable and helpless. Then at around two in the morning, the telephone rang. He picked up the phone, and in a voice that was weak and fearful, he answered, 'I'm Park Ming.' The voice at the other end was warm and gentle. 'I'm Steve, a friend of Robin. I have been asked by Robin to help you. Tell me everything, from beginning to end.' Park Ming was so distressed and wanted someone to listen. He poured out everything. He talked about his love for Li Choo, and wept as he told Steve his predicament and misfortune after coming to Dongguan from Hunan. Steve comforted the young man and told him not to worry. He suggested that he should come to Singapore immediately to help to find Li Choo. Park Ming readily agreed. At seven in the morning, a man called Leo knocked on Park Ming's door. He mentioned that Steve had made all the arrangements and asked him to follow him to the Guangzhou Bai Yun Airport to fly to Singapore. He showed him an air ticket issued by the China Southern Airlines. The drive to Guangzhou took three hours, going through heavy morning traffic. Park Ming's mind was in a daze. He could not believe that Steve could be so kind and helpful. He also did not expect such a prompt response. For three hours, he sat in the car driven by Leo, thinking deeply about his many problems and woes. His mind kept searching for some images of Robin and Steve. Are they fat or thin, young, middleaged or old? Are they very rich, to be able to fetch him to Singapore at such great expense? These and many questions and mental pictures swamped his mind. He was tired, but he could not even close his eyes all through the long journey to Bai Yun Airport. This was the first time he took a plane. The experience was a novel one, but the expectation of meeting Steve and Robin in Singapore was even more compelling. He thought about Li Choo, and earnestly prayed, as he had never done before for her to be saved, during the entire flight of three and a half hours. After the immigration and customs formalities in the Singapore's Changi Airport Terminal One, Park Ming walked out into the Arrival Hall. He saw a handsome young man holding up a sign with his name on it. He walked towards him and introduced himself, 'I'm Park Ming from China. It's my name on the placard.'

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'I'm Steve, Park Ming. Are you okay after such a long flight.' Park Ming recognized his unmistakable warm and caring voice. He looked at his handsome Eurasian features and thought he was a movie star. The boyish grin and smile on his face was quite heart warming to Park Ming who still looked very depressed. Park Ming sat next to Steve in his old Mercedes. He was enchanted to see the garden city in all its splendor along the entire drive out of the Changi Airport into the city. He could not help, but ask the question, 'in such a heavenly place like this city, why there are still gangs kidnapping young ladies for prostitution?' 'A good question,' Steve replied. 'You are a schoolteacher. You should know that human nature is perverse everywhere, and greed resides in human hearts wherever they are.' Park Ming asked about Robin, but Steve was evasive, and said that Robin was away but could be contacted through the Internet. He told Park Ming that he had already made arrangements for his accommodation at his house. Once he had rested, they would go around to look for Li Choo. Steve drove along the East Coast Parkway at full speed. Park Ming was impressed, and showed some nervously as the old Mercedes sped along like a jet. Steve explained that outwardly his vehicle looked old, but he had spent a fortune fitting it with a brand new Rolls Royce engine to fool people. In his view, the car could outpace the fastest sports car in the country. Park Ming realized that he was not boasting, and was in fact being modest, as he spoke in a matter of fact fashion. Steve sped on and then they were there at Steve's Fort Road apartment. Steve brought the car to a screeching halt, and hopped out, took Park Ming's luggage bag, and escorted Park Ming to the lift lobby. A moment later, they were standing in the enormous front hall of his apartment. Steve in fact did not allow Park Ming to rest when they reached his apartment. He plied him with many questions. He asked for photographs of Li Choo, and immediately started distributing the photos through faxes and the Internet to his connections island-wide. He put out rewards, great sums of money, to get information. He checked through all the transportation connections, social escort agencies, the police, and people who knew the brothels and the underworld gangs. Working tirelessly with the help of Park Ming, he made nearly a thousand telephone calls. At last, at around 2.30 in the morning, after two days' work, he obtained some leads, all pointing to certain blocks of houses in Geylang.

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Park Ming marveled at his new friend. He seemed to be working in frenzy. Fortyeight hours without sleep - how could anyone endure this? But he knew Steve by now - his boyish grin and ready smile, even when he was exhausted, were a veil for a warm and caring man who suffered with others and empathized with them in their distress, despair, misery and sorrow. It was around eleven in the evening when Park Ming and Steve reached the house in Geylang where Li Choo was still kept in captivity. The road was dark as there were only a few street lamps in the vicinity. In the darkness of the night, the Special Branch, CID, and the C.I.O. already placed several groups of heavily armed combat officers to surround the house. Park Ming followed by Steve and a police officer knocked on the door of a shop house. A burly Chinese man opened the door. Park Ming pretended that he was a customer and said that he would like to get a young Chinese girl for the night, and asked for the price. Another two who came out from the interior of the house soon joined the burly man. Steve pressed a button from his mobile phone and directed the laser beams to hit the three men. They fell down. The police officer and his party of combat officers charged into the rooms, and arrested six other men, all dangerous criminals. They found Li Choo still bound and blindfolded in one of the rooms. Park Ming went into the room with one of the police officers and freed her. The police also freed twelve other girls from various countries. Steve took Park Ming and Li Choo back to his apartment, after they completed the police formalities. Li Choo and Park Ming had an enormous meal that left them both stupefied with satisfaction. They were all talking about the raid. Park Ming spoke with obvious love for the girl who suffered so much during the ordeal. Steve praised Park Ming for his courage, and let him take the credit for the rescue operation. Li Choo found Steve's modesty fascinating. In tears, she thanked Steve again and again for bringing Park Ming to Singapore, and for his effort to save her and several other girls captured in the brothel. To Steve, this was one of several projects he had launched to help people in distress, and he had done it in Robin's name, in a very secret and discreet way, using his Internet connections and some information supplied by Rachel from the records kept by the Global Welfare Vision, and other community leaders. He looked at the young man from Hunan who suffered so much, being out of work, financially ruined, and not being re-united with his loved one, and his warm heart told him to do something to help him stand on his own feet. The next day, he made arrangements for Park Ming and Li Choo to work in the charitable organization that had been set up under Robin's name. He told both of them in the afternoon. Park Ming was amazed and grateful, and promised to repay Steve and Robin for the kindness and help given to him and his girl friend.

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'Fine,' Steve said quietly. 'Both of you will be staying in a rented apartment not far from here. Just a two room flat, you don't mind. I hope you'll be happy there.' In the evening, Steve invited a few friends to his apartment to meet Park Ming and Li Choo. Among them were John, Michelle and Mei Ling. He told them about Li Choo's ordeal, but played down his part in helping them. He let Robin and Park Ming take the credit for Li Choo's rescue. Michelle was amused to hear this, but she restrained herself from telling Steve and others of her connection with Robin through the Internet. She was stunned to hear Steve mentioned about Robin, and shot a question at Steve, 'and where is Robin? You have met him. How is he like….I mean how does he look?' 'In Paris, I presume. Perhaps, you have seen him yourself; perhaps he looks like me,' Steve answered snappily and in a tone that seemed to suggest that he said this in jest, not inclined to say more. He felt quite awkward being asked questions on Robin. Somehow, he resented Michelle's coolness towards him lately. Some thoughts troubled him as he told himself, 'Do I have to tell her that I am Robin, the rich and brilliant guy, to gain her love? Why should I care a damn about her obsession with someone so unreal? Why did she have to think of a person that does not exist, instead of poor me in flesh and blood, with a normal person's occasional foolishness, fads and foibles? Must I tell her the bitter truth that I, the awkward lover, the fumbling office colleague, with all the sins and imperfections of the world, is the person she secretly admire - I that am not fit to hold this princess in the arms, I that am rudely told off time and time again, unfit and unfinished as a fairy tale prince or an honourable gentleman in the classic tradition, or not wealthy enough because I drive around in an old car, and not a glittering chariot?' His face took on a grim look as those thoughts swarmed his mind. He was a little tired having to prove himself worthy of her love time and time again. Li Choo perhaps struck the right note about the song of love. She told everyone how she met Park Ming in college and fell in love with him, knowing full well that the future was grim and uncertain in a provincial town where people just lived from hand to mouth, where there was rampant unemployment and starvation. Hers was a tale of love involving two souls longing to be with each other through sunrise, sunset …sunrise, sunset ….. each day and every other day for all times, laden with happiness and tears until the golden years and then death. Hers was a tale of struggle through the groans and grinds of life, and of caring for each other hoping to build a family in another town, but instead ended up in calamity and shame.

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They switched to discussing wedding ceremonies in China and those in Singapore, which seemed a good subject since the couple would be gainfully employed and could afford to start a family. Some of the rituals described drew hilarious laughter. In the course of the discussion, Steve heard about Mei Ling's wedding to Jim Manalo. Vaguely, he recalled having heard about Jim from Rachel relating to her job in the Global Welfare Vision, but he did not think much about the matter. He gazed at Mei Ling. She returned her gaze with a knowing smile. 'Great. That calls for another round of drinks,' Steve frowned a little, and quickly walked away to get drinks from the kitchen. Mei Ling met him there. 'Need some help?' she beamed. They were alone in the kitchen, which was some distance from the hall. Mei Ling touched his cheek and whispered, 'I'll call you a few days before my wedding.' Before Steve could say anything, she walked away grinning at him taking a tray of drinks with her. Steve's hand phone rang. It was K1 who spoke excitedly to him to let him know about another bomb blast in Jakarta, Indonesia, killing more than a dozen people and injuring more than 150 people, again mostly tourists. 'It was a deadly blast at the JW Marriott Hotel. Those wicked terrorists - they used a car bomb, which ripped through this tourist hotel. The police was unprepared, and nobody was caught. Watch the news in five minutes' time.' When Steve heard this, again he thought about the images that swarmed his mind while he was on the Internet. It was quite sometime ago - yes, even before he met Danielle. He asked himself why he did not heed the weird supernatural warning that something terrible would happen in Bali and Jakarta, and warned the Indonesians about this. He felt uneasy. His mind was in a whirl. His face took on a grim and rather unhappy look. Steve returned to his guests in the hall. He switched on the TV for the news. Suddenly there was complete silence. Steve put down his glass of wine and stood near a table. He took out a notebook from his back pocket, and started scribbling down some notes, as the story of death in Indonesia was told. Michelle looked at Steve, and asked him whether they should leave for the office immediately. He nodded slightly. Then he said, 'All right, but it won't take long. Shall we go in one car with John, too?' The guests heard about their plan to go to the C.I.O. office, and tactfully they all thanked the host and left the apartment, leaving Steve, John and Michelle standing in the hall still discussing what they should do in view of the blast. Michelle started for

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the door and called aloud, 'Let's go then. We only need to check up something in the office computer. It will not take very long, will it?' There was urgency in her voice, and Steve found her smiling at him and gesticulating at him. Steve felt himself glowing with happiness when he detected some sparks of love in her eyes. In the computer and records office in C.I.O., the three of them worked furiously, going through all the computerized data, especially the activity reports and secret notes about terrorist cells in Indonesia. They checked through the reports on religious groups, schools, study groups, community organizations, and underground organizations. They checked through the routine reports of undercover agents, some of whom covered activities including commercial operations in factories in a number of Southeast Asian countries. The discussion that ensued was brief. They knew the few groups that were involved, but would need confirmation the next day, checking with the respective countries and organizations, and obtaining instructions from their superior officers. Steve returned to his apartment. He took care of a few emails from friends, and search for information on the Internet. At midnight, he experienced something strange while he was surfing on the net. The pictures on the monitor screen began to shake. Steve sighed, 'another computer quirk?' He sat in front of the computer wondering. He placed his hands away from the keyboard, but the pictures still continued to shake. At this point, he could feel the vibrations in his head following the rhythmic shakes of the pictures on the screen. As the vibrations increased, he noticed that the pictures took the shapes of coconuts. Within seconds, everything became normal. But Steve sat there motionless and bewildered for a long while. Then he stirred, switched off the computer and stood up, muttering to himself, 'It was "Bali and Jakarta" the last time; now it's "coconuts." If I tell people about this, they will think I'm nuts.' He tried to sleep in order to get up early the next morning. He closed his eyes but slept fitfully, there was too much on his mind to think about, to see, and discover. He realized that he had received some precognitive messages about Bali and Jakarta, long before the bomb-blasts there, and he had done nothing to avert the dreadful disasters. He had to take the ESP message about "coconuts" seriously, even though he could not understand anything and even if he were to face ridicule and scorn. He chuckled to himself and then laughed in a strange way. At last, he might have found the answer to the ESP message. He closed his eyes again; this time he was soon in slumber land. He slept until the sun settled high above the sky and then stirred and opened his eyes and stretched. And he smiled as he looked up, there was a bird sitting on his windowsill, chirping loudly. He rolled over slowly and then sat bolt upright to yell at the bird, 'Coconuts, coconuts! I'll be damned.'

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He reported to the C.I.O. office at eleven in the morning. There were quite a few people in the office when he arrived; some of them were strangers, several in combat uniforms, and others in Batik shirts most likely from Indonesia. He saw John and Michelle among the group talking to the visitors. Michelle stared at Steve rather disapprovingly, as though she chided him for coming to the office so late. Then the loud voice of K1 could be heard. 'Good morning again, please take a seat and see whether we could work out an action plan, ladies and gentlemen.' The discussion took several hours. There was consensus on the general line of action. Based on intelligence reports, there would be stricter surveillance over the target organizations, including schools, religious buildings and factories. However, government officials of various countries seemed perplexed about one thing - where did the terrorists hide the explosives. Yes, so much of it was used in one go, and yet whenever searches were made, none could be found anywhere in Bali or Jakarta or in the islands nearby. The marine officers there had never detected any boats carrying large quantities of explosives to the island. Impulsively, Steve suggested that all coconut plantations there be searched. To everyone's amusement and laughter, he stressed the point that the husks must be checked thoroughly as well. 'What husks? Or did you mean all tasks be done thoroughly?' somebody shouted amidst laughter and some jeers. Steve's face was a little red, but he blurted out, 'Coconut husks. A thorough search means that every coconut should be examined as well.' After the meeting, Michelle took a shot at Steve. 'It's so embarrassing. What can't you take things seriously? Imagine making wise cracks at such an important meeting!' Steve grinned but did not answer. As things turned out later, Steve's point hit home. Some of the Indonesians took Steve's remarks literally. They scoured the coconut plantations for clues and eventually found large quantities of explosives hidden in these plantations, which had been fenced up. The explosives were hidden inside coconut shells on top of the tall coconut trees and in stores. They were lethal instruments of death. The information supplied by Steve, Michelle and John to the authorities in other countries also proved to be of immense value. They all watched the international news that night. Swift action was taken by the authorities to round up the culprits. Somehow, they were unable to apprehend the real culprits, people who manipulated from behind, and those who financed the clandestine operations. Steve knew full well that they would be out for vengeance against agents working for C.I.O. Steve never expected that this to come so early.

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Two days later, officers of the Narcotic Bureau arrested John for illegal possession of drugs. John protested his innocence, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. It was clear to Steve and K1 that some people planted the drugs in John's car, but the drug enforcement officers just refused to listen to explanations. In the end, everybody just gave up, and resigned to the inevitable - just like what people often maintain, 'let the law takes its course.' John was jailed for six months. For John, this was just the beginning of a long nightmare. To his friends and colleagues, John was a happily married man. They never knew what he had to endure at home. His Eurasian wife, Jenny appeared quiet and sedate, but at home, she gave John a daily dose of hell. It's easy to kid ourselves. So easy. Two persons got together in matrimony must show each other some respect. Each must treat the other with some civility. Just a simple rule to follow. But this is easier said than done. In the case of John, after a hard day's work, he had to listen to a barrage of complaints from his wife every day. Every word he uttered would meet with a sharp retort, often laced with poisonous belittlement, ridicule and scorn. Sure, he was not rich nor charismatic, not doing as well as others in his office, nor was he dynamic and commanding among his peers. Shed a tear for this quiet average working man. Doing battle in the steaming human jungles calls for shock troops in super shape. Making millions calls for rare gifts of business acumen, keen business strategy, sweat, guts and sometimes tears, an unbending will and indomitable courage and determination, and what God sometimes does not provide, ample financial reserves and capital. Check this out. This applies to Jimmy Brown, but it applies to John as well: Shed a tear for Jimmy Brown Poor Jimmy is no more For what he thought was H2O Was H2SO4 John could not be expected to do battle at home. He was not cut out to tame the shrew. His confidence melted the moment he stepped into his home, which was supposed to be a safe haven, a place where one could relax with caring and loving people around. The sad fact is no longer surprising. When the honeymoon is over, the loving couple become two individuals trying to live together while having to do battle with insidious attacks of divergent points of view, different life styles or just ways of doing things, conflicts or confrontations, discontent or disappointments, and a whole host of acrimonious behavior. The individuals will find themselves trapped in what psychologists call a "double bind." Whatever we do, we lose. When a man like John returns to a wife he genuinely loves, he cannot fight back when he faces the shrapnels of daily bombardments that become embedded in his mind. When he has done something wrong, he cannot tell her what really happens; so he lies, and the deception hurts their relationships. When he fights back, if at all, the conflicts become worse,

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and become perpetuated, leaving ugly emotional scars on both sides. In the end, there is no right or wrong, no forgiving or forgetting; only more heat, more hurt, and perhaps more hate. In the prison dormitory, John was suddenly ordered by the warden to get ready to go to court. 'What, go to court! I have already been charged and sentenced. Why must I be charged again?' he wondered. But no explanation was given. They handcuffed him, and took him out of the prison walls under heavy escort and placed him inside a truck. He was then driven for many miles to the subordinate court complex. A long walk through the labyrinth of passages in the basement ensued. They locked him within a lock-up cell to wait for the court sessions to start. At length, he was brought out with his hands still in handcuffs through several public-waiting areas where many people stared at him out of curiosity. He was then led to the lobby of the Family Court, where he saw his wife with her solicitors. She just gave him a cold stare. That's all he got after twenty odd years of marriage. It seemed that his wife had filed for a divorce. No visits and no letters from her, and then this divorce? These thoughts went through his mind. His heart was broken. He was so embittered that he gave his consent, but there was a great deal of resentment in his heart as to the timing of the divorce proceedings. Why couldn't this woman wait for another month when he was released from prison for an offence he did not commit? Why was she so cruel as to let her husband be paraded through the public concourse of the court buildings and suffered humiliation? The irony of the whole thing was the fact that John was actually innocent. He did not bother to spend vast sums to appeal against such a short sentence. He also feared that he might even get a longer sentence if the appeal failed. But the consequences were severe. Shortly after his incarceration, his wife meticulously combed through all his belongings at home and those stuff that was brought back from his office. And bingo! She found his diary in which he had described quite fully his sexual encounters with another woman. Fortunately, no name was mentioned; otherwise the storm would have been worse. 'That's enough! Never mind the insistence that the affair was shortlived.' The good woman promptly decided that she wanted divorce. She wanted his car and his house too - and the children, as well. That's it. John had to pay a heavy price, and in fact lost everything he owned for a cheater's pleasure for just two weeks. Not everyone was as lucky as John, for he was too good in his work as an investigator to lose his job. But who fixed him in this predicament? His boss and colleagues in C.I.O. still had to work hard to catch the evildoers.

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Fourteen
Jim Manalo sat in the large living room of his bungalow at Holland Road. Ordinarily, he would have preferred to meet his business associates in a hotel or a café. But tonight, he waited for Mephis. He glanced at his wristwatch. It showed seven o'clock. He became a little impatient. He sat on one of the massive leather armchairs and stared blankly at the luxurious Scandinavian furniture and glanced at the neat creases of his expensively tailored Robinson suit. He stood up and paced the floor for a few minutes. He sat down again to read some reports. Then he tossed the papers aside. He couldn't concentrate on a damn thing. There was so much on his mind. In two hours' time, he was to go out with Mei Ling to pick a diamond ring for her. He had proposed marriage to her and she had accepted. And this guy, Madini Mephis - he must exert a tighter control over him. No doubt, he was brilliant but his behaviour was weird, to say the least. Jim set out to help his Filipino people in their struggle for freedom, but this mad Mephis expanded the operations on a global scale and mobilized religious groups of whatever description to generate fear and spread terror. A lot of lies, a lot of twisting of religious dogmas, a lot of brainwashing was attempted. Fortunate for Mephis, there were foolish people who believe the lies, once they were repeated often enough, and they even believe that taking orders from him to kill or be killed is a divinely inspired way of serving a higher cause - God. Mephis seemed to forget that so much of these contrived notions were contradictory to the fundamental tenets of religion - God's love, God's grace, universal brotherhood and human compassion. Mephis must be mad to rejoice when evening news rolled off the presses over the havoc and devastations and the mass killings of innocent people. His pious rejoicing over the spilling of so much blood showed him to be one mad man Jim should not be associated with for long. For the present, he would continue to use him for his mission to die for in the Philippines. Jim believed in reincarnation and hell. He did not want to be cast into the deep, dark, deadly pit of hell fire for his evil deeds. Mei Ling was sleeping upstairs in the bedroom. The poor girl - she was exhausted after going out shopping the whole afternoon. Mei Ling had talked a lot about her roommate, Michelle while they were sitting in the café of a shopping center along Orchard Road. She told Jim how Michelle spent her time on the Internet writing to her dream man, Robin. Jim was intrigued and plied her with many questions about Michelle and Robin. Mei Ling had no inkling why Jim was so interested in Michelle's pre-occupation with emailing someone she had never met. To please her man, Mei Ling humored him by describing Michelle's work and her likes and dislikes. She had to admit that Michelle was prettier than she, but it could not be that Jim was interested in her roommate. After all, she would be married to him soon.

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Jim Manalo's impatience grew as he sat there in his massive armchair waiting for Mephis to turn up. He spun his chair around and looked morosely at the passing cars from his window. Then his face lit up, when he noticed Mephis's blue Honda Accord turning into the driveway of his huge bungalow house. Mei Ling slept fitfully in the bedroom. Her eyes remained closed, but she pictured herself in Steve's arms and she re-lived the moments when their bodies melted together. She would never forget the night when love entered her heart, making it out with Steve. No doubt it was a short affair. But it was something wrapped in sweetness and mystery, fascination and excitement. She could still feel the pulsating and exhilarating climax, the memories of which flooded her with caressing erotic feelings and sensual delight. As she stirred in her huge bed, she heard voices in the hall. She got up, took the mirror and fixed her make-up and her hair. She looked at herself and smiled. Her complexion and facial features could beat even the supermodels. The shapely slender body that she tuned through regular physical exercise was unbeatable in any beauty contest. She knew her worth as a beauty without peers. Her face alone was exquisitely carved. God had been kind to her. He had not been forgetful about anything - her long soft hair, her perfect teeth, the alluring curve of her sweet lips and her voluptuous breasts. Hers was a beauty that could 'launch a thousand ships' like Helen of Troy. She had toyed with Steve and she was sure he could bid him to come to her anytime she wanted. However, she had decided not to compete with Michelle for Steve's love, but for friendship's sake, gave her the entire freeway to get her man. After all, Steve could not be compared with Jim Manalo, in terms of wealth and stature. Steve was just an average wage earner with an old car and an uncertain future. But Jim - he was a tycoon from the prestigious district of Makati in Manila, a man of substance, a housing developer, and head of a charitable organization, the Global Welfare Vision with branches all over the world. Yes, Jim was the big man whom she could love and control. She could hear Jim talking to two other persons, one of whom, she could identify as Mephis. She did not mean to eavesdrop, but when she heard Michelle's name being mentioned, she pricked her ears to listen. 'Mephis had some pretty exciting ideas. He would pose as Robin to lure Michelle out. The boys could then finish her off.' Jim's voice was direct and authoritative. 'I want the Global Welfare Vision to send more money to prop up the operations in Mindanao. I don't really care a hoot about the work in Indonesia and the rest of the world, but the Filipino operations are different. It's what I set out to do, to get freedom for my people there. Mephis could get funds elsewhere and get other people to work on targets in sensitive parts of the world.' Mephis cut in. 'Jim, you think you can achieve anything just concentrating on the few small islands in the Philippines. We've got the world kneeling at our feet now. All we

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have to do is to work on four main areas. First - where there are disputes, even between countries, we go in. Second - where there is discontentment, we sow more discontent, and spread unrest; we will then find a scapegoat. Third - where there is money to make from our sale of arms and explosives, or from the boys we could detail to do the job, we will set the stage and emerge as heroes. Finally, we need to work on the ground conditions - brainwashing the young to believe there is a worthwhile cause, that there is injustice somewhere, or that their religion or country or group desires it to be done. Then we provide the training for the fighters. The object of the exercise is to get someone else to die for a cause - any cause based on the logic of emotions.' Cold sweat poured down her forehead as Mei Ling listened. She was an intelligent girl and well informed. He knew at once the danger she was in. She realized that Michelle, Steve, and the other agents of C.I.O. were in danger. But what could she do? She was very frightened. She quickly closed her bedroom door, and lay on her bed thinking hard. Fortunate for her, the two visitors departed very quickly. She could not sleep, but just lay there waiting for Jim to come up to her room later to call her. She thought it would be safer that way. When Mei Ling returned to her apartment at midnight, she found Michelle working on the computer. She was envious of this girl - her poise, her beauty and brains, and the fact that Steve loved her. She knew this about Steve. She heard him crying out Michelle's name when they first made love. It would not have made any difference to her before, when she believed she had Jim by her side, to cherish her with love and wealth through sunrise and sunset until perhaps the twilight of her years. But chance had lifted the veil of Jim's private life, allowing her to have a glimpse of his dark evil face behind the mask of congeniality, and revealing him as head of the faceless brutal monster that had terrorized and enslaved the world. As she thought about this, her eyes became misty and the stinging thorns of anguish pierced her heart. How could she cope emotionally with the sense of hopeless and despair? How could she climb out of the deep dark pit of frustrations and disappointments? Who could she turn to for help to quell the mounting fears in her heart, and cast away the menacing shadows of death? Michelle's face was beaming, as she rushed to the hall to show Mei Ling a printed email. 'Hi, Mei Ling,' she sounded very cheerful. 'At last, I will be meeting Robin. He had asked me to meet him in the car park at Newton food center tomorrow night at eight. He'll be waiting at the footstall selling sugarcane water. He asked for my mobile phone number. He would call me again from the food stall tomorrow night.'

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Mei Ling's face dropped. She mumbled a few words of congratulations. Confused and frightened, she just did not know what else to say at that moment. 'I will have to look nice. I'll be on leave for a few days. Tomorrow's the big night.' Michelle giggled and then disappeared into her room. In her room, Mei Ling sat down on a leather armchair to gather her thoughts. It was almost midnight, but she finally decided to call Steve. She dialed the number of his mobile phone. A warm and gentle voice answer, 'Hi, this is Steve.' 'Steve, I'm Mei Ling. I need to see you right away. It's very urgent. I'm leaving immediately, and please wait for me at your lift lobby.' Steve replied in the affirmative. He was wondering about Mei Ling's motive in meeting him. He thought that it would be another romantic encounter, and laughed. He took a quick bath, dressed up impeccably as ever in a blue short-sleeved shirt and dark blue pants, and was ready to meet Mei Ling. He could not help being excited to meet Mei Ling - the beautiful and alluring Mei Ling, a lady of mystery and excitement. But he was quick to notice the urgency of her trembling voice, and was curious to find out why suddenly she called him. Steve waited at the lift lobby. Mei Ling entered, alluring and graceful as ever in her white silk blouse and skirt. She reached out and grabbed Steve's hand. 'Oh, Steve, we must talk. Let's go up to your apartment quickly.' 'You look nervous. What's wrong?' He gave her a smile of assurance, and put his arms around her slender waist. Her face lit up and her warm eyes sparkled, and he knew she felt safe and comforted by this gesture. This was the first occasion Mei Ling visited his large apartment. She glanced around quickly to observe the décor and the luxurious furniture. She managed to crack a joke even though she was in a nervous state. 'Steve, you appear to be living beyond your means.' Steve laughed. 'Most of these things were from my dead parents. Some I bought when I traveled to France and other places. But tell me why you make such a sudden visit. Did you miss me?' At this point, tears poured down her cheeks. Between sobs, she told Steve everything about Jim Manalo and Mephis, and their plans to capture Michelle. She told Steve that Michelle had received an email from Robin, and they would be meeting each other for the first time in the Newton food center car park at eight in the evening. Robin would be waiting at the footstall selling sugarcane water, and Michelle had his mobile phone number to call him when she reached there.

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Steve couldn't believe his ears. Out of the blue, he had uncovered the secrets of world terrorism through this innocent and bright girl. He knew the heartache she felt in betraying Jim, the boyfriend she was about to wed. He also knew she cared for Michelle and worried about her safety. He was deeply touched by her trust in him. His mind was in a whirl, but his emotions ran wild. He took her in his arms while they were still standing, and held her tightly. 'Don't be afraid, Mei Ling,' he whispered as he kissed her soft hair. He took out his handkerchief to wipe off the tears from her face. Mei Ling was still trembling and sobbing as Steve poured her a drink to calm her nerves. He took her to his room, and asked her to rest there, while he made some phone calls. He talked to K1 and the heads of several intelligence organizations and asked them to make preparations to storm the headquarters of the Global Welfare Vision to search the premises and make the arrests. K1 knew that the lives of his agents, both locally and overseas, would be endangered if the raids were not carried out immediately. Steve told Mei Ling to wait in his apartment until he returned. He would telephone her to keep her informed. He then dashed off to the combined operations room at Pearl's Hill. The operation was a complete success. Swiftly and surely, the special squads stormed the building, including the Holland Road bungalow occupied by Jim. They arrested Jim at the bungalow and caught Mephis in the Ladyhill Hotel. Eight other foreigners residing in the hotel were also detained. The special squads could not find Mephis in the office of the Global Welfare Vision. By three in the morning, everything was completed. Sleepy and exhausted, Steve returned home, driving speedily along the expressway leading to his housing estate. He swerved into the entrance of the car park and looked for a place to park his vehicle. As he stepped out of his car, he looked around, fearful that he might have been followed. After checking around for a while, he knew that he was safe. He rushed into the lift lobby and then entered the lift. In dim light, he took out the door keys and quietly opened his apartment door. The hall lights were off as he walked into his apartment. He quickly switched on one of the lights, and went straight into his bedroom to check whether Mei Ling was all right. He found her waiting there for him, reading a magazine. She was overjoyed to find him safe and sound. She jumped out of the bed to hug and caress him, crying aloud, 'Steve, I need you tonight.' Steve narrated to her how the raids were carried out. When he told her about the arrest of Jim, she sobbed, 'Jim would never want to see her again, after what I have done.' She was sorry for Jim, but her emotions were mixed. At the moment, all she wanted

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was to hold Steve in her arms. She could not think of anything else but love and sex with the one she desired. And her desire grew every minute, as she tugged at his dress, and pulling him to her. Steve's response was not entirely negative. He admitted that he loved Michelle, and pleaded with Mei Ling not to disrupt the relationship. Mei Ling nodded her head slightly, but leaned forward to kiss him passionately. She then dimmed the room light and closed the bedroom door. Steve watched her as she undressed. It was almost as if she was giving him a performance. She stood near him, removing her silk blouse and skirt, smiling at him as she began to peel off her bras. Her beautiful firm and protruding breasts were exposed. She blushed and then covered her breasts with her hands. And when she hesitated with her panties, he walked over and pulled it down for her, kneeling in front to gaze at her exposed flesh. He tossed the panties away, and held her tightly with his hands on her buttocks. He then kissed her magnificent breasts. She held his head and trembled. They lay on the bed as he took her. Words were vain when limbs became entwined. Then when both their bodies were moist with exhaustion, he held her close to her and whispered, 'Promise you don't tell Michelle anything about tonight, and keep quiet about Mephis's email to her. I want to do a trick on her.' She nodded and in the darkness, clung to him with more fervor. He reached out and made love to her again with a peculiar mix of violence and gentleness. She found herself passionately holding on to him, as her soul and body was filled strongly with his passion. Despite the trauma of the evening and the unhappiness of her lost love with Jim, there was joy in her heart as her vibrant and soft body found fulfillment and passionate love in Steve's embrace. She lay there half dozing, waking every few minutes to stare at his handsome face and muscular body. His cheek was warm against her breast. She wondered whether this was real - Steve asleep in her arms. It was morning on Saturday, the day Michelle was supposed to meet Robin. Michelle woke up early in the morning. She gazed at the streaks of dawn, and watched the rising sun in the azure sky. It was a wonderful morning, and a new day, the first day of her leave from office. It was eight o'clock. She slipped into the bathroom, and took a shower. After the shower, she put on her bras and panties and then she stood in front of her dressing table. She looked at her face, scrutinizing it for any blemish. She found none, and smiled happily. She turned around to glance at her tall slender body and her firm and full breasts. She put on some light make-up. She then brushed her long soft hair, and pulled it into a ponytail. She was satisfied with the reflection in the mirror of a sweet young girl staring back at her. She smiled again. She thought of the meeting with Robin in the evening, and was determined to look her best. She went through the clothes in her wardrobe and picked the dress for the evening date. She then put on a blouse and slacks and went into the hall. She glanced at Mei Ling's room. The door was open, but she was not there. She thought Mei Ling left the apartment early. She did not realize that Mei Ling had not returned home the previous night.

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Michelle and Pamela spent a few hours in the Bugis Village. Named after the rugged Bugis traders who came to Singapore from Sulawesi in Indonesia, the Bugis Village or Bugis Junction is the modern day clean-up and sanitized version of the once infamous Bugis Street of Singapore. In the Sixties, the place was crawling with transvestites, prostitutes and rowdy sailors. People used to go there to see the nightly parade of Kai Tais or Bearney Boys. They would leave their community in Geylang just before midnight and mysteriously and magically appeared as glamorous women from the dark fringes of the streets. Today, it is thronged with street stalls selling imitation designer goods, clothing, souvenirs, fruits and food centers serving local fare and delicacies. The two ladies walked through the narrow lanes lined with stalls and back alleys where they could find the vanishing trades such as clog maker, pavement barber, clock repairer and fortune-teller. It was an exciting shopping experience. The dress stalls attracted Michelle. She bought a few fashion dresses for her wardrobe. Pamela was most interested in the compact disks, and she spent a lot of time picking a few CDs. A short walk from there led to Parco departmental store. After an exhausting walk around the store, they spent their time in the air-conditioned street outside the store, sitting on the benches and watching the children play near the water fountain. They then boarded a train at the Bugis Station to visit Chinatown. Chinatown appeared to be a wonderland to Michelle and Pamela. The soul of Chinatown runs deep with its rich history and a past that was full of mystery shrouded with intrigues and the unknown. Chinatown in the old days was a place where many broken families sought refuge after they had gone through a harrowing time during the Japanese Occupation. It was a place where dreams were often outgrown and discarded, and sometimes turned into nightmares. The two girls were impressed with the architecture of the shop houses known as "Chinese Baroque" - a mélange of Chinese, Malay and European influences. They walked past Mosque Street, Smith Street, and the infamous Sago Lane. This older part of the Chinatown was bustling with activities and street hawkers all day and all night. Sago Lane was notorious for its dinghy death houses and funeral parlors in the Fifties, but now it is a shoppers' paradise. And there was Keong Saik Road notorious in the past decades for its brothels and girls with the lute, "pi-pah" entertainers and sexual companions, as well as "tea-girls" who entertained customers at drinks stalls and coffee shops. Now, the road has acquired a reputation for its fine food and shops selling all sorts of merchandise. Some distance away is the new Chinatown MRT station. Its Chinese name is "Niu Che Shui" literally translated as "Bullock drawn water carts" which were used by immigrants to get water for their household use. In the days of the early immigrants from India and China, conditions were harsh, sanitation minimum and gang crime rampant. The only source of fresh water was from the wells at Spring Street in Chinatown. Michelle and Pamela took a train home from the Chinatown Station. It was indeed a memorable visit for them.

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Michelle returned alone to her apartment. She found Mei Ling in her room talking with some friends. Michelle smiled at them. She only had time to exchange some pleasantries with her, and then rushed into her room. She laughed as she sat down, thinking about Robin. She imagined him to be a young man instead of someone old. She knew him to be brilliant and extremely nice to talk to, and was kind and generous. She also knew that he was rich beyond belief, but as regards his looks, she had no inkling whatsoever. Sure in her fantasy, he would be her prince charming, but since both parties agreed to keep their respective identities a secret, she really had no clue. In the shower, she let her fantasy run wild. As she bathed and rubbed her body with soap, she imagined being touched by Robin's caressing hands. She blushed with shame when her mind started to maintain control, telling her what a romantic fool she was. Her eyes narrowed as she stared at herself in the mirror. 'All right, you fool. You're acting like a princess who is going to meet her prince charming. He could well be a fat ugly old man, or even an old woman.' She recalled what Pamela had warned her. 'The net is a veil. It is a convenient veil for the deceptive person. It is a deadly twenty first century game, not a child's play. But the game is pre-historic - the hunter and the hunted, the predator and the prey. One rarely gets a dreamboat at the other end; more likely a ravening wolf in sheep's clothing and the "animal" is more dangerous because he is in every sense an invisible one.' Imagine meeting someone faceless. It's like a blind date. These thoughts crowded her mind as she drove out of the car park of her Sea View Apartment. She switched on the car radio and listened to the news. She was surprised to hear a report about the arrest of Jim Manalo and some foreign terrorists. Her heart was throbbing fast. She imagined Mei Ling must have been crying her heart out in her apartment. Still she drove on, past Mountbatten Road, down the Nicoll Highway along the Merdeka Bridge to reach the Central Business District. Then from Stamford Road, she whisked past the National Library Building, and a few minutes later, she found herself at Newton. She parked her car near the Newton car park entrance. She was aware that several men turned to stare, as she walked past the hawker stalls. Had they been staring like this all along? Was she making an impression on men like this everywhere she went, and she had never noticed? Suddenly she felt a current of excitement as her mobile phone rang. 'Hi, Princess, it's me, Robin.' The voice at the other hand sounded warm and friendly, and vaguely familiar. 'Turn your head to the right in the direction of the sugar-cane drinks stall,' he added. Michelle turned her head sharply to the right, mechanically to follow the instructions given. To her amazement and wonder, she found a tall handsome man standing there, looking at her with an easy smile and a little mischievous grin. She could not believe her eyes, and she stared unsmilingly at him. Steve stared back, waiting to see her look

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of surprise…. this time he had the upper hand perhaps. However, all he could see was a face that showed annoyance and disappointment. His heart sank as Michelle snapped at him. 'Steve, are you playing a trick on me? I am here actually to meet someone else.' 'I know you are meeting Robin, and I am Robin. Honest!' Her face became sullen. She refused to believe him. She still thought that he was playing a joke on her. 'I hope you don't do this again.' Her voice was cold, and she was about to walk away. 'Michelle,' Steve said quietly. 'Remember Sherwood Forests. Remember your telling me about the girl who hanged herself in your neighborhood. Remember when you asked me how Robin looks like, and were told that he looks like me.' Michelle halted, and turned around to face Steve. Her eyes searched his face for the truth; her face remained impassive. Still unconvinced, she asked, 'if you are Robin, tell me the name of the expert Robin quoted as having said, "Terrorism is Theatre.' What was the year when the quotation was made? Also when Robin and I agreed not to divulge our respective identities, what did Robin quote from English Literature? Steve laughed and showed the boyish grin that occasionally irritated Michelle. His smile was openly victorious. "It looks as though we are playing the game, 'Who wants to be a millionaire.' Michelle …..Princess, the name of the terrorism expert given to you was Brian Jenkins in the year 1974. As regards the second question, the answer is 'All the World's a stage, and all the men and women, merely players.' From William Shakespeare's play - As you like it." Tears welled in her eyes. Michelle forgot about the people milling around them. She became oblivious to the men who stared at her. She reached for Steve, and hugged him, whispering gently to him. 'Steve, I have been treating you shabbily, thinking that I loved Robin. I actually love you both.' 'There is no explanation needed, Michelle. I am the one who should apologise, for keeping my secret identity from you. In the end, both of us suffered, and we lost each other as we drifted apart for a while. What is important is the present and the future as fantasy turns to reality?' Steve put his arms around Michelle's waist and guided her to his car. Once they were in the car, Michelle began to talk more freely. She asked whether Steve knew about the arrest of Jim Manalo, Mei Ling's boyfriend. Steve explained to her the circumstances leading to Jim's arrest, including the part played by Mei Ling. He also told her about Mephis, who tried to capture her, pretending to be Robin.

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'Then tonight we go to a discothèque first to celebrate.' He looked at her to watch her facial expression. She hesitated for a moment and then asked, 'Steve, you think it's safe. Why don't we go home to watch TV instead? At least, we are protected by the security personnel in the building.' 'How about my place, Michelle?' She was silent but she nodded her head slightly. Steve was overjoyed. His right foot hit the floorboard of the car, as more pressure was applied on the accelerator. The car sped on. Its Rolls Royce engine roared like a jet, overtaking all the other slower vehicles on the road. Within minutes, Steve swerved the car into Nicoll Highway, driving at full speed. He then slowed down along Mountbatten Road to let the car coast smoothly home as it approached Fort Road. 'Steve, did you fix a new engine for your car?' Her curiosity was aroused. Everything about Steve attracted her attention at the moment. She liked the feeling that she had become part of him, and wanted to know him better. 'Yes, Michelle,' he replied quietly. He nearly wanted to say, 'The car is a Rolls Royce disguised as a Mercedes.' But he checked himself, and just smiled at her in a mysterious way. He knew women well enough. Some of them wanted to own their men. It would not be 'to love and obey' but 'to love and control.' Steve did not want to pour out everything in his heart. If he were to do this, complications would set in. He knew a man who came to see him in his clinic. This man got into some small trouble, involving a corruption case, and the authorities investigated him. The guy was actually innocent, but in that moment of crisis, he told his wife about a short love affair he had some ten years ago. He soon got over his difficulties with the authorities, but his family life was gone with the winds. The man had this to say about confessions - 'confess to the priest, not your wife.' As the car coasted along Mountbatten Road, he reached for the glove compartment and took out a small package, and handed it to her. 'A gift for you - I forgot to tell you. I am a smuggler.' He glanced at her and laughed. Michelle snuggled against him. He touched her neck gently with his left hand. She opened the package, and found a diamond necklace inside. She knew it was expensive and wondered how he could afford it. Inside Steve's apartment, Michelle felt panic as she danced with Steve. True, she had been in Steve's arms before. And she had been in the apartment before. But the powerful feelings and the strange impelling sensations that sent her heart pulsating with excitement at the moment were beyond her control. The man of her dreams and

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the man who had earnestly expressed his love to her, had merged as one, and then exploded into her life. Months of longing for love, and months of self-deprivation, leaving her frustrated, desperate, lonely and sad, had taken the toll on her. Within her body and soul, there was an emptiness that needed to be filled. She needed Steve's love, affection and protection for a long time, but she held back thinking that he might not be good enough, and in the process spurned and hurt him. In a dramatic way in Newton, her perspective had been altered. The veil that inhibited her love had been lifted and she was sure of Steve's sincerity and genuine love. His brilliance and warmth as a person shone through the shadows in her mind removing Steve's veil of mediocrity and awkwardness, revealing instead the rare gifts of humility and compassion, tolerance and patience, congeniality and joie-de-vivre. She followed him to the bedroom. She felt like a teenager. Then she was in his arms. He leaned forward and kissed her lips. She responded passionately, sucking in the sensations that filled her soul. With eyes closed, she let her tongue into his mouth, searching for sensuous delight; her arms clutched his strong body and pulling him closer. Then she abruptly broke away, and sat on the long sofa in front of the TV and switched it on. She needed a pause to gather her thoughts. Standing behind the sofa, Steve ran his hand through her soft hair. He could smell its sweet fragrance that tantalized him. Nervously he placed his hands on her shoulders. He massaged her shoulders gently, and caressed her neck. Then he touched the cold dampness of her brow - 'I'm here, Michelle, and I love you.' She looked at him oddly and then responded, timidly patting his arms with her warm gentle hands. His hands boldly moved downwards with the tips of his fingers in contact with the side of her soft breasts. She did not show any response, staring at the TV screen and enjoying the comedy show, 'Under One Roof.' Steve's eyes also turned to the TV, but his hands inched their way into the inside of her blouse, resting on the top of her bras and fingering its outline. She moaned, despite the prattle and din typical of such comedy shows. Her slender body writhed in convulsive movements when his fingers inflamed her flesh, and then lingered on the protruding parts of her breasts. He bent down and kissed her on her parted lips. Then he kissed her long white neck. He eased forward to face her, still with one hand inside her blouse. He unbuttoned her blouse and detached the clasps that held the bras, and kissed her exposed breasts passionately. 'I love your body, Princess. It's so wonderful.' The words seemed to have dismantled all her defenses. She acted like the fairy-tale Princess having been awakened to meet her Prince Charming. With dreamy eyes fixed on his handsome face, she grabbed at him. Her hands caressed his muscular body, and then removed his shirt. While he continued to kiss her magnificent breasts, she closed her eyes,

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sucking in the thrills and sensations of the touch of his lips. She was afraid to open her eyes, in case this might dispel the enchantment, and disrupt the heart-throbbing moments of erotic pleasure that enveloped her. The erotic feelings grew, sending out sensations like an electrical charge through her body. There was enough electricity in these sensuous currents to generate vibrations and shakes through her nerves and pulses, driving her like a machine to twist and turn, as she moaned and groaned, moving convulsively and uncontrollably and even squeezing him and kicking at him in jerks. 'Darling, yes, yes.' Steve was not a love machine with no feelings, a person who could think without emotions and make love only with his body. The torrents of love and passion that flooded her body and soul had drowned his basic instincts and selfish desires. Instead, the love she experienced and shared with him, so raw and pristine, so complete and perfect had been distilled and transfused into his inner most being. He caught her misty gaze, as he undressed her. It was unmistakable. The love that so infused her mind and soul, shone through those sparkling loving eyes. It shone pure and heavenly like the gentle ray of sunlight at dawn. No words were spoken. No words were necessary, when two hearts began to beat as one. He carried her to the bed. Clinging close to Steve, she muttered softly that she had never kissed a man passionately before. As he undressed, she gazed at his bare body, touching him in admiration of his manhood. His hand gently lifted her skirt and his fingers touched the outline of her panties. She moaned. Her thighs instinctively crossed tightly together, reflecting the shyness in her. As he stroked her thighs, her modesty gave way to a desire for sensuous delight. She gripped his roving hand with her thighs, looking at him with vacant yearning eyes. Her body trembled in rhythm with the swaying motion of her limbs. Then it arched upwards to allow her skirts to be pulled away. Down to her panties, she turned away shyly facing the wall. He lay down besides her; rolled her body over, and gentled peel the panties off, revealing the tantalizing beauty of her nakedness. She whispered to him with a low hoarse voice that was almost inaudible, asking him to be gentle with her, as this was her first experience. As he entered her, she felt the pain and the thrill, and screamed several times. Tears streamed down her cheeks. Her arms swung haphazardly in different directions, occasionally hitting at his back. It was a moment of fulfillment for her. Her yearnings for womanhood were satisfied, as she cried in the climax of this fulfillment. Love had dissolved all her loneliness and frustrations, and some of the depressed emotional feelings associated with her deliberate suppression of the inner urges of her flesh. Then they lay still, clinging to each other. Exhausted, they slept, but only for a while. They made love again in the middle of the night. This time she became more active and less shy. She rubbed her nude body against his, and explored his maleness with

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her cool fingers. As they melted as one, and their limbs sung in unison, they felt as though they had entered into some heavenly place with flickering white lights dazzling their eyes, but at moments they experienced the feeling of being sucked by the air into a deep and dark cavern in one swift motion absorbing all the pleasurable sensations and sensuous thrills that flooded their senses. Suddenly, the silence of the night was broken by piercing screams, soft moans and sweet murmurs, and as the moist warmth covered their lower bodies, they lay still to rest but their bodies still enveloped in thrill.

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Fifteen
The Interpol group of five persons landed at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport after a long flight from Washington on a plane that had been chartered by the World Airways. They met two police officers and a young lady at the airport. Danielle Didier was in Rome when she got the message from Interpol. She just got off the plane, wearing a skirt and a blouse, her hair pulled back in a bun, wearing a new pair of fashion sandals. It was hard to believe that Mephis, her former employee, was involved in world terrorism and had been incarcerated. She did not expect him go to that length to make money - and this was blood money. She was glad and relieved that she had listened to Steve, to fire that guy. But then Interpol wanted her to help in the search for evidence to nail him, and some information on the network of death throughout the world. As far as she was concerned, she had already cleaned up the mess left by Mephis, even before he was fired. She spoke to the senior officer, Ed Peterson, from Washington and passed him some documents on Mephis. She was not afraid. Years of being in business and having been made strong like tempered steel through the difficult time with Mephis under her employment; she met the gaze of the Interpol officers with an air of confidence. 'I have studied the statements made by you, Madamoiselle Didier. You have nothing to fear. This Mephis guy got to be hanged. He had developed a network of terrorist cells in many countries, particularly in Asia. We got to deal with him, but first we must know more about him by going through his belongings, to see if there are any clues left behind here. We've got to add some juice to the operations mounted against these people, and develop greater co-ordination with other TWIG agencies. Despite the fact that Mephis was in your employ before, you are in the clear. Take it from me. That's the honest truth. I don't make snap judgments. I've done my homework on you.' He reached for a document in his briefcase, pulled it out and briefly glanced at it. 'You doubt me. Okay: you were born in Paris, but you were actually brought up in Saudi Arabia by your Arab mother. After your parents died, you inherited a huge fortune and some valuable properties, both in Pigalle and in Saudi Arabia. I know about your friendship with Steve Lee, one of our strongest supporters in Asia. He is in a sense a super hero and a staunch fighter against terrorism and all forms of injustice, and we in the Interpol are aware that you have heavily financed Steve's operations and outfit. We really must thank you for it. I am basically a fair man - remember that. I don't need to check on your business accounts or any of your factories in Terra Rosa. Now we need your co-operation, because our spoken French is lousy and we need to go into Mephis's apartment and check through everything there including things he owned in France immediately, to see if we could uncover anything - anything at all.'

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As Ed Peterson spoke, Danielle watched him intently. He was handsome, cold looking, but handsome. and he spoke with some eloquence with a heavy American accent. She was gratified to hear from him that she was exonerated for any involvement with Mephis, before he became the kingpin of terrorism. He was always wearing a veil, and nobody really knew the terrible madness in him. Danielle took out some documents on Mephis from her satchel, and handed them to Ed. She followed the police officers and the Interpol officers to Pigalle where Dr M had his house. Marie had sent a limousine for her, and she rode in the back of the car. Her face was grim, on the way to Pigalle. She felt exhausted and a little depressed, as she sat there staring morosely at the passing cars and the trees that lined both sides of the road. She had the opportunity to deal severely with Mephis, but let him go off almost scots free. What she did not quite expect was the madness of this man, getting involved with the mindless mass killing of innocent people. Terrorism to her was the mockery in the story of our modern century. She had read reports on terrorism. As RAND’s Hoffman had noted, "even such earlier arch-terrorists as Carlos the Jackal and Abu Nidal never contemplated, much less attempted, the complete destruction of a high-rise office buildings packed with people.” But for people like Mephis and his horde of miserable humanity, mass killings were considered not only acceptable but also “holy.” In the process, they brainwashed gullible religious people to stray from the path of righteousness, and God's unchanging holy commands of universal brotherhood, love and compassion, and become outcasts in any civilized society, living under the shadows of death to die for a mission they could not understand and serving a higher cause that is not Godly but devilish. True, Danielle had asked Steve to report to TWIG about Mephis's earlier activities, but she had not followed this up to get him jailed. It was something she deeply regretted - she had the opportunity, not just to fire him, but also to get this mad man permanently out of circulation. She sighed as she reflected further. This is the tragedy in the world drama that affects all of us; the Homo sapiens that still manage to survive in this turbulent planet, which is our homeland. Yes, we have survived – but for how long? All it takes to obliterate everyone, everything and everywhere is a nervous finger on a hair trigger, a faulty computer chip or some mentally deranged person who gives the instruction to fire, and then it’s curtains for all of us in this world. Yes, Curtains! Finis! The End! It is inane. It is also insane. Believe it or not, all the tragedies in the world, the holocaust that we have not forgotten, and those dark years of despair in human history, could be the work of just one mad man. Yes, One Mad Man! Danielle's car soon coasted along the streets of Pigalle. The cars screeched to a halt in front of the apartment block where Mephis lived. The men hopped out of the police

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vehicles. Ed was quick to thank Danielle for coming along and for her willingness to assist in their investigations. On their way to the apartment block, they met one of the neighbors. After wishing him, "Bonjour, Monsieur" in his broken French, Ed asked Danielle to be the interpreter to find out who were the occupants of the penthouse on the twenty-first level. The man was a little deaf, so Ed shouted, 'vingt-et-un' to everyone's amusement. The man told them that Dr. M and his mother used to occupy there, but he had not seen any of them around for sometime. They entered the penthouse apartment, and forcibly opened the wooden door. The apartment was really luxurious. It was furnished with a décor based on early American and European design. There were expensive carpets for the floor, and some for the walls and ceiling. There were numerous collectors' items and antiques all over the place, cluttering the glass display cases. 'That son of a gun!' exclaimed Ed. 'He really knows how to enjoy the finer things in life.' Danielle was quick to add, quoting from some papers she had read. 'But there is no connection between a love for fine things in life, including a taste for music, art and literature and a love for humanity. True, Mephis loved art, but obviously he hated humanity.’ The search began in earnest. They went through all Mephis's papers, checked all drawers and cupboards, and took away several boxes of documents, tapes, videos and compact discs. Only one of the bedroom doors was locked. The police officers forced it open. What they saw was really horrifying. They knew at once that this was meant to be a bedroom for Mephis's mother. But the rocking chair was empty, and from the photographs displayed, they could see that the person who used the chair was Mephis himself dressed like an old lady with a hairpiece and glasses on. The hairpiece and the pair of glasses were found in one of the desk drawers. No wonder the neighbours never had the chance to talk to both Mephis and his mother at the same time, and they never saw them walking together. They also found some letters written by a French psychiatrist that were very revealing. Mephis had a split personality. He had told the psychiatrist that he felt like two people, as if someone else was in him. The psychiatrist diagnosed it as a case of schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder. In this case, the core 'person' was Mephis in this multiple personality, and often he was not aware of the other personality - that of his mother. The dominant personality did not realize that his mother was dead. He always talked to the mother thinking that she was in her room. He would say goodbye to her every morning. When the other personality took over, he would dress up appropriately in his mother's attire - hairpiece, bras, skirt, glasses and all. For Interpol, the French

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police and Danielle, this was another veil lifted, revealing that one mad man was in control of a deadly game, with nervous fingers on a hair trigger, ready to obliterate thousands of innocent people, men, women and children in the world. Lest we forget, there are numerous important organisations dictated and controlled by one man, instead of a proper system of election and group control. Group consensus allows occasional foolishness, but never madness to creep into any organisation. What else can one safely say?

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Sixteen
Steve was reading the newspapers in a plane from Singapore to Macau. His eyes suddenly spotted a headline, which read, 'Terror chief died mysteriously in jail.' He read the report a second time and passed the papers to Michelle. There was a strange look on his face. He was not smiling, but seemed to be absorbed in deep reflection. 'What is it, Darling?' 'It's a report about Dr Mephis. He died mysteriously in jail. According to the report, some inmates, arrested also for terrorism, might have killed him. Investigations are still on. There was a great deal of discontent among the rank and file in his organization. When they found out that they had been manipulated by a foreign guy, they became disillusioned, and wanted revenge.' 'Shed no tears for the man of evil. I still feel very angry that this mad guy wanted to lay me, and get me killed.' Steve laughed and said jokingly, 'but it was precisely this incident that brought us together. Every cloud has its silver lining, right?' Steve and had left C.I.O. and closed his clinic. He was working fulltime as head of the Sherwood International Corporation (SIC), a charitable and investment organization with many overseas branches. Michelle continued to work for C.I.O. on a partime basis, concentrating on research and investigation work. Michelle accompanied Steve to travel to Southern China Steve had to look into some problems with one of the branches there. Mei Ling and John had also joined their organization, operating a branch in Hong Kong. These two seemed to be able to get along well. Steve was ever grateful to both of them for their support, and would be meeting them in Macau in one of the hotels, which John had booked. The plane descended at around five in the evening. After the usual immigration and customs clearance, they walked out of the Arrival Hall. Mei Ling waved at them just outside of the airport entrance. John came forward to help Steve to carry some bags. He got a limousine to pick them from the airport. All four of them rode in the limousine on their way to the Emperor Hotel, in the middle of the city. Mei Ling was naturally excited to see Michelle and Steve, especially Steve. She still carried a torch for him. She had been away from Singapore for almost a year, working in a position Steve had arranged for her. As they rode on, both Steve and Michelle

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filled them with lots of details about the things that transpired in Singapore. Mention was also made about the mysterious death of Mephis in jail. Steve did not say anything about Jim Manalo to Mei Ling, because he was worried that she might get upset. In any event, she knew he was serving a life sentence and had been writing to him. When they reached the Emperor Hotel at Rua de Xangai, they checked into four rooms, courtesy of a gambling casino. The casinos in Macau made big money. More than fifty percent of the GDP came from tourism and casinos. After they had placed their luggage in the rooms, they went into the hotel bar lounge to have a drink. They sat there to discuss the business plans of the organization for the Hong Kong Branch. John wanted to start a branch in Macau. He had picked a building at Guangzhou Street, within walking distance from the Hotel. He told Steve he could manage this Branch, leaving Mei Ling as Manager of the Sherwood International Corporation in Hong Kong. Steve thought that it would be a good idea. The two men decided to leave the hotel to have a look at the premises at Guangzhou Street. Left alone, the two ladies sat at the bar lounge, talking about old times, when Mei Ling casually asked, 'When are you two going to tie the marriage knots?' Her eyes were riveted on Michelle's face, watching for her reaction. 'Marriage? It never occurred to either of us that we should tie ourselves down in the immediate future. Steve felt that there was so much to be done to help the poor and the unfortunate, using funds from the company, and the business and investments arms of the entire operation need to be strengthened to generate more cash. He is also somewhat cynical about marriages, after seeing John Chen in the dumps, after his wife dumped him.' Mei Ling cut in with a smile. She wanted to hear more. 'Then? Then what?' Not sure of the words she should use, she paused a while to see if there was any further response from Michelle and to digest what she had said. She then uttered, 'I guess that's life. We all fall in love, and sometimes fall out. In my case, I hitched up with the wrong man. We still got to carry on in life, just as long as we can eventually find the right man, and stand by him, with babies or no babies. Getting along with each other can be a problem in a crisis situation. That happened to John. But you love Steve? Right? Things would be different.' 'I know I love Steve, no matter what happened. I know he has other girl friends. That's his nature. I can't change that, and I don't want to put sinful labels on him, as long as he does not do mean things like your Jim, and as long as he stands by me. If we are

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married, he comes home everyday and he still cares. That's all I ask. I suppose in the case of Jenny, John's former wife, she never wanted to keep him anyway. I understand that she gave him a daily dose of evil temper and yelling at him like an untamed shrew. So, sad for John - it was a case like some tough employer: 'one mistake and you are out.' Who suffer the most in the end? It's the children!' The conversation then turned to other mundane things. After this, they walked around the neighborhood. At the corner of Rua da Xangai, they found several casinos. They went inside to play jackpot and Black Jack until midnight; then they returned to the hotel together. Michelle was tired. She locked her door and went straight to bed. Mei Ling went into her room. She had too much on her mind and was not inclined to go to bed. She decided to call Steve on the phone. 'Steve, I can't sleep. Can I come over for a chat?' She heard him muttering something, as though he just woke up from sleep. She decided to knock on his door in any case. She took the lift, which took her to the 8th storey. She checked the room number, and knocked on the door. Steve opened the door without saying a word. He was wearing a T-shirt and short pants. She rushed in, and went straight into his arms. He chuckled. 'Mei Ling, I thought you just wanted to chat. Please sit down.' 'I can't sleep, Steve. Michelle is sound asleep. We went to the Casino together and won a lot of money. It's been a long time, Steve. Let me stay here tonight, please.' 'Just for a while, Mei Ling,' he said rather indifferently. Mei Ling hugged him and kissed him passionately. When she touched him, he was aroused sexually. His eyes gazed at her exquisite beauty - face, body and all. She undressed quickly and pulled him to the bed. She lay in his arms, kissed him and whispered, 'take me now.' They made love. It was passion, wild and raw. It filled them with ecstasy and exhilaration, until Mei Ling cried aloud when climax was reached. At four in the morning, she slipped out of the bed, dressed and returned to her room. The next day, all four of them left for Hong Kong by ferry. Hong Kong was clear and mild. The temperature was in the high twenties. Steve and Michelle checked into the Wesley Hotel at Hennessy Road in Wanchai. John had arranged for the company's limousine to pick them up for lunch in a restaurant in Wanchai. When Steve and Michelle walked out with John and Mei Ling from the hotel, the chauffeur greeted him in Malay, 'Selamat dating, Tuan.' Steve recognized him immediately and smiled broadly. John recommended the chauffeur, Ahmad Zain, to him for employment as a chauffeur in Hong Kong, and he personally

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interviewed him. Ahmad was very grateful to Steve for giving him a chance to start a new life in Hong Kong with his four legitimate wives. He was a Singapore Muslim, and as Muslims, they could legally wed four wives, with the consent of the first wife, of course. Steve could still remember his story of misery and despair, which John told him, a story that pulled at his heart's strings. Ahmad met John during his brief incarceration, and expressed his disappointment with the law. At the age of fifty-six, he was jailed for eight months for harboring illegal immigrants, a minor offence. All he had done was to rent out one room in his flat to three Indian workers. He argued that he had never had any intention to harbor illegal immigrants. 'Legal or illegal? - How could an illiterate person like me distinguish this?' he protested. But the law relating to illegal immigrants was very strict, because the country had to curb the inflow of illegal immigrants. Ahmad was shown some forged work permits by the three Indians. Not being literate, he took the papers to be genuine. He was also shown their passports, but again these documents were false. The law put the onus of checking these documents on the landlord. So, he was jailed but not flogged because he was over fifty-five. The jail sentence was mandatory for such offence. In John's view, registration of immigrants for the purpose of staying in private residential premises should be the responsibility of the government. John felt that if there were an incentive system for any immigrant to be reported whether for registration for residential stay or for employment, it would facilitate the process of finding terrorists wherever they were. Steve was not entirely sure about the validity of John's argument, but out of compassion, he had given a job to Ahmad Zain, and provided a place for him to stay in Hong Kong with his four lovely wives. Ahmad's face was beaming with happiness when he met Steve. He felt it a great honor to be able to drive Steve and the others around town. The limousine moved slowly through the heavy traffic, heading for Ice House Street. It took about half an hour to reach Mei Ling's office on the 5th Floor of the St. George's Building. A few of the staff had seen Steve's picture in the papers and could recognize him. Some of the girls had heard about Steve's handsome face, his charisma and his heroic deeds. When he appeared in person at the office and he looked so stunningly handsome and charming, they went wild with excitement and gossiped among themselves. Ahmad was there to sing praises about Steve, the important person who had saved him and his family, when he lost everything in Singapore through a tragic mistake not of his own making. The staff began to file into the conference room at three in the afternoon. At three fifteen, Steve entered, flanked by Mei Ling and John. Steve went round and shook hands with the staff, one by one. Steve flashed an easy grin as he walked round the table. He smiled at them, showing the dimples on his face. Everyone's resistance

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seemed to liquefy. His grin and smile were like a voltage of paralyzing electricity. To the girls, he seemed more desirable than some handsome movie star. His natural charm and debonair manner and his extraordinary handsome Eurasian features fascinated them. Mei Ling wasn't very confident as she gave the introductory speech, and gave a report about the company. Steve, wearing a blue suit and a colorful tie, then stood up and announced that Mei Ling would be the General Manager of the Hong Kong Branch. A new branch at Macau would be set up under John Chen. 'I know you all share with the Sherwood International Corporation the excitement at the appointment of Mei Ling as General Manager of the Hong Kong Branch, and John Chen for the Macau Branch. Most of you have worked with them. They will be reporting directly to me. There will be many changes in the future. But I am sure everyone will understand that our business is expanding into many countries, and any of you with talents, abilities and stamina can aspire to climb to the top of the corporate ladder.' After this speech, there was general applause. Steve went into immediate action in the office. He called the solicitors and got the legal papers drafted and signed. He instructed the solicitors to look into the possibility of acquiring all the assets of the Global Welfare Vision and its branches, and notified him in China. He passed the employment contract to Mei Ling, and congratulated her on her appointment. They shook hands. Then he asked her to arrange for him to meet Li Choo and Park Ming in Guangzhou the next day. Michelle decided to stay behind in Hong Kong to spend some time with Mei Ling who had invited her to stay with her in an apartment at Repulse Bay. People in China by this time had heard about Steve Lee and his charitable foundations, and his heroic deeds. As Steve arrived at the Bai Yun Airport, Li Choo and Park Ming met him. Some Chinese officials from the Overseas Chinese Liaison Mission were also there to greet him. At the branch office in Ren Min North Road, Steve and Park Ming discussed the work of the company. By and large, it was envisaged to be a low-key operation, as Steve realized that charitable organizations were of low priority in the city's development plans. Still, Steve could see so much of disguised unemployment around. He instructed Park Ming to set up some sheltered workshops and factories to help the poor and needy. Also set up was an SOS mission to allow those in distress to be given immediate help. Steve reviewed the work done by Park Ming and Li Choo, and felt that both of them lacked experience and effective liaison with the Singapore base. He had arranged for Rachel Lynn to fly in from Singapore to take up the appointment as General Manager of the China operations.

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A few days later, Park Ming drove him and Li Choo to the airport to fetch Rachel Lynn. She was scheduled to arrive by China Southern Airlines at eleven in the morning. It was a Saturday. The traffic was heavy and there was traffic jam all the way. They made several detours, and finally managed to reach the Bai Yun Airport in Guangzhou in time. The flight was slightly delayed. Steve stood at gate 8. The plane had just arrived. He could see passengers checking their luggage, and starting to leave the airport. Steve waited. He was lost in thoughts. Steve could never forget Rachel and the night they made love, after aborting the trip to the Changi Sailing Club. She was the epitome of Eurasian beauty, a blend of the sweetness and sensuality of Spanish girls and the elegance, grace and aplomb of Chinese beauties. She was with the Global Welfare Vision, a world wide charitable organization operated by Jim Manalo. Steve had plans to take over the operation soon. He wanted a base to be set up in China early to spearhead the take-over. Rachel Lynn, a former Manager of the GWV would be ideal for the post of General Manager. She saw Steve immediately as she walked out of the gate. Steve was still the only love in her dreams, and she had been having sleepless nights, thinking about the night when love and passion engulfed her entire being. She could never control herself when she met him anywhere - even in China where people tended to be quite reserved. She rushed past the crowd, flew towards him, dropped her bags and satchel, and threw herself into his wide arms. 'Steve, I miss you.' She whispered, and blushed when she suddenly realized the presence of the two Chinese friends, Park Ming and Li Choo grinning at her, showing a peculiar smile. Her heart was beating fast, and she felt very shy. She always behaved like a schoolgirl in Steve's presence. He was different from other men. There was some strange magnetism about him. His charming manners and charisma could send pulsating currents down her spine. She caught his smiling eyes. Her face lit up with a red glow. Happiness filled her heart. All the unpleasant thoughts about John's broken relationship with her sister, the arrest of Jim Manalo, her boss, and her loss of a well-paid cushy job, seemed to have evaporated from her mind. But her emotions ran wild the moment she saw Steve, the darling of her heart. Park Ming sat with Li Choo in the front seats of the company's Mercedes, while Steve and Rachel sat at the back. Rachel's fingers reached for Steve's hands. He clasped her warm gentle fingers, and gazed at her beautiful face. Her eyes were a little misty. A few tears descended from her cheeks. Steve nodded at her, and patted her on her arm. It was a long drive to Ren Min North Road. Rachel snuggled against Steve as the car coasted from the airport to the expressway. The car picked up speed, but as it left the expressway, it got caught in the traffic jam. The cars all traveled slowly, bumper to bumper, inching their way, switching lanes whenever possible, driving into the pavements, and making detours. It was a tiring drive for Park Ming, but at length they

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reached the Sherwood International Building at Ren Min North Road, a road filled to capacity with cars and pedestrians. It was a bustling place and a modern business center, with several hotels nearby. Park Ming dropped them at the Liu Hua Hotel where Steve stayed. The hotel was one of the most luxurious hotels in the city. Steve was waiting at the Karaoke Lounge of the hotel. At eight, she called Rachel to come down from her room to join him for dinner there. A moment later, she came down, wearing a beautiful blue gown, with a diamond necklace that Steve had earlier presented her. Steve saw her from a distance. His eyes glued to her beautiful face that was lit with a soft glow of joyfulness and a mysterious smile that seemed to suggest that she knew what he was up to. He was fascinated with the gentle swerve of her long soft hair, the alluring curve of her sweet lips, the sparkles in her clear hazel brown eyes and the sensuous sway of her slender hips. As she glided across the hall with such gracefulness, no wonder there was a short hush in the noisy Lounge when people stopped talking and cast admiring glances at the elegance of her beauty. Steve stood up when she came to the table. He pulled a chair for her. When she was seated, he leaned forward and gazed at her, flashing her bright smile. They ordered some drinks with their food, and chatted for a while about life in China. After dinner, they adjourned to a private room to drink and sing some popular songs. Steve noticed that Rachel could qualify to be a professional singer, and teased her about it. By eleven in the evening, they were both quite drunk. They left the lounge, and walked unsteadily to the lift lobby. When they reached the sixteenth floor where their rooms were located, there were laughter and jokes as Rachel leaned heavily on Steve, while they meandered along. 'Your room or mine?' Steve muttered. He slurred in his speech. In Steve's room, Steve dimmed the light. They began to dance. They clung to each other, moving their feet rhythmically to follow the music from the radio. Their hearts were beating fast. As they danced with their lips riveted together, their hearts were throbbing; their visions became blurred. Drowsily, Rachel placed her head on his shoulders and started singing to him with a voice that was gentle and sweet. Her singing was seductive, and it aroused his sensuality. Then Steve switched off the radio, and carried Rachel to the bed, whispering 'Rachel, Rachel.' It could be the drinks or the flame of passion that drove them to undress each other within minutes without a word being uttered. There was urgency as each pulled at the other's clothing. When the last piece of under garments was peeled off, they clung to each other, enjoying the beauty of nakedness each showed to the other. He touched her breasts gently and then squeezed her. This got her moaning. She giggled when he kissed her neck and then her ears. His hands traveled to the sensitive parts of her lower body. She opened her legs and pulled him to her, moving her limbs in sexual

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abandon. She was infused with emotions and excitement. They made love that night twice. He held her close and whispered endearments. He caressed her moist body. She clung to him and kissed him again and again. She felt that Steve had given her passion and love, which no other men could. She was filled powerfully with a stream of sensual delight and a river of love, washing away all her frustrations and despair, giving her a new vision of life and love. She wanted him. She knew it. But how could she get him to give up other girls? She snuggled against him. 'Steve, has it been different with other girls?' 'No ….yes…I'm not sure. I don't really know. He sounded sleepy or drowsy. 'Just don't leave me, Steve. I'll never leave you, darling.' But he was asleep. She lay there wide-awake until the sun peeped through the windows. She looked at Steve who was still asleep. She tenderly touched his handsome face that rested on her bare breasts. She could hardly believe it. He was in her arms the whole night, and at least for the moment, he belonged to her. When Steve stirred at around nine in the morning, Rachel took a bottle of orange juice from the fridge, and poured it into a glass and left it on the table. Steve groped in the dark to reach the table. She could hear him drinking. She pulled the drapes, and sunlight flooded the room. He blinked his eyes, and stared at her. 'What time is it, Rachel?' When Rachel showed him the wrist-watch, he added, 'We are late for the meeting with the staff.' After they bathed and dressed up, Rachel called Park Ming to come and fetch them to the office from the hotel. In the car he sat, huddled on the other side of the seat, and seemed to be lost in thought, but once they entered the Sherwood International Building in Guangzhou, he became relaxed and flashed a broad smile at everyone. He introduced Rachel to the staff as the new General Manager of the branch office, and outlined the mission of the Corporation, and his expectations. Speaking in fluent Mandarin, he impressed the staff with his eloquence and his vision for the future. A little girl came forward and presented some flowers to both Steve and Rachel. Steve's stay in China was brief, as he had to fly back to Hong Kong. He told this to Rachel after the meeting. She was in tears, but she could understand his nature, and was prepared to play second fiddle to Michelle. She wiped her tears, and went into her office to make the preparations for his flight to Hong Kong. Mei Ling, John and Michelle met him in the Kai Tuck Airport in Hong Kong. From the airport, they returned to Wanchai. After checking into the Wesley Hotel at Hennessy Road with Michelle, Steve went for a walk around the streets of Wanchai. They went to the side roads where numerous colorful stalls lined the roads. Sometimes, they asked for directions, and were promptly given friendly help.

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Shopkeepers and stall operators were most courteous and friendly. There had been a dramatic change after the SARS outbreak that unified the Hong Kong community, bringing out their traditional friendly nature, and dissolving the cold detachment typical of city dwellers. They then took the MTR, the underground trains, to the Admiralty Station, and from there they walked around another part of town with its tall office buildings. The rest of the afternoon was spent in taking a stroll around the Park and the Zoo. The next day, as Michelle and Steve strolled out of the hotel, three dark-skinned people, who looked like Arabs or Pakistani, confronted them. One of them lunged for Michelle. Another tried to grab Steve and drag him to a waiting car. Steve shook himself free and kicked the burly man. Michelle ran toward Steve for protection. The third man raced forward to catch her. His hand lashed across her face. Steve turned and took out his mobile phone, and pressed a button repeatedly, sending out blue beams that hit the three men. He rushed towards Michelle to hold her up. Her lip was slightly cut, and her face was slightly bruised. Steve held her close to him, and she clung to him sobbing. The security officers in the hotel saw the commotion and came out. They saw the three dark-skinned foreigners lying on the floor, and thought that Steve knocked them out with a few blows to make them unconscious. They called the police. Steve reported to the Hong Kong TWIG about the attack, and told them these people were actually terrorists who tried to harm him and Michelle. News of the attack was reported in the Hong Kong papers the next morning. They hailed Steve as the hero in the drama. Michelle was found to be in good shape by the doctors. She was treated for minor skin injuries and a small cut on the lip. Steve was anxious to take Michelle back to Singapore for further treatment. Together, they flew home the next day. Steve knew that terrorists still lurked around in any corner of the world. It would be difficult to wipe them out. He knew he had to strengthen his organization and give greater help to C.I.O. and other TWIG branches in Southeast Asia. He would need more funds for this and for the take-over of the Global Welfare Vision and its branches. He decided that he would fly to Paris to consult with Danielle. After Michelle had fully recovered and returned to work, Steve took a plane and traveled alone to Paris. He had emailed Danielle about his coming over, and asked her to make arrangements to fetch him at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport. It was a long flight, and Steve was impatient. He couldn't sleep; neither did he read the newspapers handed to him by the stewardess. He took some drinks; that made him slightly drowsy. It seemed to be eternity before the plane started to descend. He kept thinking of Danielle. Images of her smiling face, her gentle touch, the beautifully

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carved face and her slender waist and full bosom, swamped his mind. His longing for her was intermixed with other emotions when images of the other three women in his life appeared. But Danielle was the first he fell in love with, and no doubt the best. She was the one that always gave, and expected nothing in return. She had shown him her true love and devotion. She overwhelmed him with her extraordinary generosity and kindness, and accorded him the dignity and respect from start to finish. But his love with her had not finished, nor would it ever be. He always carried her love in his heart. He always remembered her as the person who took him for what he was and loved him dearly; and without being asked, encouraged and supported him in his work, and provided him with the wherewithal to move ahead to rise to the present position in stature and eminence. If stones were cast at him, and sinful labels pinned on him for his love for Danielle, just because he had gone steady with Michelle, then an injustice had been done to him. As he reflected, he thought about people like Ahmad Zain who was allowed by law and his religion and culture to have four wives; so why couldn't he have a few girl friends? Let the pious and sanctimonious, the pundits of life and ethical behavior, and those who pontificated sin and shame, and others with the holier-than-thou attitude, spare Steve for a while, as the plane landed. There was a crowd at the airport entrance. Steve was collecting his baggage in the arrival hall. He saw Danielle through the glass panels, smiling at him; her clear blue eyes sparkled with happiness. She was wearing a thick woolen coat and slacks, and had a woolen scarf around her neck. The cold blustery wind played tricks with her long soft hair. Clumsily dropping a bag and quickly picking it up, Steve rushed out to meet Danielle. He put his arms around her, and shielded her from the gale and the chilly drizzle. They walked briskly to the waiting limousine and hopped into the back seats. With Danielle by his side, Steve was on his way to Paris. But it would be a long drive of over twenty-six kilometers, and they had plenty of time to have their heart-toheart talk with each other and to exchange views and information. Daniel rested her head on his shoulders as they talked. She noticed the warmth and sincerity in his smile and was fascinated by the boyish grin on his face. The charisma of that grin was electrifying. Danielle listened and she liked the way he talked with conviction about the work he would do to help people in distress. She was most impressed with his singleness of purpose and his keen sense of mission in life, and above all, his upright character. Danielle knew that he was her man, and she would always love him. Two young lovers from two different worlds - East and West – they met and the bonds between them grew. Steve remembered the verses kept in his diary which gave a vivid description of his deep feelings for Danielle, his blue-eyed girl:

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"But for wicked time and distance ‘twixt East and West, Those tearless eyes perceive not what they see A longing heart and its vain elusive quest For a love forgotten beyond the stormy sea. Someday, somehow, East meets West, Love and truth will flow and worry washed away. Though long did sorrow twist and grow and torment infest, It will dissolve when love streams home to stay. Love knows no time, space, nor any human test, True minds bind most and distance matters least, Bringing bliss beyond our thoughts, and blest With wisdom to know West’s not West – East not East. “ In the car, Steve told Danielle about Mephis and his mysterious death in prison. He also told her about Jim Manalo, who had used the Global Welfare Vision for spreading terror in various parts of the world. Steve asked Danielle to consider the possibility of taking over the GWV and its branches. He then handed a document for her to study the proposal. There was a hint of melancholy in the air, as Steve related the story about John Chen how some terrorists framed him for illegal possession of drug, and how his family broke up after his brief incarceration. Danielle then related the story of her own involvement in the Interpol investigation of Mephis's activities. 'That man was mad, mad as a mad hatter,' she added. 'He appeared to be mentally ill. Schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder could make him a very dangerous person when he was head of a global network of terrorism. With his nervous finger resting on a hair trigger, he could easily release weapons of mass destruction that could obliterate mankind. In his case, he appeared to be the 'core person'; sometimes he took on the personality of his mother, and he dressed up like a lady and behaved like one. Such a person showed violent mood swings, or might get depressed. Danielle told Steve that even the male personality of Mephis had two parts. In the day, he was the dignified office executive; but in the night, became the drunken terror of rue Pigalle, prowling around in Montmartre or along the rue De la Bruyere and rue Pigalle, and spent his nocturnal hours in the Flea Pit there.'

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As they talked, the limousine reached Danielle's villa in the suburbs of Paris. Danielle was no longer shy about their relationship. She took Steve up the flight of stairs leading to her room, and asked him to stay there with her. With Danielle by his side, he soon forgot, at least for the moment, the trauma of his experience of being attacked by terrorists in Hong Kong, and the bitter sweet things that happened to him during the intervening months when he was away from the sweet angel with beautiful blue eyes in his arms. They clung to each other, sitting on the bed that they had previously shared. Danielle's exquisite beauty and ethereal charm filled Steve's mind with a sense of wonder. For Steve, the room gave him a sense of warmth and intimacy. This was the place Danielle gave him all her love. He loved everything in it - the familiar windowsills, the drapes covering the windows, and the furniture and lightings, and Danielle's personal things - her cosmetics, jewels and wardrobe of clothes and shoes, and her collections of ornamental items and antiques. These simple things had been engraved in his mind. Images of these sometimes danced before his eyes, whether day or night. They always reminded him of her. Then on her dressing table, he saw several photographs of him and Danielle in intimate embrace in different famous spots in Paris. He understood plainly that their lives had become entwined, irrespective of time and space. The love that tied them together would bind them from here to eternity. It is beyond man's mind to fathom its magic and its eternal qualities, and its significance in destiny. It has power to lift the human hearts to a higher level of consciousness. When love is at that level, there is neither east nor west, borders nor distance. Love at its best "knows no time, space, or any human test." The air was filled with the exultation of their love. Soon they were drawn in a whirlpool of emotions. Danielle gazed at Steve with misty eyes. She knew that his stay in Paris was a short one, and soon he would return to his country. She knew there were other women in his life, and even if his love for her were true, eventually he would depart from Paris to do the things he loved most - to help others in distress through the network of agencies that he had built up in Southeast Asia and beyond. She suppressed these unpleasant thoughts, and responded to his passion. Softly, he whispered, 'Vous etes tres joli. Je vous aime, Danielle.' He unbuttoned her blouse and kissed her breasts. Her body trembled; her lips were quivering as strong erotic sensations filled her nerves and veins. She gulped back her tears, which were streaming down her cheeks. There was shyness in her face, as they undressed and made love, sealing the bond of love between them. The next day, Danielle arranged for Steve to meet her consultants and bankers to discuss the proposal to take over GWV and its branches. The take-over would cost

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US$500 million, a low price for the assets that could be acquired due to the shame and gloom hovering above GWV. After a long meeting, it was decided that a joint venture company be established to take over GWV with Terra Rosa holding 49% and Steve's Sherwood International Corporation holding 51%. Steve would be the Chairman of the Company. The name Global Welfare Vision would remain; its charter would be altered to extend loans with very low interests on compassionate grounds on a global basis. A week later, the new company under Steve was officially declared open. Steve was duly appointed as its new Chairman. Steve Lee boarded the SIA plane for Singapore. He was traveling alone. He was carrying the Straits Times. The big headline on the front page of the newspaper was a story about the take-over of the Global Welfare Vision, and the elimination of terrorists in various parts of the world. But when the plane was airborne, Steve wasn't reading the papers - he was reading again and again a love note from Danielle and another from Michelle. He smiled broadly. His face was a picture of contentment as he flew home. The veil of terror was completely lifted, as all GWV branches had been re-organized, and documents from these branches were handed over to Interpol to nab the remnants of terrorists that caused nightmares in so many places. A distant memory of veiled terrorism and faceless organizations and mindless idiots that spilled so much blood in the world and created so much havoc and devastations - a nightmare of mass killings of innocent people, and senseless hatred in the world between civilized countries - a haunting dream of conflicts and unrests, of dangers and intrigues lurking in every corner. For those who battled terrorism, and everyone else, now, it was finally over. Steve Lee was back home. Once again, the handsome super hero checked through his emails, and sent replies to those who sought his help or friendship. Once again, he stayed late past midnight to surf the net in search of weird web sites and hidden messages. Then suddenly the pictures in the monitor screen shook. When the shaking and quivering of the images stopped, he found that he had entered a mysterious web site with a red background. It struck one's eyes as a work of art of ancient design. The format was unusual in its quaint artistry, but its main features were three strange looking search buttons decorated with ornate symbols woven into the pages like an elegant piece of tapestry. Steve double-clicked the button in the center. There was a great transformation of the display. The monitor screen turned into a regular TV of the modern day. The scroll down menu allowed him to select a TV station of any country. Next to it was a calendar and a clock. A message was displayed with the

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words from William Shakespeare: "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women, merely players.' A further message informed Steve that he had been given new powers to help the world. Steve stared in amazement, blinked his tired eyes, and shook his drowsy head. Then he laughed, muttering to himself, 'Zut! C'est la vie. Cela ne fait rien.'

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