The donated laptop

Dear Colin,

Thank you for kindly willing to donate your laptop via Bridge the Gap.

We greatly appreciate that you have decided to donate your laptop. PC Wiz, our IT partner, will perform diagnostics, basic necessary repairs, charger pairing, and reformatting/data erasure. Once that is all done, your laptop will be delivered to one of our partnering social service organisations to be directed to individuals in need.

We would most appreciate if you could deliver your laptop to PC Wiz. PC Wiz is located at Sim Lim Square. Kindly let the PC Wiz staff know that your laptop is donated towards Bridge the Gap.

Let me know if you have any questions. Thank you in advance for your donation. We do appreciate it.



Soon after Colin bought a new laptop he decided to donate his old one. One Friday after work he thus went to PC Wiz at Sim Lim Square. Colin planned that evening carefully. First, hand the laptop, then walk towards Bugis Junction and take some pictures during the walk. Then get some food before finally watching a film at The Projector.

Sim Lim Square is a shopping centre specialised in tech stuff. It is also a sort of time capsule. Most of its shops haven’t been renovated in a long time. Many of them are also closed for good, all of which gives the shopping centre a retro, run-down dodgy look.

– “Hello, I’m Colin Masterwood, I’m here to donate my laptop to Bridge the Gap.”

The guys at the desk looked at Colin with an expressionless face.

– “You want to sell your laptop?”

– “No, I want to donate it.”

– “OK, wait a minute.”

The two young guys at the desk called their boss from the back of the shop. The boss was a guy with impeccably gelled red hair, a massive ring on his hand and, of course, very long pinkie nail. The boss turned on the PC, checked a few things and after a good 5 minutes of fumbling around said:

– “We can give you 50 SGD for this.”

– “There must be a misunderstanding. I do not want to sell it but donate it. I got in touch with an organisation called Bridge the Gap. They get donated laptops and give them to people who need them. They told me to come here to hand my PC.”

The boss then checked some paper on his desk and said “OK”. No receipt, no thank you, nothing at all. “Fair enough” thought Colin. After handing his laptop he went as planned, making his way through the old beautiful two-story houses in Rochor, taking pictures of those marvellous colourful spiral staircases that will probably be demolished soon to make room for some fancy condo. Then pitta with falafels at that middle-east place in Haji lane, then film, finally home.

A few days later Colin received an SMS:

We know you dirty secrets. Wanna keep face pay 1,000 dollars. Reply quick

Colin dismissed the SMS as spam. A few minutes afterwards he received an email:

You better hurry up

The email contained an attachment. The attachment was a picture of Colin naked.

That was a very old picture of him, a photo his mind completely removed, buried underneath the many folders of his “Pictures” directory. His heart stopped. He realised the massive mistake he had made. Though he formatted the hard-drive and reset the laptop, he didn’t actually wipe out the hard disk with zero filling. After all a simple format should have done, he was going to donate the laptop to good people, right?

Colin panicked. He knew that photo was not the only one. There were other ones, much worse ones. Those were times when he was exploring his sexuality. Nothing wrong with that, but surely those pictures ended up in the wrong hands.

He tried to connect to Bridge the Gap’s website, only to realise the website no longer existed. Pretty useless to go to PC Wiz. If they are involved in the blackmail it would probably even be dangerous, and if they really just passed the laptop to the bastards then there isn’t much they can do anyway.

Before he could pull himself together and think what to do, he received another email:

You very pretty this other picture. Your friends and family can love to see it.

Send 1000 SGD now with PayLah to this number: 8769 3176


The email attached another photo of those. It also attached the phone numbers of his parents as well as the numbers of a few friends. Colin felt sick and threw up on his lap, too quick to get to the toilet. He sent the money at once, without replying to the email. Then he got an SMS:

Good, you pass first level. Next level soon.

Colin hoped they were just having sadistic fun torturing him psychologically. He didn’t sleep that night, visualising all those pictures, the phone numbers in the email. And all of this because he “donated” his laptop, a good deed turned into a nightmare. Eventually he fell asleep in the wee hours. He woke up before noon to this SMS:

Meet 10pm tonight Tuas link MRT station. Take MRT and wait us on platform. Come alone.

Tuas link, the end of the green line. Tuas is an industrial area, no houses, only a bunch of factories and offices, plus a massive port under construction. Perfect place for dodgy business at night.

He followed the instructions. Two big guys approached him. The gold chains, the many tattoos and rings made it clear it was them. They got into a car and drove off. During the trip Colin was spaced out. He could not believe this was happening to him, a simple Englishman who moved to Singapore for work and to explore south-east Asia. Above all he could not believe this was happening because he donated a laptop for a good cause. After 5 minutes they reached the entrance of the new port construction site. Then they got into another car where an older man was waiting.

– “You more pretty in person lah!”

Said the older guy with an unbearable bad breath, who looked like the head of the gang.

– “No worry, I like ladies. Thank you for 1,000 dollars. Since you so kind, we need you help one more time. Tomorrow you go to Johor Bahru in Malaysia. You meet our friend give you something. You bring that to us”.

Colin knew that something must have been something bad. He asked what is was. The boss replied:

– “Cocaine lah. You ang mo good donkeys, police no suspect you, easy business”.

Colin broke out in a cold sweat. He knew drug trafficking was an extremely dangerous affair in Singapore, and he knew what was the highest sentence for drug dealers. Death sentence. He managed to pull back his tears and started to speak:

– “Look, I am not going to do this. How about I give you one more thousand dollars, you delete those photos and we pretend this never happened?”

The boss and the other two gangsters burst into laughter.

– “One thousand dollars eh? Pocket money lah! We do over 100,000 dollars per trip. You no worry, easy trip for you. Just take bus to Malaysia and go to Pasar Karat market. Eat food and buy souvenir. Nasi lemak very good there. They give you parcel, you come back, all done”.

Colin realised he had to give in. Not only didn’t he have that much money to try to buy his way out of this nightmare, but it was clear the gangsters were not willing to compromise on anything. Before he could say anything one of the two ah beng showed Colin some pictures on his phone. It was him, again in one of those photo. Then the thug pulled a knife from his pocket. The boss in front of the car turned and cocked his gun before pointing it at Colin. No words were necessary. Colin made an impressive effort to utter the word “Okay”.

Colin got home around 1am. He was desperate. He considered the idea of just disappearing, leaving Singapore for good, returning to the UK and try to forget what was happening. However he was too afraid the mobsters would find him before leaving or even in the UK. After all, they managed to recover those photos from a formatted PC, they could recover other personal details as well. He cried loudly, sobbing heavily until he fell asleep.

The morning after he called in sick. He was really ill, but that was not the real reason he took a day off. After lunch he took the bus to Johor Bahru and arrived at 3pm at Pasar Karat market as they told him. He started to look around when he received an SMS:

Go to nasi lemak stall. Friend give you parcel. Free food for you.

He arrived at the stall. Before long another guy appeared. He did not have the typical ah beng look. Rather, he looked like a middle-upper class fintech bloke, with neat hair, freshly shaved, long sleeves rolled to the elbow.

– “Are you Colin? The pictures guy?”

Colin nodded.

– “Here is the parcel they told me to hand you. Look, I’m not one of them. I was scammed too. Good luck.”

The guy handed Colin the parcel. It was a souvenir bag with a picture of KL’s Petronas towers printed on it. Inside it there was another souvenir pouch. He didn’t open it, but its weight felt enough to get a certain death sentence in Singapore. He waited for a while to calm down, taking a stroll around the market. Eventually he took the bus back to Singapore. Thank god security checks went fine, the police hardly gave Colin a look. The ang mo strategy worked.

As agreed Colin got off at the Golden Mile Tower, the end of the line. There the boss met Colin and made a gesture as to follow him. They walked towards Kallang riverside park. That’s where Colin goes rowing on weekends with his friends. They stopped outside a public toilet, where the boss said:

– “You like nasi lemak in JB? Very good eh? Give parcel now.”

Colin handed the bag. The boss took it and disappeared. Colin took a deep breath. His nightmare was over.

A week later Colin was just starting to get some sleep at night. The last few days had been awful, his friends and colleagues asking what had happened to him since he constantly looked frightened, alert, and helplessly sad. Then it came. Another SMS:

Tonight 10pm Tuas link MRT. Just like before. Come alone, wait to the platform.

Colin broke into an uncontrollable rage. He started to furiously hit his desk, knocking everything on it down to the floor. His colleagues at the office stared at him speechless. He was always affable and soft spoken, and such violence was a real surprise to everyone. His manager went to his desk asking what on earth had happened. He made up the first excuse that came to his mind:

– “I’m so sorry, I have just been informed a very dear friend in the UK has passed away.”

The manager was upset, but noticing the dismal look of Colin’s face, turned a blind eye and told him not to worry about the scene. He also told him to take the rest of the day off and to take any leave he needed for his loss.

At home Colin felt like an absolute rag. He was still incredibly angry, but had no energy to smash things. He decided to ignore them, he would not meet them nor text them any more. At 10.30pm he received an email:

Too bad you not come. But we like you and we give you second chance. Tomorrow again 10pm same place. See video to see what happen if you no come.

There was a video attached to the email. The video was a screencast showing Colin’s Facebook profile. Disturbingly, the Facebook profile appeared as though Colin was logged in. The video continued showing one of those pictures about to be posted. The video ended abruptly. Colin rushed to check his Facebook profile. He could not log in. They had changed the password. When he tried to recover it, he noticed they had changed the profile email too. He was totally trapped. For a moment he thought it was such a shame that someone was using such high technical skills to be such a despicable bastard.

They day after he did not miss the appointment. Same thing as before. MRT station, short car trip, then into the boss’ car.

– “No nice of you no come see us. We prepare nice treat for you and you no come?” said the boss.

– “What do you want?” said Colin.

– “No worry, this time no drug ah. This time love affair. We have K-TV bars but few girls now because government.”

Colin had read about the dodgy K-TV bars. He read that many unfortunate young ladies from south-east Asian countries were kind of smuggled in Singapore to work on these karaoke bars that offer extra services behind close doors. He knew the government was cracking down on them and made it more difficult for people from certain countries to obtain visas.

– “Government have dependent visa. We make fake wedding paper, you bring beautiful Vietnamese girl here for our K-TV.”

Colin was shocked. It was hard to believe what creative tricks these fuckers would come up with to make dirty money. They explained to him the procedure. The wedding certificate was not enough to bring a spouse with a dependent visa to Singapore due to the crackdown. To demonstrate the couple was a real one the government prepared an interview to be held separately by the two spouses. All sorts of personal questions were asked, like what were the in-laws names, how, when and where they met, what were the spouse’s favourite food, dreams, fears, past accidents. Naturally, a number of pictures of the couple together was to be produced too, but that was the easy part for the tech-savvy arseholes.

The Singaporean government is renowned for being highly efficient and equally blunt. If they suspected something fishy was going on Colin would be deported immediately. Well, at least it’s not as bad as trafficking cocaine, thought Colin when he got home. His body and mind started to react to his ordeal building a shield of indifference. The day after he received an email with all the details they had prepared for the interview. They told him to apply for the visa immediately, which he did, nearly cold-heartedly, his body driving his fingers automatically through the online application.

He had to memorise all that fake information like the back of his hand. One detail struck him: “Favourite food: nasi lemak”. They truly loved that dish, he thought, or perhaps they were just taking the piss out of him. Either way, he couldn’t care less.

There was something else. If the couple was a mixed one the government was also checking if they knew anything of the spouse’s native language (they were expected to know some basic words). That’s why the gang arranged a few meet-ups between Colin and a Vietnamese girl who works in one of their K-TV bars. Again, he almost admired the incredibly minute details they curated for the interview. Again, what a pity these bastards.

After two weeks the application was accepted and the interview was scheduled for the following week. Colin learnt how to greet in Vietnamese, how to pronounce his fake wife’s parents name correctly, what happened to his wife when she was 19 and how much they enjoyed their honeymoon in Italy. On the interview day he dressed smartly and went to the ICA office. His “spouse” would go through the interview online from Vietnam only after Colin’s, so that the ICA could match all the details. He had never spoken to her, but felt sorry for her anyway. All those fabricated happy pictures of Colin and her together were so realistic he almost felt he was really married to this poor young lady.

As he got into the lift, Colin thought about telling all the truth to the interviewer. Maybe that was his way out. But then he feared the consequences he and the girl could face. Plus, he felt so close to the end of the tunnel, he had managed to memorise everything and although he was extremely nervous he felt he could make it. The interview went well. Colin’s past stint in theatre drama helped him make them believe everything was real and that he was so looking forward to be living with his wife in Singapore. Colin got home and finished that bottle of whisky his dad gave him for Christmas.

The day after he got yet another SMS:

Interview no good. Details no match. Meet usual spot tonight same time 10pm.

Shortly after Colin received an email from ICA telling him they were investigating his dependent pass application for suspected human trafficking. His working pass was temporarily suspended. The email said two police officers were going to question him at his place the day after in the morning. They wanted to see some material evidence of Colin’s marriage, hence the house visit.

Rage appeared into Colin’s body again. This time he had the strength to smash the bottle he drained last night, as well as his tablet, which he flung towards his TV, blowing everything to smithereens. His anger didn’t leave him as he took the MRT train towards Tuas link that night. As he got into the boss car, Colin didn’t wait for the boss to speak and started to yell:

– “What the fuck have you done to my life? I did all you told me to do, and now ICA is going to deport me! You screwed me so bad, I fucking hate you! What the fuck do you still want from me?”

His exasperation gave him confidence. The boss and the two gangsters didn’t like that though and pushed Colin out of the car. It was almost pitch dark, there at the entrance of the port construction site.

– “Don’t like you temper young man”. Said the boss calmly while the two ah beng neared Colin.

– “Don’t fucking touch me!” Said Colin.

The two thugs tried to hold him, but Colin kicked them in their knees. His rage turned into a manic frenzy. Colin didn’t have big muscles but went to the gym regularly and was more fit than the old boss and the two fat lackeys. During the brawl he managed to snatch a gun from one of them. Without thinking he started to pull the trigger. He fired 7 shots. That was the first time he ever held a gun. It was also the first time he killed someone.

It all happened in a split of a second. After the echo of the loud bangs dissolved he noticed he was surrounded by three corpses. He looked around, nobody was in sight. It was eerily quiet now. Colin quickly decided what to do next. He went looking for ropes and heavy weights. It didn’t take him long since that was a port construction site. He then tied the three bodies together and attached a concrete slab to the bundle. He was a few metres away from the water. He rolled the bodies over until they sunk into the inky sea. Finally he got into the boss’ car and drove to the MRT station.

It’s almost an hour trip from Tuas link to Tanjong Pagar. Colin sat down exhausted and realised his hands and clothes were stained with blood and dirt. Fortunately there was nobody in the coach, it was the last train of the green line for that day.