The Fifth Horseman

Every boss has a boss has a boss

They gang were all startled up by an emergency text early in morning; in all CAPS emerging from the lost messaging threads. Damia had an important announcement, but what?

She had called all of them to meet in the cafeteria at around 5am, and if it was during your shift, she didn’t care, she just used the friend card. After the whole experience with Sheila, the gang had become a little hypersensitive to any such alerts. Only one of them couldn’t show up; Ram, in charge today of elective surgery, in an Operating Room far away, with a retractor in one hand and a suction device in the other, pulling when asked to pull and suctioning when asked to suck, while his superiors struggled to fix a broken femur.

The gang was anxious, awaiting her announcement. Impeccably present by the stroke of 5, seated in an almost empty cafeteria, patiently they waited, awkward and quiet. The group had not met each other since that one dinner in the Lover’s Cafe many months ago. Daniel glanced a longing smile at Jenny, who smiled in return and that was it. Tzen was on his phone, scrolling through without any real focus while his ‘Sheila’ just sat there quietly playing with unruly his locks on his scalp.

Damia walked in 5 minutes late, in the tightest of her modest outfit, headscarf almost choking her neck, her face red and plump. One look from her friends and they knew she had been crying minutes before. She braved to approach the table.

‘So,’ Jenny started. ‘What’s wrong, sweetie?’ she walked up the mother of one and wrapped her limber arms around her.

Damia cleared her swollen throat, and immediately grabbed the bottled water on the table, chugging it down. ‘I’m feeling so parched.’

‘You hungry?’ Daniel interjected.

‘No,’ Damia rejected the offer of breakfast, ‘I’ll make this short. I don’t know how much you all have been kept in the loop about things.’

‘There have been rumors.’ Tzen replied, locking his phone and keeping it back in his whitecoat pocket. He smacked his forehead head pretending to shoo off a fly so that they girl would let his hair be and disappear.

‘Well…so let me clear the doubts for you.’

‘You’re going through with the divorce?’ Daniel jumped. Jenny sneered back at him, disappointed, a look he gravely missed from her.

‘No, not a divorce- but a marriage.’

‘Ooh dear!’ Jenny backed away with her palm over her lips. ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘No, no. Don’t feel that way. It’s what we discussed, and we have had plenty of those. But the fact of the matter is what’s important for Atirah. She needs a father and I’ll always be her mother. So..’ Damia reached for the bottle again and chugged down aggressively.

‘I’m getting a sister, you guys,’ she lit a smile under her grimace while a residual tear escaped her eyes. ‘I really hope you guys can be there.’

‘We’re there.’ Jenny replied while looking at boys, ‘right?’. Daniel and Tzen still in residual shock, bobbed their heads unanimously without a second afterthought.

**

Nurul was at her regular night watch, on another one of her extracurricular vigilante duties at pubs, clubs and karaoke bars. She had chosen a place for tonight, and that was The Ozone Family Karaoke bar; a quaint little establishment that contrary to its name idealized nothing to that value. It only opened from 9pm to 5am the next morning and the characters that frequented were mostly questionable.

She had brought in a rookie, excited to follow.

‘Come, lets pick a song. 70s Malay Rock, or Siti Nurhaliza? What do you want?’ the younger doe-eyed officer asked, still deluded enough to think it was social date, flipping through remote in their cubicle.

‘What?’ Nurul appeared confused. ‘Oh, yes…’ she reoriented herself, still distracted in her thoughts, her eyes unsettled and her ears listening for any sort of rustling from outside. ‘Yeah, pick what you want.’

‘You know, I’m very good at this. You shouldn’t have picked Karaoke. I don’t want you to feel like you have to match up to me.’

‘Don’t worry about that.’ Nurul smiled as the girl chose herself an 80s ballad. She played the beginning of the song and the random non-copyrighted stock images and videos flashed in the screen before them. She cleared her throat while the piano graciously invited them to the opening lyrics. Then she silently counted…2,3,4… ‘Engkau…

POW! The door busted open and like a rag doll a body bounced off the cardboard thin wall and dropped to the ground. The rookie squealed her way up her sofa. The detective embarrassed, waved at her to get back down and put on a sturdy face.

A thin framed man got up to his feet. Barring his escape were Nurul’s hired grunts; bounty hunters that she swore to pay if they delivered.

‘Really? These are the hookers? Sorry. Not my type.’ He spat a chunk of blood covered sputum.

Nurul laughed. ‘Trust me, kid. You couldn’t afford me.’

The music escalated into a climatic orchestra. This was the rookie’s favorite part. She was disappointed she couldn’t sing to it. It finally clicked in her head that the night wasn’t really about Karaoke.

‘All I need from you is a name. Tell me a name, and your bounty is cleared.’ Nurul said. The rookie was puzzled at her fellow officer and her grandiose ability to forgive someone past the law.

‘A name?’

‘Make the right choice. One lends you in jail and another, free. Either way…’ she points at the men, ‘they get paid.’

The boy smirked and spat.

‘Choice made then,’ Nurul nodded at the grunts while one of them walked in, grabbed him by his shoulders and lifted him off the ground as if he were massless. The boy kept chuckling, passing one last glance at the rookie. ‘Her?!.. I might even consider.’

The rookie slapped his cheek hard. ‘In no fucking hell.’ The boy kept laughing as if he were enjoying it.

The grunt swung the boy’s body over to his partner outside as if they were playing catch and they slowly took their time dragging him off the property. ‘Jerry Chong! His name is Jerry Chong!’ the boy screamed from the corridor after being repeatedly pummeled and passed around.

‘THANK YOU!’ Nurul shouted with a lilt in her voice, without a care of his affairs next.

The rookie reached to pause the song. ‘What the hell was that?’

‘That… is something you are going to have to get used to in this field.’ Nurul sat back on her sofa, taking out a cigarette to light it. The rookie took out to light one of her own.

‘Crime syndicate. Every boss has a boss, has a boss…’

‘You’re not narcotics though. Why?’

‘Consider it overtime.’ Nurul laughed as she blew a thick fog of smoke at the general direction of the paused screen. Nurul started laughing at the frozen picture. ‘It looks like she’s in middle of sex,’ she distracted.

‘Well,’ the rookie laughed along, ‘or a very painful Brazilian.’

Nurul chuckled boisterously. Her phone in her pocket started buzzing. She immediately took it out and pretended to focus all her attention on it. ‘Yes, she’s here.’

‘Who is?’

‘The real reason we are here,’

By the door was a Chinese woman, moderate built, just a few years younger than Nurul herself, her hair in a mess, her face weary and tired, and her hands in bandages holding on to a purse like her life depended on it. She wore her discomfort of the strange meeting arrangement all over her face. It was after all Nurul’s idea.

‘Dr Julie?’

The woman nodded.

Nurul immediately put her cigarette out and instructed the rookie to do the same. ‘Please come in.’

Julie removed her slippers and walked in closing the door behind them, when she noticed the knob was broken. ‘Don’t worry about that.’ Nurul exclaimed. The rookie moved aside and dusted the couch before presenting it to their guest.

‘Which one of you is…?’

‘Nurul,’ the detective introduced herself, offering a handshake, and was respectfully reciprocated.

‘Dr Julie. You have been on our radar for quite some time.’

The rookie took out her notebook instinctively and prepared to jot things down.

‘What do you want to know?’ the doctor asked.

‘You tell me, doc. You texted me, remember?’

Julie smiled. ‘The case has been closed anyways. There was a huge assembly. Several councilors self-appointed themselves to take responsibility to teach and educate the staff on mental wellness and suicide prevention, if you can believe that – psychologists schooling doctors, the world we live in now. All house officers were made to attend a three-day integrated course. Dr Satya is adding more staff to already mountainous patient list, and more junior doctors are quitting the service on a weekly basis because it’s all just “too much”. Not to forget all the opinion pieces in every damn magazine, newspaper and online threads. #freethehorsemen is a thing now because some idiot misspelled housemen and thought it would be ironic just keep it that way. Nobody wants to be a doctor anymore. All the blame is on the system, on the stress and not a single shit is thinking about the patients.’

‘But you are?’ Nurul asked politely. ‘Is that what you told yourself, Doc?’

‘Excuse me?’

‘I just mean,’

‘You’re just being a condescending bitch. That is what you mean,’

‘Please calm down, Dr,’ the rookie interjected.

‘I’m not the one that’s over-reacting here,’ Julie defended. ‘Sheila didn’t die out of stress. It’s what I thought too, at first. Fuck it, I’ll say it, it’s what I wanted it to be.’

‘Now that’s a revelation.’ The Detective replied.

‘But then, the more I thought about it, the more it didn’t make any sense. And then I did some digging.’

‘A list?’

‘Yes. Some popularity contest, and then…’

Nurul brought herself forward, listening closely. The rookie held her breath in excitement. Is this how hanging out with Nurul feels like?

‘Mr Jamal,’ the doctor whispered.

Nurul had the dirtiest smile.

Julie starred at the two women in the room, clasping on to the fabric of her purse. It was only then, did the rookie realize why Nurul brought her instead of any of the boys to that shady place late at night for her little side activity. Disappointed that it was nothing personal, but amazed at her boss’ craft and dedication, albeit the sexism.

‘He was kind. He is… I mean,’

‘But?’

‘But…’

Nurul’s voice grew louder. ‘BUT?’

‘He.. (she stammered) … I can’t do this.’ Nurul abruptedly got up, her feet pointing fast toward the broken knob on the door.

Nurul was again getting impatient. ‘HOW VERY UNCHARACTERISTIC OF A DOCTOR TO BE SO INDECISIVE!’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘A WOMAN IS DEAD, DOCTOR!’ Nurul screamed, forcing Julie to drop back on the couch, her body stoop forward over her purse, ‘and not from medical causes either. She is ONE OF YOU!’ Nurul re-enforced.

‘He is good person. OK?’ Julie defended. ‘He is kind, warm and a great surgeon. He has written so many journals, published so many self-help books, is a very charitable guy and just all-round fantastic individual.’

‘Who also happens to rape women without their consent…’ Nurul added.

‘I NEVER said THAT. Don’t do this police shit on me…’

‘Then, what does he do? Why are all the arrows pointing to this so-called “MAN OF THE YEAR” then?’

‘People fuck. OK?’

‘I’m guessing so do you,’ Nurul braved. The rookie shook her head in disapproval of that crass statement.

Julie was transfixed at the detective. ‘Judge me all you want. But yes, I was in love with him, maybe I still am. I’m fucked up and so is everybody.’

‘And who does he love?’

‘His wife, and he has made that very apparent.’

‘So, this is revenge?’

Dr Julie slowed to calm herself down, deep in rumination. ‘Don’t you for a second think I’m that petty. I don’t know what this is, but I’m not alone. It’s just so easy to fall for him, you know. He is just so…’

‘I have met the man. I have looked into steely eyes, smelled him cologne as he came uncomfortably close to me and, hell, I even have his blazer at home, but I’m sorry to say I don’t share the same sentiment.’

Julie sighed. ‘Many have though. I mean, many.’

‘I know.’

‘Then why haven’t done anything about it?’

Nurul burst into a hysterical laughter. ‘Can you believe this?’ she chuckled at the rookie, awkwardly smiling back, not understanding what was so funny, but Julie did. She knew Nurul was trying hard and that Jamal’s status and wealth was winning.

‘Tell me something Dr Julie. Why haven’t YOU done anything about it?’

‘Same reason why nobody has, Inspector. We’re ashamed and a little guilty; just the same women problem since forever ago. Plus, who would believe us?’

‘He is a rich, powerful surgeon with a lawyer for a wife, has a myriad of connections, several complaints and pending lawsuits. How does that now fit the profile?’

‘He is Jamal, my Jamal, our Jamal.’

‘YUCK!’

‘Say what you want. He is not a rapist.’

‘He isn’t?’

‘NO!’

‘Then how is the sex like?’

The rookie cleared her throat incessantly, like she was trying to communicate with her boss, pleading her to stop, but Nurul found this to be a teachable moment.

‘It’s ok. I’ll tell,’ Julie smiled at the rookie, somehow reminding her of her own interns. ‘It’s good. It can get a little repetitive but it’s usually good.’

‘And positions wise?’

The rookie raised her eyebrows, astounded at the line of questioning.

‘All kinds, I guess. He usually does all the work. If you know what I mean.’

‘How often do you get on top?’

Julie started to think back. ‘Not really much.’

‘How long does it last?’

‘You know, there are good days and bad, like all sex.’

‘But he decides when it’s done.’

‘Usually.’

‘So, you get where I’m going with this?’

Julie took a deep breath and sighed again. ‘He is not a selfish lover, if that’s what your implying.’

‘He is.’

‘He’s not.’

‘He is.’

‘He’s NOT!’

‘But he is.’

Julie struggled with that notion for a bit. Slowly, the ideals she had built this man with started to wither away as she started recollecting some of their good times together. In the beginning, there were dinner dates, jokes and great fulfilling love-making. She remembered how much it pleasured him to watch her in her ecstasy as much as it did her. But as things faded with time, later she only remembered the wallpaper by the side of mattress, or being pushed against the floor tiling, and the loose threads on old bedsheets. Everything needed a fresh coat of paint, or just something new to replace it, just like her. Things obviously changed but she didn’t want to believe it did. What if Sheila was the replacement? How many other replacements were there before her and then after?

The doctor dropped her back on the sofa, loosening her top button to breath, her head pointed toward the black ceiling looking at old dusty speakers, feeling like a weight had just been lifted off. ‘He never loved me, did he?’ Her voice cracked.

Nurul broke the silence with three dramatic slow claps. The rookie couldn’t bare but roll her eyes at her theatrics.

‘Now. Since we have finally made progress. Tell me why you’re really here.’ Nurul paused to listen.

Julie stared long at the detective. She finally understood why both Daniel and Ram were equally fascinated by her. ‘I want to help, but I don’t want to put him in jail.’

‘That’s depends on the truth and isn’t really up to you,’

‘He didn’t kill her. He couldn’t have raped her. It’s just not him. But…’

‘But?’

Dr Julie had reached the preverbal point of no return. So, she made her choice, to be on the right side for once – or so she thought.

‘There might have been persuasions. His phone might help with details.’

‘His phone?’ the rookie blurted out excited.

Nurul grimaced. ‘I wouldn’t ask you to do something… compromising.’

‘Then don’t.’ Julie glared. Nurul knew that look; it was the same look she had many years ago, and the same look she saw in countless victims. There was no reason to prod further and she allowed the doctor the dignity to keep her secret. Julie then proceeded to open her purse she was so carefully coveting and withdrew a black slab of plastic.

‘This’ his?’ the rookie took it from her, holding it in the palm of her hand, she remarked, ‘it’s a burner.’

‘I have had some experience. I used to code before I started med school. Everything you need has been cloned in there.’ Julie remarked.

Nurul had a newly found sense of admiration for the doctor. She finally understood why Sheila was obsessed with her. ‘I’m sorry,’

‘Please, don’t ever mention it. Not EVER!’

Nurul nodded out of respect. She figured she would change the subject and ask about the bandages.

‘Your hands- is that also from?‘

‘No,’ Julie replied. ‘This was all, ME.’

**

With the stadium lights blinding her distinctly out of proportion, while the mosque resounding evening prayers in the distance blaring into her eardrums, Jenny looked at greasy palms and red knee caps and wondered. ‘This used to be easier.’

‘Hey!’ Her partner called out. ‘You alright?’

‘Yeah, just having a senior moment, I guess,’ she chuckled, reassuring him and went back into the court, bouncing on her toes left to right, holding her racket firmly awaiting his serve.

He served! The game was on, and rapidly the shuttle cocked swerved, whistling in the air dancing above the net from one side of the court to the other in a graceful balance. Jenny jumped, ran and dashed all over within the court confines while she tried her best to ignore the clicks and snaps from her knees.

She found her window, and “SMASH”! The shuttle cock cut through the air, grazing the top of the net, speeding on just before barely scratching the boy’s shoulder and making a tangent to the ground. He missed and the round was hers.

‘ARGH!’ Jenny felt a sudden pain and fell to her side.

‘Hey you seriously ok?’ he approached, concerned.

‘Yes.’

‘Those knees are swollen!’ her partner remarked.

‘I’ll be fine,’ she got herself up and approached the bench to retrieve her towel. She took out her phone from her duffel bag. Damia had messaged her. ‘Need to go shopping for some clothes. When?’

Jenny smiled and texted, ‘How does tomorrow sound?’ to which Damia instantly replied. ‘YEAY!’

Jenny sifted through her texts to see what else she may have missed during her friendly and then noticed something rather odd and once again, alarming. Jenny started to hyperventilate. Her vision started to double, and her heart was pounding heavy. She had to sit and she did so through the pain of her knees clicking and snapping. She peered at her phone again to check if it was real, and to her dismay, it was. Lightheadedness took over, along with that familiar sense of dread she has as though she was drowning again in a pool so deep, unable to breath, her body froze weary while her eyes were transfixed to the screen, gravely meandering at a text from Inspector Nurul that just simply without any given context, read, ‘I KNOW!’

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