‘Quick, follow them,’ said Mr Tan. ‘They’re going to bash up some triads.’
‘They’re what?’ I asked, still under the impression that we were going for tea.
‘They’re going to bash up some triads. Go on,’ he urged. ‘I’ve got to park the car. I’ll be there in a minute.’
I should probably explain at this point that this wasn’t the Sunday-afternooned environment of Muswell Hill, North London, where I had grown up. I was in Penang, Malaysia. And the people about to ‘bash up some triads’ were my Shaolin kung fu grandmaster, Sugong, and his senior student, Subec.
I should also say that when I had left my job to go to Malaysia, the intention had been to train with my sugong. No one had mentioned fights with gangsters.
However, he was my grandmaster and in the martial arts world that counts for a lot. He was also eighty-years-old, and while he was still far more capable than me in taking out a gang of triads, I felt duty bound to try to pitch in. So I followed.
There had been no indication that we were about to go for a fight. The day before the four of us had come up to Penang, an ex-colonial island state just off north-west Malaysia. Sugong and Subec wanted to catch up with old buddies, I wanted to see what I could find out for my book, and Mr Tan was just along for the ride.
We were about to start the journey back to Kuala Lumpur when Subec got a call on his mobile. A gunfire burst of Hokkien Chinese had ensued, none of which I understood, and our course had altered.
Penang is famous for good food, and the three of them were obsessed with eating as much of it as possible during our stay. Or at least they wanted to order and sample as much as they could. After a few mouthfuls they would push their plates toward me and order chia – eat. Despite my 12½ stone I was apparently still too skinny.
So when we pulled up at the back of a group of old buildings, their crumbling facades housing menacing dark doorways, I assumed we were just going into a coffee shop by the back.
The only thing I had found a little strange was when Sugong jogged to catch up with Subec. I had never seen him break out of a slight swagger.
Now I was following the way they had just gone.
I would like to claim I was just a bit rusty at triad-bashing. But if truth be known I had never beaten up any gangsters, be they triads, mafiosi or yardies. I was slightly daunted at the prospect of starting now.
The doorway seemed to grow darker and more ominous as I approached. I started to picture warren-like corridor kitchens, filled with boiling water, choppers and blood-thirsty triads.
My stomach tensed as I prepared myself for the explosion of violence from within.
I hadn’t known this was part of the deal.
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