Open 2020, Short Stories - Dr. Louis Tong


The Remote Caregiver

By Dr. Louis Tong 


Ang Mo Kio Police Station, Singapore, 2350 hours.


Ang Mo Kio, an old town in Singapore, has a marvellous new police station. ‘Ang Mo Kio’ literally means Caucasian’s Bridge. According to a legend, the town was named after a rich merchant’s wife, Lady Jennifer Windsor, who had lost three children near a bridge in the area. One of the children’s body couldn’t be found. The sounds of a child’s cry was reported in the vicinity, so Lady Windsor waited on the bridge until she perished.


The strong aroma of coffee beans streams from the paper cup on the table. The caramel, earthy scent, normally stimulates euphoria, but now it does nothing. Even without getting closer to the cup, Eva can taste the bitterness already.


“Mrs.Eva Lim, my name is Sergeant Lee from the Ang Mo Kio crime division.” Lee wears the standard blue uniform of the Singapore Police force.




“I need to take your statement. Please correct me if I’m wrong.You called the emergency hotline at 8.30 pm today to report a crime.”


“Yes.” Eva said, glancing at June, her autistic daughter, whose shoulders are slumped, and hands jammed in the pockets of her jeans. While the policeman takes her mother’s statement, June is allowed to sit on a chair in the same room.


“Can you tell me the events that led to you to call 999?” The sergeant smooths out a form on the table, swiftly grabs a ball-point, the type that stains the fingers with ink.


“Well, this evening I was supposed to meet up with Jack, Nick and Bill,” Eva says. “We call them the three tigers of Ang Mo Kio.”


“Who are they?”


“Money lenders,” Eva cleared her throat. “You’d think they have offices on Robinson Road. But no, they’re loan sharks.”


“Where’s the meeting place?”


“Okay, I am getting to that,” Eva mumbles. “We’ve arranged to meet at the coffee shop at the bottom of block 425, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3.”


Lee scribbles furiously on his notepad, making a grinding noise. He looks pointedly at Eva.


“I was early,” Eva says, her breaths becoming rapid. “I didn’t see them yet, so I chatted with the beer girl. You know, the one who sells Tiger Beer.”


“I know about beer promoters. You’re meeting the three men alone?” Lee frowns.


“Why not?”Eva asks.


“It seems odd for a lady like you,” Lee says. “Why do you want to meet them?”


“These are nasty types. In the name of justice, I’ll stop them from doing harm to helpless people. The interest they charge is too highand immoral.”


Three feet away, June rolls her eyes.


“I planned to trap them. Get all of them behind bars,” Eva says. “That’s why I called the police.”


“Sorry, I am getting confused,” Lee says. “The men didn’t turn up?”


“They probably smelled a rat and took off.” Eva’s voice wavers.


“How did you persuade them to meet you?” Lee asks, a little amused whenever these sessions get too long. “You must be quite resourceful.”


“Why, I talked to them two days ago.I charmed them.” Eva grins, looking at her daughter, then back to the policeman. “Can I take the coffee?”




Eva took a sip of the drink, then grimaced.“I blinded them with my wealth.” Eva’s cheeks have grown pink with pleasure. “I told them I currently own three plots of land in Shanghai, and I am looking for co-investors for another property.”


Lee stares, unbelieving.


“I told the men, they’ll be fools not to join me in this venture,” Eva analyzes her own plan, as if trying to convince herself of its validity. “To have a share of this business, they must come with me on a trip to China.”


“Are they convinced? Interested?”


“They seemed to be, on that previous night,” Eva’s chest puffs out. “We had a few beers, had a jolly good time. For what it’s worth, I threw in the name of my lawyer, who’s pretty well known.”


The policeman draws in a deep breath. “So they were going to discuss this investment with you tonight?”


“Yes,” Eva says proudly. “And when they arriveat the coffee shop, I intend to record our conversation and get something incriminating.”


“I see.” Lee looks puzzled, and as a reflex, he turns to look at June, as if she can help to clarify this mess. June shrugged. The night is not getting any shorter. “So you called the police to anticipate their arrest?”


“How smart you are, Sergeant!” Eva exclaims. “Let me give you a challenge. You may even get promoted if you crack this one.”


“We don’t play games here, Mrs. Lim,” Lee says gruffly.


“My lawyer was a real scammer,” Eva mutters, ignoring him. “He was the reason why my property deals went sour. If you want to know what happened to him, bring Luminol spray to my apartment.”


June gazes upward at the ceiling. Her right hand drifts to her lap, reaching into the hand bag, to the mobile phone within, which has been on speaker. She edges closer to the conversation for the sake of the listener on the other end.




Two hours ago.


“Now what?” Sharon sighed. The call from her sister in Singapore came in the beginning of her eight-hour shift. The morning rounds were busy as there weren’t many well-trained psychiatric nurses like her in the mental health center in Miami, Florida. Sharon wasticked off because her sister was often unclear in her description of events.


“Mum is in trouble again,” June said. “She has been arrested by the police at the coffee shop.”


“What? Why?”


“This time, she tried to get some loan sharks into a trap,” June said. “The plan didn’t work.”


“Oh, my…” Sharon was annoyed, and blamed her sister a little. “Did she take her medication?”


“I don’t know, sis,” June protested. “I’ve taken this job to walk the dogs in the evening at the dog hotel, after I’ve resigned at the hairdresser’s.”


“But you didn’t check her pills?” Sharon’s voice was kind but still challenging.


“I’m sick and tired. I don’t want anything to do with mum,” June was close to tears.“You don’t understand because you’re not living with her. She scolds me and hits me all the time.”


“So you want to tell me about it?” Sharon said. She thought of the yearly trips to Singapore she’d made the last few years. Frequently, she bailed her mother out from one disaster after another. The income at the health centre wasn’t bad, but those trips had drained her savings. Eva had fights with everyone, the taxi company, the town council, money lenders, and even her fictitious lawyer. She has frontal lobe psychosis, which makes her disinhibited, and also paranoid schizophrenia, which explains her colorful imagination and grand ideas.


Ever since Sharon’s father passed away, Sharon had been under pressure. She was accused of all sorts of things, like selfishness, like the lack of filial piety, living her own life in Australia. Not caring for her mother, not caring for her sister.


“Yea, I’m calling you now,” June said loudly. “You are the smart one. What shall I do?”


I can’t deal with this now. Sharon sighed and peeked at the list of patients in the morning round. She took a deep breath. “Ok, June. Please listen to me carefully. You’ve done the right thing by calling me. You can do this.”


“Ah, yes,” June cleared her throat, her voice quiet. “I’ll try.” She had a hard time at the hairdresser’s as she couldn’t get along with the other shampoo girls. They didn’t understand why she appeared to be unsociable. Didn’t know she had autism.


“When the police questions mum, I want you to sit as close as possible,” Sharon instructed. “Make the call to me, but don’t tell anyone. And remember to press the speaker button.”




“I want to know exactly what they’ll talk about.” The possibilities went through Sharon’s mind. What next? Another last minute flight to Singapore?Another visit to the court-appointed lawyer?Since mumis an obsessive hoarder of things, I will have to spend days trying to clean up herflat in Ang Mo Kio. I cleared only one-fifth of the living room on my last visit to Singapore.That took one week, and I had to tolerate a really bad smell from within.



The next day, Hopkins Health Center, Miami.


“June, you did well,” Sharon says. “I heard every word of that interview.”


“I’m so glad to talk to you,” June blabs. “They didn’t have her medical history, so it took a while to figure out she’s just telling stories. Then they released her.”


“Are you okay? You sound a little tensed,” Sharon says. “You should be happy mum is released.”


“Sis, what is Luminol?” June asks. “That provoked the police when mum said it.”


“It’s a chemical used in crime scenes,” Sharon explains. “In the dark, this shows a bright light when sprayed on any blood stain.”


“Oh, no,” June yells.


“Why, sis, you do know that the lawyer mum brags about is fictitious, right?” Sharon says. I deal with a court-appointed lawyer in Singapore concerning dad’s estate. But that’s not who mum talks about.


“What if the policemen turn up and use Luminol,” June exclaims, “you said this detectsany blood. Mum had acquired a lot of animal parts—“




“A bear paw,” June says, “for medicinal soup. And other rather large animal parts, I’m not sure what they are, or where they’re from. Mum doesn’t tell me anything. Our walls will show blood stains, right?


Dr. Louis Tong is based in Singapore and has published fiction in Twist and Twain. He has completed a short fiction writing course at the Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore, and is active in the critique groups Singapore Writers Group, Caferati and Scribophile. He is a professor at Duke-NUS Medical School.


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