Photo: Kate Finnie
The government was largely indifferent to the fate of this woman. It did, however, want to look caring in election year.
Extract from Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder by Shamini Flint
Original full-length version published by Piatkus, an imprint of Little, Brown Ltd., London
Condensed version © copright Reader’s Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd., 2012
Inspector Singh sees the relationship between Singapore and Malaysia as a family feud, so he is not happy to be involved in a case in Kuala Lumpur—Chelsea Liew, former Singapore supermodel, is on trial for shooting her ex-husband, who was using Islamic law to take her children away from her. A worried Singh asks himself: what hope of justice, when politics, love and religion trump rational behaviour?
Inspector Singh tapped his foot, in his trademark white sneakers, against the ground. It was hard, he thought, to believe that Alan Lee’s sudden discovery of religion, not long before he was murdered, was anything except cynical. The judge had agreed to adjourn the custody hearing, during which Alan Lee demanded that his children be taken from their mother and brought up under Islamic taching, until the various issues of jurisdiction were determined. But the same judge did not hide his contempt for what he saw as a cheap legal trick that brought the administration of justice into disrepute. The newspapers interviewed friends and colleagues expressing surprise that successful Chinese businessman Alan Lee, of all people, should seek solace in a higher power. But the conversion to Islam, suspect as a matter of faith, was a powerful weapon as a matter of law.
Inspector Singh extricated himself from his chair with difficulty, stretched and went in search of Sergeant Shukor, who had been assigned by Inspector Mohannad to be Singh’s assistant while he was part of the murder investigation in Kuala Lumpur. Singh found Shukor waiting outside the door. The sergeant stood to attention and saluted smartly as the inspector came out.
‘Have you been here all this while?’ asked the inspector.
‘Crime rates must have come down a bit in Kuala Lumpur if you have time to loiter outside my door all day …’
Sergeant Shukor smiled. ‘Not really, sir. But I have been told to stay close to you.’
Inspector Singh shrugged. ‘Well then, take me to the widow!’
‘I'M HERE to help you,’ said the inspector, almost pleadingly.
There was no response from the woman sitting opposite him at the table. She was in the small interview room when they arrived, brought up from her cell. But she had not yet uttered a word nor even looked at them. She sat, as she had from the moment they entered the room, knees together, shoulders rounded, head bowed. Unmoved by the the inspector’s pleas and unmoving.
The inspector tried again. ‘You are a Singapore citizen. The -Singapore government sent me to make sure that you are treated fairly.’
He reflected when he said this that it was not an exact truth. The government was largely indifferent to the fate of this one woman. It did, however, want to look authoritative and caring in an election year. And public opinion in Singapore was incensed by what it saw as the victimisation of someone they felt they knew personally, so intense and detailed was the media coverage of the divorce and custody battles.
The policeman could see just enough of Chelsea Liew’s face to understand her success as a supermodel, although her recent experiences had left their mark. Her cheekbones were high, almost protruding through translucent skin. She had large almond eyes but they were red-rimmed, with deep blue shadows underneath. Her hair was scraped back firmly and tied in a ponytail. Grey hairs were visible all along the line of her forehead. Her lips, so luscious in those cosmetic adverts of the late eighties, were bloodless, dry and chapped. Her neck, thin and long, protruded from an oversized T-shirt. The inspector could see that she was at least six inches taller than him. Even seated and slumped, it was evident that the long legs in baggy prison pyjamas, feet slipped into flip-flops, were of a length to have stridden down catwalks—before marriage and murder had reduced her to silence.
He said, ‘If you do not help me, I cannot help you.’
She looked up for the first time, her brown eyes filled with pain.
She spoke, the words wrenched reluctantly out of her. ‘Nobody can help me now.’
‘Why do you say that?’ he asked, more gently than was his wont. The case-hardened policeman felt an unusual sympathy for the accused.
She gestured, a small sharp movement with one hand which encompassed the prison walls around her. ‘I will only leave this place to walk to my death.’
‘Did you kill your husband?’
‘You would use that word “husband” for the man who dealt me twenty years of brutality?’
‘What about the children?’
‘What can I do for them now?’
‘Not much while you’re in here.’
Quiet descended on the room again.
The inspector said, ‘At least let me talk to people. Find out what happened. Please! It will cost you nothing if I fail. But if I succeed, we might get you out of here and back with your kids.’
She nodded once, a terse gesture, as if she was conferring a favour on him rather than dependent on him to find her an escape route.
Chelsea Liew rose to her feet. Inspector Singh got up too and watched her shuffle to the door. Sergeant Shukor opened it for her and she walked out. Inspector Singh had almost forgotten the sergeant was there. The waiting policewoman handcuffed her briskly and led her away.
The two men left in the room were a study in physical contrasts. One fit, strong, clean-shaven, well groomed. The other dishevelled, overweight and bearded.
Inspector Singh asked, ‘What do you think? Did she do it?’
Shukor shrugged. ‘She had the best motive.’
The senior policeman nodded. ‘She certainly did. What does your boss think?’
Singh nodded curtly.
‘That she’s one hundred per cent guilty, sir.’
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