Policemen with Guns, One-Way Streets and Speeding
We stopped dead. The nose of the cab was butting up against the front of the police four-by-four. The two officers who stepped out, one from each side, were both, indubitably, pointing sub-machine guns directly at us. I could see the entrance to the building I was headed for about thirty yards down the road. What to do?
It had started promisingly. I’d flown down to Jakarta from Kuala Lumpur with some very senior guys from a major Malaysian corporation with whom we were friendly who had kindly made an introduction to an equally substantial, state-owned Indonesian mining group. “We’ll come with you,” they said. “That way, for sure they will agree to open an account and give you their hedging business. We know them well; they will take our advice, because it’s a new venture for them. If they see we trust you, they will follow suit.” And indeed, the previous evening, we’d all had dinner together, and the head men had effectively said all I had to do was to go to their office the next morning to meet the staff in their newly-minted hedging department, and all would be magically in place.
The Malaysians didn’t come next day – they were important men, who dealt with organ-grinders, not monkeys – so bright and early I got into a cab and showed the driver the address I wanted. He nodded, which seemed like a good sign, and off we set. Jakarta then was not a particularly pretty place; modern structures rubbed shoulders with the shanties they were rapidly replacing, and boulevards edged with grass and flowers led to rough, pot-holed passageways. But it was the traffic that dominated my thoughts. I believe it’s still bad, but then Jakarta traffic was horrendous. It was as though the whole population of the island of Java was going to the same place as me. After about twenty minutes virtually stationary, my driver turned to me and said something. A bit futile, since he spoke no English and I don’t speak a word of any of the seven hundred plus languages of the Indonesian archipelago. So I just shrugged at him, and pointed at my watch. I must have agreed to something, because suddenly we were bucketing down an alleyway, with no other traffic. We hung a swift turn into a slightly bigger road, and there we came face to face with the police. Up ahead, I could see the name of the corporation I was visiting above the entrance to the building – tantalisingly close, and, as the policemen both moved to the driver’s side of my cab, on the opposite side from the machine guns.
I made my decision. I shoved a couple of banknotes over the driver’s shoulder, wrenched the door open and ran. I expected at least a shout from the police, but nothing. I got to the door of the building, and, straightening my tie, went in. I told them what had just happened. “Oh,” they said. “You shouldn’t have run away. They get twitchy about that. You see, that street is one way, and your cab was going the wrong way. They treat that as quite serious; in fact, they shot at somebody doing it a week or so ago. Still, never mind, you’re here now. But don’t run away from our police.” They were probably right; anyway, I’m never going to go the wrong way down a one way street in Jakarta again. Oh, and we did lots of business for a few years with the people involved.
That reminds me of another policeman with gun incident, which really just reveals my naïvety. This wasn’t on business, it was on holiday. We – my wife and two small daughters – had been visiting my parents’ house on the north coast of Jamaica, and we decided to drive down through Kingston to show the girls Port Royal and Henry Morgan’s Harbour. (The restaurant there, by the way, features as a nightclub in the James Bond film ‘Dr No.’) In the early nineties, Jamaica was going through a relatively peaceful time on the political front, but even so, it had always been impressed on me if I had to go to Kingston, never to leave the main routes of the town. So, there we were, bowling along a highway just on the edge of town, when I got pulled by a motorcycle cop. In my memory, he was about eighteen stone, six foot six tall and just as wide, wearing a white helmet and – of course – teardrop shades, and with a chunky pistol on his hip.
“Do you know you were breaking the speed limit?”
“No, I wasn’t. I was doing less than thirty miles an hour.”
“That’s not what my bike said. Come over here.”
And he took me over to a small clump of trees, where one of his colleagues – equally big, in my memory – sat at a desk in the shade. On the desk was serious-looking handgun. I sat. “My officer tells me you were breaking the speed limit. Here in Jamaica, we take that seriously. Where are you from?”
“The UK. And I wasn’t speeding.”
He put his hand on the gun. “You will have to go to court next week, to face the charge.”
“No, I’ll be back in the UK next week. We’re leaving the day after tomorrow.”
He shook his head. “You can’t go. You must make a court appearance.”
“I can. I have a ticket and a passport, so I’m leaving as scheduled.”
He shook his head again. “No, man. You need to listen to what I say.” He pulled a pad of printed sheets towards him. “I’m going to give you this summons.”
“I can’t be there. I’m leaving in two days.”
The pointless argument went back and forth, me simply saying I wasn’t going to his court and him insisting I had no option; then, with a look of absolute exasperation, he waved the gun at me.”Go on, man, get out of here. Don’t do it again.”
It was only in the evening, as we drove back up north through Fern Gully, that I realised what he wanted.
“He expected a bribe,” I said to my wife.
She turned in her seat to look pityingly at me. “Have you only just worked that out? It was obvious. How could you not have seen that?”
As I said, a tale that reveals my naïvety. And I really don’t like policemen with guns, specially pointed or waved at me.