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Sunday, October 24, 2010


NIGHTTIME. THE VEIL of darkness has fallen. A pall of deep silence. There he lurks. In the shadowy, sinister corner. He rises. Then he begins to move, walking stealthily, with premeditated steps. He sees her. There she is, lying on her back. In peaceful quiescence. Perfect. As soon as he gets near, he swiftly sits astride her belly and covers her mouth, his hand firm, steellike, stiffly holding her head down. The sudden force shakes her from slumber. Her eyes abruptly stricken with fear, she tries to rise. But her effort is in vain. For he has already clamped her: his knees have cuffed her arms. The weight bearing down on her is simply too much. He says something in a soft voice. She turns her head on one side. He suddenly grimaces. Her teeth have sunk on his hand. He swings back his other arm and brings down a clench fist, which crashes savagely on her abdomen. She goes limp, the massive pain numbing her body. She is groaning. He quickly stands up and drops down his trousers. She doubles her body in an embryonic position. He goes down again and grabs her arms that are shielding her chest. Another fierce blow to her belly. She is now in near-lifeless form. His frenzied arms rip her upper clothes. He grabs them, the two mounds of exposed flesh, mashing them hard, viciously. He half-rises, grips her lower clothes and hurriedly pulls them off, revealing the delicate, triangular area. The sight of lush hairy growth lets loose from the bonds of sanity his raw hunger. Animalistic. Beastly. Brutish. No time to waste, his bestial instincts tell him. He rapidly obeys. The dark dastardly deed now over, he quickly leaves, his wicked shadow trailing him.

THE FACES. THE crowd. He sees them again. It has been more than a year when he first set foot in the courtroom. He has come back: he is there again, but this time, it will be the last. After a tiring, protracted trial. His trial. The rape case. It’ll be over, he tells himself. From the start, he has maintained his innocence. His steadfast stance. That he did not commit the crime; he never raped the girl. He swore he never raped her. It was a set up. The police. “Those bastards,” he has referred to them. “They framed me up. They just couldn’t get the real rapist. They bungled their job. In desperation, they just went on to grab anyone to save their asses,” he has cried to his lawyer.

But then, the lawyer, his own lawyer, has expressed a different belief. He has seen the evidence, has read the victim’s statement. She has positively identified him, the one who ravished her mercilessly. It was near impossible to rebut the accusation. The offered alibi is simply too weak a defense, based on existing legal principles, as to shield the accused from the charge. He has given his client his assurance that he would do his best. But he never assured him that he will be exonerated in light of the evidence. It is a losing case.

“I’m sorry, Rolly,” the lawyer says as he rubs his eyes. He puts a hand on his client’s sagging shoulders.

Rolly is silent. His head bowed, he does not say anything, he does not move. Seated on the wooden bench ranged against the wall, he has not moved at all from the time he has sat there half an hour ago. Both of them know what is at hand. It will take a miracle to get an acquittal. But miracles can never take place, that he is quite sure.

The lawyer slowly rises, his hand now tapping lightly Rolly’s limped shoulders.

From somewhere in the pews across, a lady stands up. She strides forward and sits beside Rolly, her arm snaking around Rolly’s. She presses her head on his shoulder. He angles his head toward hers; he can hear her silent cry. Gently, her hand caresses his arm, running her fingers on letters SPUTNIK GANG that have been crudely tattooed on his forearm.

“When did you have this?” she asks softly.

He looks at her. “Yesterday. A cellmate, he’s a tattoo artist. He did that for free.”

“You joined them?”

He nods.

She raises her crumpled handkerchief to her eyes, dabbing off the tears. “Why did this happen to us?”

He slowly shakes his head. “I don’t know.” He half-raises his hands, but brings them down again on his lap. The handcuffs are hurting his wrists. He raises his head, conscious of the biting stare of those around him. He ignores them and looks around and sees something. Someone. His body turning tight and taut, he feels a surging rage. Boiling rage. Liar! You will burn in hell for lying, for making this false accusation! May God have mercy on you! He suddenly becomes conscious of the tightening arms of the lady beside him.

From the pew that stands near the opposite wall, there sit two ladies. One of them is middle-aged, her hands draped around the shoulders of her companion whose head is cuddled near her neck. The companion, who is in her late teens, is not moving. They, too, are being stabbed by curious, merciless stares. They have been there at about the same time when Rolly arrived. Rolly could have walked in the courtroom simultaneously with them, could have bumped them, could have stood face-to-face with them, could have stared at them in the eye, could have spat in their faces, but he was held back by his guard, the jail guard that accompanied him; they had to make way; they stood in the distance. The two women were allowed to get in first. And silently they walked in and sat on one of the pews. Once they got settled, the middle-aged lady wrapped a large shawl around her companion. The spectators could see the teen companion having some jittery fit of sorts; she was trembling despite the comforting arms around her. Right now, her tremor appears to have subsided, though she is still wrapped in the arms of the elder lady.

There is a shuffling of feet. A man dressed in starched beige barong tagalog is marching toward the counsel table, the table that fronts the judge’s upraised varnished desk. He slams the folders on the counsel table and looks around.

“Good morning, Fiscal Braso. The judge’s already here?” a voice asks.

“Yes, Attorney Rendo. He just arrived. Ready with your appeal, pañero?” Fiscal Braso says this with a smirk. He takes off his eyeglasses, mopping the lens with a crumpled tissue.

Rendo responds with his own sneer. “Always ready, Fiscal.” He is already used to this kind of teasing by Braso, the public prosecutor, though at times he gets irritated if the ribbing goes beyond the bounds of decency.

Braso and Rendo are, respectively, the public prosecutor and public defender assigned to the court. Around four days a week, the days designated as the “criminal cases days”, they face each other, tangling, trading verbal jabs, warring on some fine points of courtroom procedure. Off court, however, they seem to have struck up some kind of friendship, despite the fact that Rendo has just gotten his job less than a year ago.

Rendo got his job not because he is qualified in terms of experience in law practice. On the contrary, he lacks trial experience; in fact, he lacks any experience at all. Just out of law school, just passed the bar exams. A greenhorn. He got his job simply because of a shortage of public defenders. (Nobody wants to become a public defender. Nobody’s interested. Low pay, and most find the work somewhat stressing, handling hordes of cases: those dealing with crimes committed by drug pushers, robbers, thieves, muggers, killers, murderers, rapists who cannot afford to get their own private lawyers. Only the adventurous lot---and they are quite few---get to become public defenders. Rendo happens to be one of them. At times, though, he finds himself dealing with his clients at a distance, keeping literally an arm’s length when he finds them stinking, their mouths foul-smelling or their skin stained with some scaly disease. “I still need time to get used to it,” he has told the court stenographer.) Rendo got accepted the minute he applied for the job. No questions asked. Eager to become a trial lawyer, and armed only with his law school “moot court” training, he plunged right away in courtroom work, accepting with vigor and enthusiasm every case the court has assigned to him. And he is getting by. Right now, he is enjoying his work, an “on-the-job” training, “trial-and-error” vocation that will, after some years, ripen into a “rich trial experience”. He tells himself that, given his daily courtroom chore of handling a dozen or so cases, getting appointed as the lawyer of pauper litigants every minute of every hearing, he sure is destined to “enrich” his courtroom prowess. He aspires to be a great trial lawyer someday, to be another Antonio Coronel or Dakila Castro, the local equivalents of Clarence Darrow and Earl Rogers, the great American trial lawyers. This will, in time, be his passport in finding the elusive pot of gold in every lawyer’s rainbow. He knows, though, that it will still take an eternity for that day to come. No matter; he is willing to wait. Patience has its virtues and rewards. Thus, he does not mind at all being beaten black and blue by Braso in their daily courtroom fisticuffs. The travails of the inexperienced. Just charge them all to experience. He vows he will get even with Braso someday. Just wait.

Another creature. The public prosecutor.

Attention-hungry. Attention-grabber. Credit-hungry. Credit-grabber. Name whatever form of “hunger” or “grabber” there can be, it may just be the public prosecutor. From the way he looks, he has been in his work for more than two decades. It makes one wonder why he still has not become a judge, though. “I just don’t have the right connections,” he has repeatedly told his colleagues. His voice gruff, his demeanor menacing, he can just be a perfect judge himself. With his courtroom skills, he can readily swallow his adversary, especially if the poor fellow is a newbie. And thus he has done so in the rape case. He was merciless. He reached deep down in his treasure chest of experience and unloaded it. The newbie public defender--Rendo--could not match it. He has no experience. He has nothing to keep. He has no treasure, his chest was simply empty; what could he unload? Nothing. Braso gobbled him up. In just one swallow. The court stenographer thought she heard the public prosecutor give out a loud burp.

“You need to do better next time, pañero. The score now is 5-0.” Braso gives Rendo a wink. “This rape case is the sixth conviction you will have since you got in here.” He is talking a notch louder than their usual courtroom talk, purposely to let others overhear them. He is rolling with laughter.

Rendo ignores Braso, trying to appear busy skimming through his case folders. “Oh, you’re saying something, Fiscal?” He throws another sneer at Braso.

“You still need a lot of practice,” Braso retorts back.

There is a sound. The creaking of the door. From it bursts out a bespectacled chubby man, mustachioed, clad in polo barong. He stops just beside the judge’s desk. He inhales, and then shouts: “All rise please! The Honorable Judge Robert Senye presiding. Silence is enjoined!”

From behind, a black-robed stocky man with graying hair appears. After banging the wooden mallet on his desk, he barks, “Read the calendar, Attorney Sison.”

Sison flips over the first page of the folder in his hands. “For promulgation. Criminal Case No. 921-08. People vs. Rolando Markinez. For the crime of rape.”

“Appearances?” Senye’s mentholated baritone voice evokes the rumbling sound of thunder. One is reminded of James Earl Jones, the voice behind Darth Vader. His goldfish eyes, thick eyebrows, huge, beaklike nose, sagging jowls, thick, droopy lips and wrinkled facial skin create a ghastly, if not a terrifyingly horrible, countenance that scares the hell out of lawyers appearing before him. Seeing this man, one gets to think that this five-foot stocky man may have just come out straight from a mixture of some Hollywood flicks: Nightmare on Elms Street, Night of the Living Dead and Tales from the Crypt. During court sessions, the scene gets doubly terrifying: the rumbling thunder’s decibel level reaches a higher altitude, the facial countenance attains horrific proportions destined to cause an intense, painful feeling of repugnance, of fear. Rendo oftentimes hears from other lawyers that they have just attended a hearing in the Courthouse of the Undead, presided over by “His Horror.”

[Read the entire story in the forthcoming book TREE AND OTHER STORIES by AMADOR F. BRIOSO, JR., to be available in June, 2011, in selected bookstores in Manila. Another book, LOVE AND DESTINY, a novella written by the same author, will also be available in June, 2011. The author's previous book, "YOU FILIBINI?" Stories And Other Writings, is currently available at all Powerbooks bookstore outlets in Metro Manila.]

Friday, October 8, 2010

INJUSTICE [The Case Of Juan De La Cruz]

The arrest

HE HAD BEEN waiting at the Manila port for quite a while, waiting for the steam launch, Laguimanoc, to arrive. He had decided to call it quits as the boat’s crew captain for personal reasons the other day. As to why he still had to come here to the company office, well, simply because he wanted to get his belongings which he failed to bring with him. At last, after what seemed like an eternity, the steam boat was now nearing the port. He lost no time to get his purpose done. The minute the boat got moored, he went straight to the boat’s cabin.

“You’re Juan de la Cruz?” the new captain of the boat asked when he was informed of the presence of the visitor.


The new captain wasted no time. They had been waiting for him, too. He informed De la Cruz of the orders of the management of Varadero or Slipway Company of Cañacao, that he, Juan de la Cruz, was to be put under custody and to be brought to Cavite, where the main office of Varadero was located.

De la Cruz appeared to be confused. “For what reason?” he asked, rather meekly.

“For abandonment of your post. It is illegal for a boat captain to leave and abandon his post without any reason at all.” The new captain summoned his crew to accompany De la Cruz to the office of the captain of the Manila port. De la Cruz offered no resistance. He went with his captors.

At the port captain’s office, Varadero’s resident engineer informed the captain of the arrest order. Discussion then ensued. After an hour or so, the Laguimanoc began sailing on the rough waters of Manila Bay on its way to Cañacao Bay in Cavite.

The year was 1886. Spain still held the Philippine islands under its dominion.

For the whole duration of the trip, De la Cruz sat inside the cabin unperturbed. He appeared bored since, just several days ago, he was the one manning the boat’s steer. For him to ride in Laguimanoc as its passenger was something too improbable to happen.

He thought for a while about his wife and kids back in Manila. He had told her that he would just drop by Varadero’s Manila office to get his things. Anyhow, he would just explain things to her about this sudden flight to Cavite once he got back home.

Juan de la Cruz was already 50 years old with graying hair and wiry frame. He had spent most of his life as a seaman, the only occupation he knew. His last post was at Varadero’s, the company that ran the steam launch Laguimanoc. He earned quite enough as the boat’s skipper. But fate must have decreed that he sever his ties with Varadero, a reality that up to now he still would need to face. He, however, had told himself dozens of times that everything had to come to an end, and his stint at Varadero was no exception.

The journey took several hours. At last, the boat was nearing the Bay of Cañacao. The new captain steered the Laguimanoc near the portion of landing stage of the port which was almost finished. The rest of the Varadero jetty or pier was still under construction.

No sooner had De la Cruz stepped out of the boat than a commotion had arisen from “amongst the swarm of native workmen” who were at the construction site. They were bestirred by the presence of De la Cruz.

Among those who were at Varadero’s Cañacao office were three Americans, namely, Frederick Sawyer, the company’s consulting engineer, J. L. Houston, the resident engineer in charge of the work, and Gustav Brown, a ship carpenter, the real owner of, and from whom Varadero hired, the Laguimanoc. Of the three, it was Gustav Brown whom the native workmen had trusted. And it was to him alone did the workmen confide the cause of their uproar.

Thus apprised, Brown promptly held a brief meeting with his colleagues. It was decided that De la Cruz would be handed over to the local judicial authorities. It was already late in the afternoon by the time De la Cruz and his captors reached the local judge at his office.

“You cannot bring him here,” said the judge. He was eyeing De la Cruz from head to foot. “I am only sitting here as a judge in an acting capacity. The judge who had sat here was transferred to another place, and the new judge who will be sitting here in a permanent capacity has not yet arrived. I regret that I cannot accept the custody of the accused.” He shook his head as he led them toward the door.

De la Cruz’s captors were in a quandary. How could the judge refuse to take the case? they wondered. They decided to proceed to the office of the Gobernador-Politico-Militar, hoping that he might take cognizance of the case.

“I am sorry to say that I have no power to interfere in such affairs,” was the courteous reply of the Gobernador-Politico-Militar to the befuddled captors. “Matters involving criminal acts belong to the jurisdiction of the local courts which have the powers to decide both criminal and civil cases.”

It was now almost sunset. They certainly could not afford to hold further custody of De la Cruz for security reasons. Houston, the resident engineer, racked his brain in the next succeeding minutes. Since he personally knew the Commandante of Cañacao, a naval officer who had a few marines at his disposal and whose office was just nearby, Houston made a bold move to ask for a personal favor that De la Cruz be temporarily detained overnight at the naval officer’s place. It was already dark when Houston and his men left the naval station, leaving behind De la Cruz who was locked up with naval guards keeping an eye on him.

Since the understanding was only for a one-night detention of De la Cruz at the naval station, Houston, accompanied by a Spanish surgeon who was the medical attendant of Varadero’s staff, Dr. Juan Perez, spent the next day visiting several government offices, purposely to find the appropriate agency to whom he could convey the custody of De la Cruz. He heaved a sigh of relief when his effort finally paid off. Later of that day, De la Cruz was transferred to another prison in Cavite. What happened next was the filing of the appropriate charge against him.

Little did De la Cruz know that the grungy, cockroach-infested Cavite prison with rusty iron bars would be his next home for more than a decade.

The wait for trial

Days after, Houston made a written declaration regarding the case against De la Cruz. Several days more, the judge before whom the case was filed summoned Houston to go to court to affirm before the judge’s presence his (Houston’s) written declaration.

Over the next months that passed, the judge ordered the resident engineer, the foreman and some other people, who were probable witnesses, to appear in court, for them to make a formal avowal of their statements against De la Cruz.

Given this state of affairs, it was Houston’s assumption that the case against De la Cruz would begin its formal trial.

But it was not to be so.

At the Varadero’s Cañacao office, the construction of the new docking facility for boats was finally finished and the native workmen were accordingly dismissed. Dozens of ships had docked and were repaired and launched there.

As for the office’s personnel, new faces had come to replace the old ones. Houston had gone to another country. So was Brown, who bought a schooner and embarked on a journey beyond the local islands. Frederick Sawyer, the consultant engineer, went to Cuba after concluding his project of building six gun boats for Varadero.

Among those that also transpired were the demise of the surgeon, Dr. Perez, Varadero’s in-house doctor who was supposed to be a witness against De la Cruz, and the execution of his successor, Dr. Hugo Perez, on account of his alleged ties with the native rebels wanting to overthrow the Spanish government.

There was still a slew of events that took place in the span of ten years, most notable of which was the change in the judges who had presided over the court where De la Cruz’s case was filed. These judges came and went. And none ever bothered to touch the expediente, or the case folder of De la Cruz, which, over the years, had grown thicker.

De la Cruz, however, refused to give up hope. From the first day of his incarceration, he never wavered in his faith---that he would one day leave prison as a free man. He had voiced out his innocence to his captors, his having done nothing wrong against anyone. He was steadfast in his stance. And as proof of this (as he ruminated in his prison cell), he never at any one time showed any guilty attitude, any fear or remorse for having supposedly committed any crime. Anyone with a guilty conscience would have easily buckled down. But he did not. His captors could attest to this. He had stood face up to his captors, to his accusers, to his jailers. He had looked at them dead in the eye. His demeanor had spoken for him on his innocence.

And he was arrested solely due to his act of abandoning his post and nothing more? Was his act of abandonment too heinous a crime? Was his long imprisonment commensurate with what he had done? No! he had said to himself. Where was justice in this world? If the authorities did have any evidence whatsoever against him, then they should present it in court, show it at once. And he would face them all!

Juan de la Cruz, however, was no stranger to the rampant injustices the Indios, or the natives, suffered at the hands of the Spaniards. He had heard and seen thousands of cases involving sheer prejudice and unfairness perpetrated upon the suffering Indios.

Thus, notwithstanding his strong conviction of him someday walking out as a free man, he knew that, he being an Indio, he was not an exception. He was aware that his case could just rot in court. Or he himself may die in detention (some of his cellmates were afflicted with a variety of diseases, like tuberculosis, leprosy, etc.). He had thus prepared himself for any eventuality. He had acquiesced to the realization that his case was just one of those that may get buried in the quicksand of the Spanish justice system. A corrupt system that pervaded across the islands. He knew the system would scarcely change, not in his lifetime. Not until the Spanish departed the islands. And this would take an eternity.

The release

The year was 1898. At the other end of the world, a mighty nation had just made a firm determination to end Spain’s interminable acts of “barbarities, bloodshed, starvation, and horrible miseries” in its colonies. After kicking the Spaniards out of Cuba and Puerto Rico, America started sending its powerful fleet across the seas to wrest control of the Philippine islands from Spain. At the close of April, the American fleet reached the bay of Manila. The next day, the Battle of Manila Bay began. The Spanish battle ships were no match to the potent invading naval army. In a few hours’ time, the Spanish squadron suffered heavy losses. Its wounded navy leader, Admiral Patricio Montojo, ordered his remaining naval forces to retreat and proceed instead to Cavite’s Bacoor Bay and to resist the enemy for as long as possible. The resistance, however, proved to be weak when, on the 2nd of May, the American admiral George Dewey and his marine forces arrived in Cavite. The remaining Spanish defenses were completely wiped out. On this day, the Spanish reign had begun to cease in the islands.

This was the day Juan de la Cruz had been waiting for.

There was utter confusion and chaos across Cañacao. The natives, sensing the end of the Spanish roughshod rule over them, ran amok and looted every government offices. In one part of the town, the frenzied rioters took notice of the deafening noise that came from the prison cell where De la Cruz was held. In a matter of minutes, the grubby government structure that housed the town jail was filled in pandemonium as each inmate scampered out to freedom.

Juan de la Cruz sucked in the fresh breath of air after a dozen years of captivity.

For the remaining years of his life, De la Cruz kept regretting bitterly his decision in still going back to Varadero’s Manila office just to retrieve his belongings. It was a big mistake. Had not he been there on that fateful day, he surely would not have suffered the injustice of long imprisonment. “Grave injustice” were the words he would later tell to his family.

The love affair

But what was the very cause behind this “grave injustice”?

Juan de la Cruz was one of the best sailors of his time, so said his superior, Frederick Sawyer, the consultant engineer at Varadero company. Efficient, reliable and very experienced. He had travelled across the seas, both within and beyond the islands. He had his own family who lived in Manila. Given, however, the nature of his work that required him to be constantly away from home and stay for most of the time in different places, it was not unexpected of him to meet people from those places.

One of the towns he had visited was San Roque, which was not too distant from Cañacao town where Varadero’s office was located. In one of his travels to San Roque, he came to meet a soft-spoken young woman who was half his age and good enough to be his daughter. A village lass whose charm and beauty held sway among a pack of young men in San Roque. She, however, was not content on venturing forth into a relationship with someone belonging to the same class or level as hers. What she was looking for was someone who would be patient and understanding, and more than that, who could afford her whims.

This she found in the person of Juan de la Cruz.

There was some sort of instant mutual affection when the middle-age sailor first met the virginal-looking damsel. Not long after, they were “shacking up” in a San Roque hut: she had willingly accepted the role of a mistress, and he had assured her of his undying affection and his monetary support for her caprices.

In the months that followed, De la Cruz enjoyed the pleasures of his conjugal home in Manila and the sexual bliss in the arms of the San Roque lass. There were times when the arriving Laguimanoc launch skippered by De la Cruz was still several distance away from the port, De la Cruz would see her waiting for him at the Varadero office.

It was in one of these instances when the San Roque lass came to meet two young men who were part of the crew of Laguimanoc.

The chance meeting

One afternoon, while she was waiting near the gate of the Varadero office in Cañacao, the young dusky mistress was startled to find a muscular man standing behind her who had tapped her shoulder.

“A pleasant afternoon, madam.”

She almost dropped the head shawl as she swung to her back.

“Are you waiting for someone?” Another man appeared behind the muscular man, whose frame was equally sinewy.

“Oh, sir, I’m waiting for Mr. Juan de la Cruz,” she replied. She bowed as she draped the shawl around her head.

He felt a slight nudge from the man behind him. “Well, he’s just having some meeting with our boat engineer, but it won’t be long. Is he your father?”

She looked up to him and gave out a reserved smile. “Not really.” She was trying to come up with the right words. “Just a relative.”

“Oh. Would it be rude if I introduce myself to you?” He straightened his body and moved closer to her. But then, a hand held him back.

“Brother,” the man behind him called softly. “Mr. Juan is now coming over here.”

“I’m Andres, madam. But we have to go now,” he said in a huff as they hurriedly shuffled away.

Andres was the engine driver of the Laguimanoc; his brother, the stoker of coals.

It was a chance meeting that would bring about a change in their lives. And their destinies.

Another intimate affair

Juan de la Cruz’s mistress was young and in her prime. While she may have found some pleasures brought by her intimate affair with her lover-sailor, she still felt not fully satisfied for some reason she could not explain. She had suddenly begun to notice some shortcomings in her man. For one, he was already old; he would sometimes refuse to give in to her physical desires. At other times, he would be grouchy, or irritable to the point of being unreasonable. But what she could not bear was his feelings of insecurity toward other men. He was, in other words, jealous. He prohibited her from leaving their abode if he was there, unless there was a necessity. Most importantly, he forbade her to talk to other men. For he feared she might get involved with other men and leave him.

She could not recall the number of times she had met Andres and his younger brother at the Cañacao port. In such brief encounters, she had come to like him. He had teased her about the possibility of them alone meeting at some place in the town, but she was non-committal, preferring to let her bashful smile as a reply to him. But then, after she had an argument with De la Cruz, she had decided to let her adventurous nature get the better of her.

It happened when Juan de la Cruz was ordered by his superior to stay put at Varadero’s Cañacao office. An extended meeting would be held there. Aware of this event, Andres proceeded to meet the San Roque mistress at the gate of the port.

Though they had kissed and made up after their quarrel two days ago, De la Cruz’s mistress was still feeling some traces of resentment over their non-sensible spat that arose over some petty thing. It was De la Cruz’s petulance that caused it all.

When she beheld anew the manly appearance of Andres, there was something that burst within her, a feeling of some want, a deep craving, a sudden desire.

Andres must have sensed it the minute he got an eyeful of her generous smile. He teased her again. This time, there was a positive reply. Andres found himself in ecstasy.

“Berto,” he called out to his brother who was nearby, “take care of my things.”

It was midnight when De la Cruz reached their hut. The meeting exhausted him. And he was hungry. He exploded when he found that there was no food left for him. He roused her from sleep.

“Did you not cook?”

She sat up, her eyes blinking. “I didn’t. I thought you won’t come home.”

“What’s wrong with you? You don’t want me to eat? I’m dead tired and hungry. You know every time I come home, I am hungry.” He threw out of the window the plate he was holding and stomped out of the hut.

She watched him leave. She decided to lie down. She started to caress her neck gently. She could still feel Andres’s touch on her, on her body. There was a world of difference between him and Juan de la Cruz, she said to herself.

In the weeks that followed, there was a noticeable change in her attitude. An aura of dourness was beginning to emerge from her. Though he tried to ignore it, he just could not shrug off some gut feeling that kept bugging him. He had to know the cause behind all this. From then on, he tried to be as perceptive as he could be in dealing with her.

It did not take long for him to know the answer. In almost every town in the islands, the residents, especially among women, spent a great deal of time of the day on gossiping. Be it first-hand or second-hand information, as long as the subject dealt with other people’s lives, the talebearers derived a great measure of gratification in telling and re-telling the same tales and divining the “what-if” endings.

Juan de la Cruz caught a whiff of some rumored nocturnal tryst between two lovers in the town outskirts. There was a resurrection of the gut feeling he had felt before. “But it couldn’t be,” he told himself. “She just wouldn’t do it.”

He decided to check on it. One late afternoon, he informed Andres that he would be having a long meeting with Gustav Brown, the ship carpenter, and J.L. Houston, the resident engineer. This was after they had arrived in their Cañacao office. He asked Andres if he could relay the message to the young lady waiting for him at the port’s gate so that she should not wait for him anymore, and instead, go home.

De la Cruz had it all planned out. He had asked the young boy, who was also a member of his boat crew, to follow the brothers Andres and Berto.

The next morning, when he met the young boy at Cañacao port, De la Cruz had his worst fear confirmed. There was an existing affair between his paramour and Andres. This could not be happening, he declared. He had to do something. This had to stop.

When they went on with the usual daily trips from Cañacao to Manila, and vice-versa, he would notice Andres and Berto often talking in whispers, and then breaking out into laughter. Berto, the stoker of coals for the launch’s engine, was frequently the noisy one, emitting huge guffaws.

Days passed. The rumors were becoming wild and deafening. This time, Andres and Berto were supposedly visiting his girl in their own hut!

De la Cruz was not a man to be cuckolded. And more than that, he was not a man to be disgraced by his paramour. There was no way he would allow this to happen.

In the next voyages of Laguimanoc, instances occurred where some tools, or engine parts or metal fittings were found to be missing. Since he was the engine driver, and thus, in charge of all that were needed for the engine to run, Andres was often blamed and held responsible for the lost pieces. But smart, skilled and resourceful as he was, he would often overcome such atypical scenes. In the process, he was able to avert any threatened dismissal from service. Andres was not dumb; his intuition had told him that De la Cruz was behind all odd happenings in the launch.

From then on, mutual distrust prevailed upon the crew of Laguimanoc.

The crime

On the 5th of June, 1886, a Saturday, the Laguimanoc made a trip to Manila. The steam boat was to fetch the resident engineer.

On the morning of the 7th, a Monday, another important engine part was missing. The safety valve was nowhere to be found. There was a delay in the return voyage of Laguimanoc from Manila to Cañacao caused by his missing part since a new one had to be obtained. At Cañacao port, after the steam boat’s arrival in the afternoon of that day, a management decision was reached, that is, that a thorough investigation would be conducted to determine the circumstances behind the loss of the safety valve.

It would later turn out that no such investigation would be held.

Juan de la Cruz knew where the investigation would lead to. That he would be found as the culprit behind the loss of the safety valve. In no way could the finger of suspicion be leveled to Andres and Berto. All the circumstances pointed to him. Should this happen, he surely would be fired. This was more than he could take. Losing his job would mean losing everything. More importantly, he would lose his mistress.

There was no time left. He had to act fast. He had to do what he needed to do.

In those times, the natives held the belief that during the time a man sleeps in the night, his soul is absent from the body, wandering around. The soul must be given time to return, otherwise, serious and even fatal consequences may arise. If a person is awakened suddenly, he may become an idiot. “Many natives have as great a fear of the wandering soul of a sleeping person as of an evil spirit or ghost. The soul is said to return to the body in the form of a small black ball, which enters the mouth.” Or it may be that the person who awakens the sleeping one, some great harm may happen to the former.

Aware of this belief, Juan de la Cruz thought that the best time for him to effect his plan was during the night, when the brothers would be in the midst of sleep. At the time when their souls were wandering.

It was almost midnight of that same day. Though a few clouds hung above, the night was clear and bright. Beyond the earth’s sphere was a multitude of stars that were blinking. But it was the almost full moon that held the monopoly of the nocturnal light. Down below, the sea was serene, though an observer could see a mass of wavelets endlessly rushing forth and slamming into the beach sand.

The Varadero office was dark and silent. Not far from it was the Laguimanoc which was fastened in the port. The launch’s cabin served as the sleeping quarters of Andres and Berto. They were wrapped in their blankets for it was already cool and breezy on that tranquil June evening.

There was a slight movement. A creaking on the steam boat’s floor. From behind the shadows, the silhouette of a wiry man emerged. His mind was steeped with deep revenge. A wicked glint flashed across his eyes. In his hand he gripped tightly a rusty steel bar, about eighteen inches long, and one and three-quarter inches square. Its tip was blackened by coal. It belonged to Berto; he used it as coal-breaker.

As he neared his prey, he breathed hard. From then on, he unleashed his rage.

The blows were ferocious and lightning-quick. Since the two brothers were lying beside each other, the assailant alternated his blows on the exposed defenseless heads of his prey. This was to purposely maim instantaneously the enemy and prevent possible retaliation. “The sharp edge of the steel bar crashed deep into their skulls, driving in the splintered bone upon the brain. One agonised shudder from each, then all was still.” What previously appeared as human faces were now grotesque masks of flesh and blood. He then trained his eyes on the robust bodies of the unmoving brothers. It was on one of these where his dusky, diminutive San Roque lass had lain in sexual bliss. He had countless images of her indulging in the muscular prowess of his prey. He had to efface the images now! He threw the coal-breaker. He stepped nearer, drew the sharp bolo from his waist and began, this time, an orgy of chopping blows. “The heavy and keenedged blade fell repeatedly, cutting great gashes on the throats and bellies of the victims, whilst streams of gore ran down the waterways, and trickled out at the scuppers, staining the white sides of the launch with crimson streaks.”

[Read the entire story in the forthcoming book TREE AND OTHER STORIES by AMADOR F. BRIOSO, JR., to be available in June, 2011, in selected bookstores in Manila. Another book, LOVE AND DESTINY, a novella written by the same author, will also be available in June, 2011. The author's previous book, "YOU FILIBINI?" Stories And Other Writings, is currently available at all Powerbooks bookstore outlets in Metro Manila.]