DOROTHY PORTER – the monkey’s mask

Dorothy Porter opens her narrative verse novel with a poem from Basho:

Year after year
On the monkey’s face
A monkey’s mask. (vii)

and ends with these lines:

Mickey’s ghost walks
in this tropical rain

she swings in the fig trees

her voice
glistens green and wet

she’s growing dark

she’s wearing a monkey’s mask.

In the first quotation, the face of a monkey is its mask – we never learn what lies behind it, what it thinks, feels or experiences because monkeys have no language with which to express and reveal these things.  In the second quotation, Mickey, dead and no longer able to speak for herself, remains an unknown quantity where her thoughts, feelings and experiences are concerned.  She is only known by conjecture, based on the evidence of her poetry, and other people’s descriptions of her.  But even that ‘grows dark’, fades away as time passes and those who knew her, in person, and like Jill, by reputation, begin to forget her.  The memory of her will remain as a mask, unchanging, fixed in the ‘facts’ according to the person remembering her.

In between these references, Porter wrote, via the voice of Tony:

‘Once upon a time –
Mickey the Monkey
all knowing cunning

little hands

she knew where the  nuts

were hidden

and, jesus, she knew

how to squeeze – ….
Mickey the Martyr.’  (p. 194)

This endeavours to attribute monkey traits to Mickey – those of cunning, knowledge and control (really human characteristics that have been granted by humans to monkeys on the strength of the latter’s behaviour) – and see behind the mask of her identity: “’petite, pretty and only nineteen’”. (p. 52)

Throughout history masks have been used to conceal identity, whether for fun (like a masked ball) or for crime (armed robbery).  An additional benefit accompanying the anonymity is the freeing of the wearer’s inhibitions – as unknowns they need feel no behavioural constraints, often leading to quite bizarre actions by normally sober individuals.  The mask gives a facade, and hides the thoughts and feelings of the person behind it.

Metaphorically, society, and in particular the poetry society into which Jill moves during her investigation, is masked. Things are not what they seem, or are seen to be on the surface – in public, large ‘intimate’ gatherings for poetry readings; while behind the scenes the issuing of grants to struggling poets controlled with bigotry, animosity, and spite.

‘It’s a grabby, grotty world
not much to go around.
Blame patronage, Jill,
grants, fellowships,
all that crap . . .(p. 150)

                     …. the deadshits
with the contacts
and gift of post-modernist gab
grab what’s going.’  (p. 151)
[Apologies for misaligned text – computer will not comply.]

By presenting a public face, while hiding a private face, an individual is masked.  An example is Diana’s apparent superficiality – she teaches poetry at University, is sophisticated, “her hair honey-blonde/ streaks … she’s gritty/ she’s bright” (p. 26), and, as indicated by the books of “academic stuff” (p. 70) on her shelves at home, is “[i]ncessantly intellectual.” (p. 70)  That is her public persona.  But privately she is bisexual, promiscuous, devious, arrogant, and disloyal to all except her husband, Nick: “you love the bastard/ you cover his shit.” (p. 227)

Her behaviour with Jill is carefully orchestrated as a disguise to prevent the truth about Mickey’s death from emerging.  To Mickey’s poem called Bullets and knives Diana points the finger at Bill McDonald: “’stupid little fool/  mistaking born-again Bill/ for St Francis.’ (p. 108)  When after reading Your floating hair  Jill comments: “’This couldn’t be Bill McDonald /…he’s going bald’ , Diana replies: “’Infatuation is blind/ … and anyway she nicked the floating hair/ from Coleridge.’ (p. 111)  In reaction to If love was just talking, Diana identifies Bill as the recipient of the verse; and claims that the mysterious goddess is “’… a red herring./ We’re looking for a boy.’” (p. 123)  As Jill gets closer to the truth, Diana steps up her diversionary tactics, until at the end, when it is obvious that Jill knows that Nick accidentally strangled Mickey, her mask has been removed.

‘You can’t make
the mud stick, Jill,
you open your mouth
we’ll sue.’

she’s smiling
her eyes
show the black pit
of the old woman
she’ll become (p. 254)

Jill’s mask is only applied when tact is required of her, for example with Mickey’s parents, or when interviewing the students at the University and the flat, and the poets at the readings.  The rest of the time the reader is allowed behind the mask, seeing the narrative from Jill’s self-deluded point-of-view.  At first she compared her being in love with Diana with being Legless: “the cops should pick me up/  I can’t walk a straight line.” (p. 45)  As disillusionment set in, as she realised that Diana did not love her, she acknowledged that “she [Diana] always/ poisons everything /  enjoying herself/ behind her shades”. (p. 135)  Finally, realising that it was over with Diana, she indulged in a rave:

‘She’s worthless ….
She’s a virus …
she’s an opportunistic infection
she’s a tongue load of thrush
she’s needles and shingles
she’s the kiss of herpes
she’s a wasting flu ….
she’s gone ..’ ( p. 225)

I don’t believe that the use of poetry affects the significance of the title, as such.  But by the reading speed it grants the reader; by the gaps in the text of the narrative permitting and requiring reader participation; by the use of ‘pornographic’ language in frustration, exaggeration and anger, to shock the reader metafictionally back to the narrative; by the economy of language resulting in excellent imagery – “Tianna -/ looks like glandular fever/ and nicotine poisoning/ on legs -“ (p. 18); I believe the verse form facilitates and enhances the search for identities and the unmasking of the characters.

(C) Jud House  16/11/1997


Porter, D (1994) The Monkey’s Mask  South Melbourne:  Hyland House Publishing Pty Ltd

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According to Ian Saunders “the crux of Marxism is … the way in which it insists that the economic, political and social be read interactively, and its recognition of the powerful ideological function of cultural texts.” (Saunders, 1993, p. 70)  David Malouf’s novel, The Conversations at Curlow Creek falls as easily into this category of cultural text as it does as an historically fictional text.

Whether the location was Australia or Ireland, the division of wealth and health was allotted to a small class-based portion of the community. Arranged in conversation-induced flashbacks to Ireland, interspersed throughout the social and historical representation of Australia via the character identities, Malouf’s text deals with socio-economic beliefs and values.  I will deal first with Adair’s childhood home in Ireland.

Orphaned by the death of his lower class travelling opera-singing parents – his mother originally from a higher class having attended Miss Bonnifer’s Academy for young ladies in Dublin – Adair was taken in by her old schoolfriend, Aimee Connellan.  Within the household of Ellersley there were a mostly absentee Master, and Mistress, the Connellans (lower upper class); butler, coachman and chief counsellor to the Mistress, Paddy Mangan; the housekeeper, Mrs Upshaw (upper lower class); and the maids/kitchen hands, Lizzy and Katie (lower class – no surnames for them!).

This household heirarchical arrangement was typical of the class structure that permeated all English and hence Irish society at the time.  A similar arrangement prevailed at the neighbouring landowner, Eamon Fitzgibbon’s property, the Park, a richer, larger and consequently higher class establishment. Adair and later Connellan’s son, Fergus, were sent there for their education with Fitzgibbon’s daughter, Virgilia.  An understanding of the precarious position in which Adair stood socially was provided by Malouf.

Adair had always understood that the position he occupied in Mama Aimee’s household, however completely he was accepted and however fond they might be of him, made his prospects very different from those that Fergus [the heir] could look forward to…. ‘…I may have to go away … I can’t live off Mama Aimee all my life.  I have to make my own way in the world.  You will inherit Ellersley -‘ (Malouf, 1997, pp 92 & 93)

Another example of the power that the moneyed upper class had over the lower classes was supplied via Carney’s conversation of an Irish memory to Adair.  He acknowledged that Adair might not know how men were employed, a blatant affirmation of their social difference:

‘That’s how it happens, sir, in case you don’t have experi- ence of it.  You stand there and the farmers come, or the stewards if it’s a big place, an’ they look you over like, to see what you might be good for…’ (ibid, p. 56)

He goes on to tell Adair how he was scrubbed, clothed and taken to see a young blind woman.  As he was forbidden to speak, deception was obviously the motive, and the experience made him feel low and degraded.  This incident not only shows the exploitation of the lower class by their moneyed ‘superiors’, but also the exploitation and subjugation of the women who had less rights no matter what their class than the men.

A glimpse at the lives of the lowest class people was given to Adair, Virgilia and the reader, via a visit with Fergus to the hovel of the O’Riordans, turf-cutters living on the edge of the peat-bog.  Within the strong-smelling daub-floored hut, which housed Mrs O’Riordan, “a shapeless woman with thin hair and no teeth who might have been any age from thirty-five to sixty” (ibid, p. 154) and her five children, were the meanest furnishings and a tethered cow.

The poverty and degradation was suffered stoically by these people, resigned to their lives without husband and father – transported to New South Wales penal colony for alleged involvement in sheep-stealing – and sustained by her basket weaving, and her elder sons, “Donagh and Sean [who] worked fourteen hours a day cutting turf to keep a roof over their heads and to feed them.” (ibid, pp. 157-158)  Later the girl Marnie, at Fergus’s urging, went into service as Virgilia’s maid, where her attitude was fierce: “she ha[d] her dignity to protect.  She remember[ed] the conditions” she came from. (ibid. Pp 171-172)

          This inequity of socio-economic class structure was transported along with the first fleet to Australia.  As a cross-section from highest to lowest class citizens. there were the powerful administrators, the officers (usually the second sons of upper class families – like Adair whose orphaned position placed him in that category), the ticket-of-leave business and trades people, the freed convicts, and the still imprisoned convicts.  According to Saunders:

the colonising of Australia seemed perfectly reasonable to the British because they read their actions through an ideology which included a belief in the intrinsic superiority of European culture, and an assumption that land not ited to the legal system of one or another of the European nation- states was in fact unowned, and therefore available for appropriation. (Saunders, 1993, pp. 49-50)

This sociological arrogance was the possession of the upper class British, the ruling moneyed class – not the marginalised (by economic disadvantage) lower classes.

Malouf provided in his fictionalised history several examples of the class structure in Australia.  The indigenous inhabitants of the land, like Jonas the Aboriginal tracker, had no status at all which meant they had no class standing within the social structure.  Carney was at the bottom of the white heap – a condemned escaped-convict bushranger, originally from the working lower class of Ireland.  The other bushrangers in his gang, except Dolan (if he was Fergus), were of the same class.

Next in status were the troopers, the young Garrety, and Langhurst, and the near forty year old Kersey:

recruits to the new force that was to police the colony and keep a watch on the western [Aboriginal] tribes …. Before Jed Snelling was killed they had been four – the black who was with them, Jonas, did not count. (Malouf, 1997, p. 7)

Brought up in Australia Garrety lived alone by his wits in the city streets “sleeping in bins and doorways and in odd corners …. his lips were sealed … on the worst things that had happened to him.” (ibid, pp. 8 & 9), while Langhurst grew to manhood with his family on a farm.  Like most lower class, working class, uneducated people at the time these troopers were superstitious, believing easily the tales of retributive ghosts told around the campfire.  Jonas too knew them to be true. By informing us that Langhurst’s twin sister was “an old married lady of nineteen” (ibid, p. 15), Malouf demonstrated the fate of all women of the era, no matter what their class.

Adair, in his position of officer, and therefore of the upper echelon of society, was given begrudging respect by troopers under his brief command, and by Carney condemned to hang next day under Adair’s official edict.  He suffered the same physical discomfort as his men, but that was temporary – theirs was not.  In the ‘Epilogue’ we are introduced to a member of the middle class, the professional workers – doctors, solicitors, teachers.  At a dinner, surrounded by the trappings of the moneyed class of England – imported furniture, paintings, engravings – the guest is Adair, “the host, an ex-army surgeon and veteran of the Peninsular, James Saunders.” (ibid, p. 203)  At table they are waited on by “a dark young woman, whom the observant guest suspects of standing in a closer relationship to the other than might be suggested by the eyes, in both cases lowered” (ibid, p. 202) – a fate of indigenous women, giving them an apparent ‘working’ class in which to fit – yet did it?

Within his historical narrative with its twin settings, Malouf juggled the interaction of the socio-economic beliefs and values of the era with his development of personal and national identities for his characters.

(C)  Jud House  16/11/1997


Malouf, D. (1997)  The Conversations at Curlow Creek.  London: Vintage

Saunders, I (1993)  Open Texts, Partial Maps.  Nedlands: Centre for Studies in Australian Literature

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This is my NaNoWriMo entry Part 3.

(While all locations are real, by necessity and for authenticity, the events and characters are entirely fictitious.  Please read this as a Draft.  I am writing this from memory.  Please excuse inaccuracies.  I will amend these as I get the chance to peruse my old diary entries and copious brochures and pamphlets I acquired while living there.  A murder mystery requires research, but in order to try to keep up with the spontaneity of NaNoWriMo projects, I will get on with the narrative, and tidy up the errors in the Second Draft stage.)

Singapore Slasher – Part 3

Back in the apartment a silence had set in.  Troy shoved their now cold dinner into the microwave to reheat, then plonked the hot plates down on the table mats and flung himself into his chair.  He began to eat, cutting the food with sharp movements, stabbing the meat with his fork, chewing aggressively.

“Why do you always have to get involved in things?  In other people’s business.” He scowled at her lowered face.

She raised her head and looked him straight in the eyes.  “It’s funny, isn’t it?  That’s just what I was expecting you to say.  Not ‘what an awful night you’ve had’.  Not ‘what a dreadful thing to find’.  But that somehow, by walking home from work, I had brought this on myself.  Somehow caused this murder to happen so I could find it and get involved.”

With shaking hands she placed her cutlery as neatly as she could on the plate, folded her napkin, pushed her chair back, and left the table.  She picked up her handbag, and her keys, and left the apartment.  He didn’t speak.  He didn’t make a move to follow her.  He just sat there fuming.

Outside, the humidity smothered her as it always did when she left any air-conditioned environment.  She made her way to the lift, rode it down to the ground floor, then walked through the collonade of bourgainvillea to the pool.  Hitching up her good work skirt, she sat on the edge, dangling her legs in the water.  The breeze was cool by Singapore standards – her standards now as she had acclimatized some time ago – and ruffled her hair and clammy face and neck.

Not for the first time, she asked herself why she stayed with him.  She knew he had this side to him.  This need to control – to be the boss – to blame her for anything that went wrong.  If there was ever an accident it was “Why did you do that?”  Not “Are you hurt?  Are you okay?” Nor even, “How did it happen?”.  He had so many nice characteristics – he could be kind, though not often; he was clever and not boastful, though he never seemed to recognise that she was clever too; he was diligent at work – a workaholic in fact – and stuck to what he believed, even when proved wrong.  Stubborn.  Controlling with money, yet generous to others.  They shared humour – when they saw things that amused them together – but not verbally.  You had to converse to do that.  And they didn’t do that much, because he was ‘all talked out’ by the time he got home.  That’s why she had taken this teaching job – to be with people and have conversations.

Yet if any of these things were pointed out to him, he just denied them flat.  He did not recognise that he was like this.  He was Mr Wonderfullo.  He’d do a little dance to make her laugh – and she couldn’t help herself – she had to laugh.  He could be such a clown.  It was like the cloud of repression that surrounded him would lift and he’d behave without inhibitions, a free spirit.  But only briefly.  Then the restraints would descend and he’d resume his usual negativity.

She realised, sitting there with her legs licked by the almost tepid water, that that was why she stayed with him.  Every time she saw this breaking free, this exposure of the clown, the closest he came to a sense of ridiculousness that she had as part of her humour, she felt that there was hope for him – and for them.  She sighed, withdrawing her legs from the pool.  Sloughing off the water from her legs with her hands, she slipped her sandals back on, and headed back to the apartment.

* * *

Down in the street, the Police Tape was up, ribbons of authority defining the crime scene, the ‘no go area’.  By the morning, the traffic that  used Orange Grove Road as a short-cut between the northerly Stevens Road and the junction with the south-westerly Tanglin Road and the south-easterly Orchard Road, would be snarling through the now restricted winding undulating hazardous street, causing jams at either end and along the three tributaries.  People from the adjoining apartments would be trying to exit their driveways into the unyielding stream of vehicles, cursing in the saunas that their car interiors would become.  Taxis, shuttle buses, and delivery vans would be trying to enter the driveways of these apartments and hotels, holding up the jammed line behind them, and succeeding only in allowing a tenant to pull swiftly out to be replaced by the next in line.  Chaos and noise would ensue.  But no-one would remove the Police tape, or brashly just drive through it.  This was extremely law-abiding Singapore.  Besides they would also be curious as to what the tape was doing there – it was rarely seen by the general public.

In the cool of the night, the tape fluttered, reflecting in the glistening road, now damp from the misting air.  In the gutter a tiny trickle of water moved past the Shangri-La,  around the sharp curve dropping towards the bottom of the S-bend in front of the RELC Building, then the apartment complex driveway, then vanishing from sight as it rounded the next bend.  Orange Grove Road embraced this complex, bringing the heavy peak traffic twice a day, a steady flow during the day, and a quiet swish of the occasional car at night.

The gardens that jostled for space, created a false oasis, an apparent peace, a liquid green tranquillity that was shot with flashes of daffodil yellow as small birds flitted amongst the dank lush foliage.  Tropical flowers thrived – Helaconia, Frangipani, Orchids, Bougainvillea – their colours splashing the flashy architecture at every glance.  It was an exotic, lush, glorious heady mixture.

But on the steps, the colour was not from petals.  The bright red had already changed to dark ruby as it coagulated.  In this mist, the likelihood of it drying was minimal.  Until the entire area had been thoroughly searched, both the blood and the police tape would remain.  The young Constable, looking as many Singaporians look, at least ten years younger, stood on the pavement  near the steps.  Not too near in case there was still evidence they hadn’t found in the dim streetlighting supplemented by torchlight.  His was a boring yet onerous task, and it was important that he be alert, as the DI had made quite clear to him.  There was always a slim chance that the culprit might return.

A visible shudder shook his slender body, and he glanced around anxiously.  He fiddled with his cigarette packet in his pocket, wishing he could indulge but knowing that would be ‘out of bounds’.  He could not contaminate the crime scene with his ash or butts.  At the thought of the DI finding one of his damp squashed cigarette butts, he shuddered again, his face momentarily distorted by sudden dread.  His hands dropped to his sides and he stood to attention.

Finally home, his wife, Wan, called out to the DI from their bed “That you , Jun lah.”

“Yes.  Sorry I am so late.  There has been a murder in Orange Grove Road.”

“Was it bad this killing?”  She stood by the bedroom door, her silk dragon gown folding round her slight frame.  As he always did, on seeing her Lim felt a rush of warmth, of enveloping good luck that she was still his.

“Yes.”  He passed her wearily, touching her face fleetingly with his fingertips as he made his way to the bathroom.  The hot water washed away the clinging miasma of death that always resulted from contact with these violent crimes.  He stood there lathering and rinsing until he felt his shoulders relax.  Then he turned off the water, clambered out of the bath, over which the shower hung, and dried himself vigorously.  He cleaned his teeth, quickly shaved – better to do it now in case he gets called out again during what was left of the night – and joined his wife in the comforting dark of their bedroom.  The thick shantung drapes had blockout linings, and tulle behind them for daylight hours.  This ensured a dark sleeping chanber no matter what hour of the day or night he lay down.

“You want to talk about it yet?”  Wan was curious, but also was his sounding board.  he often talked to her about his cases, as it helped clarify his thoughts, arrange his perspectives, and often provided sudden solutions.  She was highly educated, held a respectable, and respected, position in one of the Ex-Pat apartment/shopping complexes near Orchard Road, and so was a capable listener.  It was necessary for her work to be adept at listening to others in order to solve their problems.  She had many satisfied clients.

“Not really.  I need to sleep.  We have to examine the scene at first light in case we missed something.  The sooner we can release the road from ‘out of bounds’ the better.  The traffic will be awful.  I’ll tell you about it tomorrow when I get home.”  He sighed.  She put her hand on his chest, leaned forward and brushed his cheek with her lips.  He smiled.

“Sleep well.”  Wan  turned over into her customary position facing the outside of the bed, snuggled into her pillow a little, then drifted back to sleep.

Lim gazed into the dark, then slowly lowered his eyelids.

(C) Jud House  10/11/2012

* * * * *


While all locations are real, by necessity and for authenticity, the events and characters are entirely fictitious.

Due to the fact that Crime novels are not exactly compatible with the NaNoWriMo writing method – that of pushing out 1800 words a day, writing on the run, free-wheeling, or whatever other cliche suits you – I feel compelled to inform you that if I am to do just that, then it’s imperative that you read the story as a Draft.

Normally I would take the time to do research regarding the judiciary system, police procedures, language nuances etc, prior to commencement.  It is about 10 years since I lived in Singapore, for 8 months, but it seems that that has made my memory of dialogic quirks fade making me unsure of the authenticity of the work for the reader, and squashing the spontaneity.  Also having had no contact with the police, I am unsure how they would address each other – formally or informally.

Having said that I will proceed with the story ‘on the fly’, let it unfold, and take me and you where it will, and return when all is done to fix the glaringly obvious after some research – which, with a bit of luck, might entail another trip to Singapore!

Jud House  9/11/2012

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This is my NaNoWriMo entry Part 2.

(While all locations are real, by necessity and for authenticity, the events and characters are entirely fictitious.  Please read this as a Draft.  I am writing this from memory.  Please excuse inaccuracies.  I will amend these as I get the chance to peruse my old diary entries and copious brochures and pamphlets I acquired while living there.  A murder mystery requires research, but in order to try to keep up with the spontaneity of NaNoWriMo projects, I will get on with the narrative, and tidy up the errors in the Second Draft stage.)

Singapore Slasher – Part 2

Detective Inspector Lim JiaJun looked down at the sprawled body, then sadly shook his head and sighed.

“Poor girl,” he said softly, to himself.  Turning, he waved the SOCO team to go ahead, then moved over to where the Australians stood, half turned away from the coming indignities that the dead girl would go through, yet not wishing to leave in case it were the wrong thing to do.

“You are Lara Castle?  I believe you called the crime in to the SPF?”  Still he spoke quietly, but there was no doubt as to his authority.  A quiet authority.  Impressive.

“Yes.”  Lara nodded.  Then shivered.  The night was clammy and a little cool now.  “I ran – well staggered actually – up to our apartment complex over there,” pointing towards it, “as soon as I saw she was dead.  I didn’t touch her.  I could see the gash on her throat.”  Drawing a ragged breath, as she relived the moment, she continued.  “I called from the lobby.  Well – the Concierge called for me, then I spoke to someone and told them.  About the body.  And where it was.  They said to wait by the body till you came.”

DI Lim nodded.  “What time did you find her?  And how long before you returned?”

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t look at the time.  All I could think of was to call you, the police, as quick as I could.  To get you here.  But the Concierge may know.  And the phone record will tell you.”  She paused, then added, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t come straight back here.  I went to our flat and told Troy what had happened and that I had to go back, come back down here.  I wanted him to come with me.  I didn’t want to stand here alone waiting in the dark.  I didn’t feel her skin so I didn’t know if the killer was still here watching, or if he had long gone.”

DI Lim had been listening and watching her closely.  She was obviously someone who believed in accuracy – she had corrected little details as she spoke – so was probably honest and truthful.  Her husband had said nothing so far.   He turned to him.

“Can you verify that?  And do you know what time it was?”

“Yep.  I reckon it was about twenty past nine when she came in.  Roughly.”

“I knock off at the school where I teach English at eight thirty.  It’s in a side street off the Raffles end of Orchard Road.  It takes me about half an hour or a bit more, to walk home, depending on whether I have to wait for traffic lights, or if there’s things I stop to look at.”

DI Lim suppressed a smile.  Not the right time to be smiling.  But he liked this woman.  “And was there anything to look at tonight?”

“Not really.  And I got mostly green lights, though I had to wait by the old Art Deco theatre.  You know, the one they are remodelling, or renovating into apartments.  I love that building.  I wish it would stay as a theatre.”  She smiled unconsciously.

“Lara.”  Troy spoke sharply, startling her.  “He doesn’t want to hear that rubbish.”

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to waste your time.”  She swallowed convulsively, then looked Lim in the eyes and proceeded.  “No.  I had a good walk home, till I got to the bend and the steps, and the – body.”  Another shiver.  “Poor girl.  I wonder who she is.  And why  she ended up like that.  No-one deserves that!”  Her suddenly angry voice echoed along the street, shattering the silence that had descended once the police sirens were turned off.

DI Lim took a step back, Troy put his hand on her shoulder and gave a little shake, the SOCO team all lifted their heads, looked at her, then returned to their tasks.  Camera flashes flickered intermittently.  In the trees a night bird called and was answered from a distance.

“Sorry.”  Another apology.  Why would this woman need to keep apologising.  Insecure?  Looks like her self-esteem takes a bit of a pounding from her husband.

“It’s not a problem.  You have been very clear with your statement.  It is appreciated.”  Formality over, he felt oddly compelled to add,  “Your concern is natural.  We all feel it.  We always do.”  Then returning to formal mode, “We will need your statement written and signed.  Can you come tomorrow to the Police Cantonment Complex?  It’s 391 New Bridge Road, Block C.”

“Yes. of course. Taxi drivers would know where it is, wouldn’t they?  What time should I come?”

“In the morning would be good, so we have it at the start of the investigation.”

Troy scowled.  “What about me?  Do I have to come too?  I have to be at the shipyards at seven.”

“No.  But if you could come in on your way home to add a small statement from when your wife arrived home till we arrived that would be appreciated.”

“So you really mean ‘Yes.'” Troy grinned suddenly, unexpectedly.  “No problems.  I’ll come after work.  Thanks.”  As Lim nodded then turned away, Troy asked, “Can we go now?  I think my wife needs some dinner.”

“Yes.  You can go.  Thank you.”

Dismissed, the couple hurried away to begin their climb up their steep driveway.

“What have you found?” Lim asked his Detective Sergeant, Lee Ong, who was squatting over the body, now that the SOCO team had moved away to pack up their equipment.

As Lim joined him beside the girl, Lee said, “Not a lot, Sir.  There’s no ID on her, no purse, no jewellery.  It could have been a robbery, Sir.  Maybe she resisted too much.”  He shook his head.  “But I don’t really think so.  Her clothes have been disturbed.  SOCO found semen, Sir.  In her hair.”

They looked down sadly at what had been a pretty girl – glossy black hair cut in a long bob just below shoulder-length.  Her full lips were parted in a grimace, her eyes wide open, still staring.  Her once lithe body flung like a discarded ragdoll, with legs spread but turned in at the knees, and her arms out and away from her sides, her delicate wrists kinked, her palms up, with lotus-petal nails.  Her feet were bare.  And clean.  And seemed to be placed exactly neatly on the pavement beneath the bottom step.  Lim raised his eyebrows.

“Did SOCO get a snap of that,” he asked, pointing at the feet.

“Yes, Sir.  We all noticed that.  It’s like it’s the only tidy thing about her.”   He reached down and lifted her foot gently in his palm.  Beneath it, the pavement was also clean and dry.  Lim widened his eyes, then looked into Lee’s expectant face.  “I know, Sir.”

“Well done, Lee.  Call the photographer back to take some snaps of that also, please.”  He straightened up.  “They can take her away now.  Did the search of the steps, walls, street, undergrowth and gateway find anything?  We’ll need to get that checked in the daylight, thoroughly.  And maybe into the grounds of the Shangri-La.  I’ll have to talk to the management so that they know what is happening.”

They stood together watching as the body of the pretty girl was loaded into the mortuary van and quietly driven away up the hill towards Orange Grove Road/Orchard Road/Tanglin Road corner.

(C) Jud House  5/11/2012

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This is my NaNoWriMo entry Part 1.

(While all locations are real, by necessity and for authenticity, the events and characters are entirely fictitious.  Please read this as a Draft.  I am writing this from memory.  Please excuse inaccuracies.  I will amend these as I get the chance to peruse my old diary entries and copious brochures and pamphlets I acquired while living there.  A murder mystery requires research, but in order to try to keep up with the spontaneity of NaNoWriMo projects, I will get on with the narrative, and tidy up the errors in the Second Draft stage.)

Singapore Slasher – Part 1.

The thing about Singapore is its air of ‘Safety’.  Although a fair size city of multi-cultural enclaves housing millions of people, there is very little apparent crime.  True – you could see unobtrusively-guarded orange-overalled gangs picking up litter and cleaning the street gardens at times during the day, but their crime was Littering.  It was the cleanest city she had seen.  Mind you some of the rules were a tad over the top, yet the resulting benefit was evident – for example the No Chewing/Bubble Gum Law.  It was great to not see jaws continually grinding and rotating, no bubbles being blown at inappropriate times and places, and for that matter no spitting either.  Manners prevailed – mostly – despite the diversity of cultures.  Amazing really.

She couldn’t quite adjust to the fact that she could walk home from teaching English at the language school late at night, the full length of the well-lit Orchard Road, then down along the less-lit Orange Grove Road with no sense of danger, no feeling of anxiety, no looking over her shoulder ‘just in case’.  It was very odd.  Back home in Australia she couldn’t do that.  Not even in the outer suburb of Perth by the ocean where she lived.  She would not feel safe.

Yet here she was, strolling along, alone, late at night, unaccosted, past the pick-up-bars busy plying their trade, past the boy-girls sitting on the pavement walls, smoking, chatting and calling to passers-by, in complete confidence.  It was amazing.  As if she was a different person – unafraid and carefree.

The first time, her husband had met her at the school and they’d strolled home together.  The city was much quieter at this time of night, peaceful, very little traffic and relatively few people on the street.  Those that were, were clustered around the supermarkets and food halls that were still open, though preparing to close down.  The air was cool and moist – it was always moist in this city.  The aroma of Singapore noodles wafted out of the food halls as they passed.  Their footsteps echoed on the pavement.

It was a chance to look at the city without the obstructive noisy pushing jostling crowds that needed your full attention to navigate safely.  Odd word to use, but a different kind of safety.  One of reaching your destination in the neat unfrazzled state in which you set out.  Of not getting crowded off the pavement and into the road.  Of not having people step out of doorways without looking right in your path, stepping on you if necessary.  Of not being accosted by tailors trying to sell you a suit – “Do I look like I want a suit?!”  Orchard Road is quite a long road, with many Hotels, commercial premises of all types, restaurants, government buildings with wonderful gardens, then shops, shops, shops, majestic Emporiums, underground malls interconnecting with shop-lined tunnels, cinema complexes, food halls galore, and bars.  During the day it is constantly busy.  On weekends there is easily a hundred thousand people moving along it.  She learned to avoid it at the weekends.

But at night it was peaceful, serene, mystical, enchanting.  At night she had time to look at the city, to drink in its atmosphere, her surroundings, and admire the buildings.  The architecture was wonderful, colourful, stylish, a real mixture of designs, making it stimulating to live amongst.  And fun.  There was even a building decorated as a Mondrian painting.  Fantastic.  She loved the Singapore architecture.  And the city seemed to change from week to week – certainly month to month.  How could they build so fast?!

Sometimes, when her husband met her, they’d have a bite to eat at a food hall, or grab some groceries from a market store, as they passed, to cook for a very late meal when they got home.  But other times, if it was very late, she would walk home alone, then have the meal he’d cooked when she arrived.  It was a different pace of life there – a different pattern of living.  They went out for casual meals frequently – food was so cheap in the food halls and cafes.  They spent their weekends visiting places – Botancial Gardens, the Zoos, both day, and night zoos, Sentosa Island, exploring the various computer-mart complexes, riding the MRT out to the suburbs to visit the Chinese Gardens, the Boat Quay and Clarke Quay, Raffles Hotel, the CBD, and on and on.  She loved it.  She felt like she really ‘had a life’.

Mind you the humidity was hard to take at times.  Thank goodness their apartment complex had a pool and spa in which she could cool down.  They had a poolside barbeque once a month for all the tenants which was socially bonding.  There were many people living there on a permanent basis, others semi-permanent like she and her husband – just there for the duration of a contract, while others were more like hotel guests.  But it made it feel more like home, as people became familiar faces, then friends.

So it was so shocking when she turned into Orange Grove Road, passed the Shangri La Hotel, and found the body propped against the steps to the rear gate at the corner of their wall.  It was obvious that it was dead.  It was not curled up in a peaceful sleeping position.  It was sitting on the bottom step with legs extended, draped back up the steps, head back on the top step, eyes staring into the jungle that dangled down the walls, sides and over the top of the gate-arch.  Across the exposed throat was a dark gash, visible even in the dim light and shadows cast from the nearby street light.

She took a step closer, peered, then backed away and ran down to the steep driveway of her apartment complex.  Reaching the Security Box just inside the gate, she discovered that the nightwatchman wasn’t there.  So she struggled up the slippery, steep, always-difficult drive to the lobby, where she staggered in, gasping.  Calling out, she banged her hand, rapid fire, onto the lobby counter bell.

“There’s been a murder.  Call the Police!  Are you there?  Can you hear me?  Call the Police!”

A startled Concierge emerged from the back room.

“Call the Police.  Let me speak to them.  Quickly.”

Luckily for her, the Concierge knew her well, enjoyed chats with her daily, understood her character as intelligent, humorous, practical, so realised that this was serious and not just hysteria or a prank.  While she regained her breath, and regained her composure, the Concierge dialled the counter phone, spoke, then handed it over.

After identifying herself, she explained what she had found and exactly where – calmly, precisely.  Handing it back to the Concierge, she thanked her, then turned to walk through the walkway by the pool, to the lifts.  At her apartment she told her disbelieving husband.

“There’s been a murder.  I have to go back down there and wait by the body till the police come.”

“No.  Stay here.  They’ll come to you when they are ready.”

“No. I have to go down and wait by the body.  So nothing gets touched.  They said so.  Please come down with me.  I don’t want to stand there alone, in the dark street.”

Dubiously, he shook his head.  Then, seeing her determination to do the right thing despite her vulnerability, agreed.  They returned down the treachorous drive, around the bend, to wait at the bottom of the steps.  After a glance to see that the body was still there, and in the same position as before, assumably untouched, they stood with their backs to it looking anxiously up and down the street.

Now it didn’t feel safe any more, even with her husband beside her.  Her heightened senses saw movements in the foliage, heard the creaking, twitching and scraping of leaves on leaves, the branches on walls, night creatures scurrying, fossicking in the overgrowth.  Singapore was continually overgrown – constantly being trimmed, cut back, pruned, brought under control.  Then it would rampantly break out again – usually in colourful abundance, which was a delight to see.   Except down the alleys where the mould also broke out and festered in the humidity, turning the walls to slime.

The arrival of the Police shattered the peace, shocking the neighbourhood.

(C) Jud House  4/11/2012

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This is no longer my NaNoWriMo entry Part 8.  lol

Every 31 minutes someone is murdered . . .

THE TANGLED WEB  – RADIO DRAMA (Format modified due to Blog constraints)


GLORIA COGLYN – 32, emotionally and mentally strong, decision-maker, married to Jim, and neighbour of victim.

JIM COGLYN – 35, Gloria’s husband, apparently tough and aggressive, wanted for armed  robbery.

TESSA JOHNSON – 29, neighbour of Coglyns, selfish, petty, panics easily and has quick temper and sharp tongue.

DAVE JOHNSON – 31, Tessa’s husband and victim.  He is demonstrative in love and in anger when provoked.

DETECTIVE SERGEANT SMITH – 42, hard voiced, clipped speech, but with sense of humour/irony.

Scene: INT. Gloria and Jim’s living room.


GLORIA   They’re at it again!




GLORIA   What’s that?

JIM           Sounded like a car.

GLORIA   No, I think it’s a gun!  Didn’t you hear them fighting?  They’ve been at it for days.

JIM            I’m sure it was a car.

GLORIA   But you didn’t see them outside earlier.  I did.

JIM           What were they doing?

GLORIA    Well, she threw all his clothes in the garden, and he chased her swearing he’d kill her.

JIM            I still think it was a car.


GLORIA    We’d better call the police.


JIM            You can’t do that!  If it was a car we’ll look like idiots.

GLORIA    But what if he’s killed her?

JIM            That’s right, blame it on him!  She might’ve shot him.  Anyway, it was a car!!

GLORIA    Well if you won’t call the police, then go and have a look.

JIM            I’m not going over there.  It’s none of our business.  Besides it’s pouring.

GLORIA    What if someone’s hurt and we do nothing?

JIM            It’s none of our business!

GLORIA    Well, I’m going over there to have a look, if you won’t.





GLORIA    You were right.  She shot him.  I called the police and the ambulance.

JIM            Is he dead?

GLORIA    No, but he’s real bad.  They’ve taken him to intensive care.  She’s gone.  The place is in a real mess!

FX             KNOCK ON THE DOOR

GLORIA    That’ll be Detective Sergeant Smith.  He’ll want a statement.

JIM            (PANICKING)  I told you to keep out of it!

GLORIA    We’re neighbours.  They’d have questioned us anyway.


SMITH      (OFF)  Mrs Coglyn, just a few questions.  (PAUSE THEN ON)  Jim Coglyn!  What a surprise.  We’ve been looking for you.

GLORIA    Jim!  What’s he talking about?  How does he know you?

JIM            You stupid bitch!  Now look what you’ve done.  Dropped me right in it.

SMITH       He’s wanted for armed robbery at a couple of TAB offices.  You might as well come quietly, Coglyn.  Now about this incident next door (FADE).


GLORIA    Hello?

TESSA      Hi, Gloria.  It’s Tessa.  I need your help.

GLORIA    You’ve got a nerve, calling after what you did to Dave.

TESSA      I didn’t mean to.  I didn’t know the gun was loaded.  I’d had enough of his yelling and lost my temper.  How is he?  Is he dead?

GLORIA    No, he’s not!  He’s in intensive care, thanks to you.  If you didn’t mean to do it, why did you run?  Why didn’t you call an ambulance?

TESSA      I panicked.  You’ve got to help me.  I need money and somewhere to hide.  I thought maybe your beach-house?

GLORIA    I don’t know that I should help you.  Things are bad enough for me as they are.

TESSA      Please, Gloria.  I’ve got no-one else to turn to.

GLORIA     It’s against my better judgement, but all right then.  I’ll meet you at Karen’s Koffee Shoppe, in an hour?

TESSA      Thanks Gloria.  You’re a real friend.

FX             PHONE HANGS UP

GLORIA    Oh, no I’m not!


GLORIA    Detective Sergeant Smith?  It’s Gloria Coglyn.  I’ve just been contacted by Tessa Johnson.  She wants me to meet her in an hour at Karen’s Koffee Shoppe.  I thought you’d like to know.


GLORIA    Hi, Tessa.  You look terrible.

TESSA      I feel like death.

SMITH       That’s nothing to how your husband feels, Mrs Johnson.  You are under arrest for attempted murder.  You have the right to remain silent, but anything you do say can be given in evidence. . .

TESSA      (OVER SMITH’S SECOND SENTENCE)  You bitch!  you bloody cow!  You betrayed me!  I’ll get you for this!


FX              HOSPITAL NOISES.

GLORIA     Dave?  It’s me, darling.  It’s Gloria.  They wouldn’t let me in to see you before.  Are you okay?

DAVE         What?  Oh.  She shot me, Gloria.  Tessa shot me.

GLORIA     I know dear.  I found you and called the ambulance.  You’re okay now darling.  You lost a lot of blood.

DAVE        Where’s Tessa?  Did they get her?

GLORIA     Yes dear.  I took care of that.

DAVE         And Jim?  Where’s Jim?

GLORIA     He’d been keeping secrets from me, Dave.  He’s been arrested for armed robbery.

DAVE        What?!  Oww.  I can’t believe what’s been happening.

GLORIA    No.  It’s hard to take in.  (PAUSE)  I guess it’s just you and me now, darling.

(C) Copyright  Jud House  7/02/2012

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