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(Most victims of human-trafficking are classified under ‘missing’, ‘runaways’, ‘domestic issues’, and etc. Some desperate parents take matters into their own hands and get in over their heads.)  

A heavy round penguin-like man appeared. A few strands of lank hair swept over his baldpate from ear to ear. Andrei Rossel waved Michael in with a wide smile.

“Mikhail Liam, come hurry up, it is getting snow.”

Before Michael could introduce himself properly, Andrei turned him around to face the wall. He wrestled the heavy coat away from Michael’s shoulders.

“Good, now follow me,” ordered Andrei and squeezed himself through the narrow foyer, his ample frame rubbing against a coat cabinet that occupied half the entrance.

Michael stepped out of the narrow passage into a modest living room and choked. A strong cheesy smell hung in the air. Someone moved about in the open kitchen behind a huge kitchen cabinet.

Maria Rossel stepped out, having been in the throes of washing. She wiped her hands on her apron and greeted Michael with her thick hand. She then turned to Andrei and raised her voice, to which her husband simply shrugged his shoulders and replied apologetically. Within seconds, the couple were having a shouting match.

Michael switched from Andrei to Maria and back, wondering if he was the cause of this domestic tiff.

Maria berated Andrei in a vaguely familiar language and he replied in a mixture of that same language and Russian. Finally, they both ran out of words. She stomped into the kitchen and Andrei crooked his finger at Michael to follow him to the office.

“My wife, when she loves me, speaks Russian and when angry she speaks Italian.” Andrei squeezed himself between the bookshelf and table. “She speaks Italian mostly.” He sank into his swivel chair, which squeaked a protest. Leaning to the side, he pulled out a stuffed doll and tossed it across the room. “My grandchildren visited yesterday. Come, come sit down. You cold, you want coffee?”

Maria walked in with a tray of shivering crockery and cutlery. She placed the tray of coffee, cream and sugar on the table. Then, she berated her husband again, shook her head and walked away.

Michael could hear her complaining in the kitchen and concluded this couple did not talk to each other, they only shouted.

“So Mikhail,” Andrei poured him a cup of coffee. “You want me to find your missing wife, one or two sugar?”

“No, my missing daughter, two please.”

“You don’t want sugar? I suggest sugar, otherwise Turkish coffee too bitter.” Without waiting for a reply, he proceeded to drop one sugar cube into the cup. “Two daughters missing, how many daughters you have? Normally it’s better wife is missing.” Andrei winked as he handed the coffee to Michael.

It was a few minutes before Michael made clear he was looking for his missing daughter – one missing daughter – and he wanted Andrei’s assistance to track down either his daughter or the man in the photographs.

Andrei’s facial muscles sagged as he studied the man in the photo. “Mikhail this looks like a dangerous man, Mafiya maybe.” He wheezed and shook his head. “I’m private investigator for divorce lawyers not for this type of work, much danger.”

Michael’s heart sank. “But my lawyer said you can help.”

“Mikhail, the Singapore lawyer said something…ah, wife missing. I say okay – what the Americans say – yes, right up my alley. Sure I help, but this…” Andrei shrugged and shook his head again.

“Andrei, sorry but can I call you Andrei?” Michael hesitated.

The fat Russian placed his forefinger on his chin, looked up at the ceiling for a moment before replying. “Yes, that’s my name so – you can call me Andrei, my friend.”

Michael let his jaw drop, lost for words.

“You Singaporeans no sense of humour, I see. When you live in Russia you learn to laugh much or go crazy.” Andrei pushed himself up with both hands, wheezed and threw up his hands. “Look at me Mikhail, 1.6 metres and 150 kilograms, diabetic and two tubes in my heart. James Bond is hiding inside, very deep inside me.”

*** (An extract from Code Shield, A Peek Into Singapore’s Secret Services) ***

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