"You can't help me, I'm not an American anymore, I am a Filipino citizen now, you have no place here." Later Andras would identify that as the point that the day spun out of control, the point where he went from active to passive participant. The moment that he lost control of the story.
The day hadn't started differently than any other, there were no ill omensÑnot that he believed in that sort of thing. Leaving his apartment he ran through the narrow streets of Ermita to his favourite bakery on the corner of Flores & Grey, where he ordered an ensaimada and a kapeng barako. The name meant, in Filipino, coffee as strong as a wild boar. Though it took some getting used to, it got his fires burning like no other coffee ever had. It was the one thing about Manila he would miss when he left. As usual the counterperson reacted as if the money burned when he took it.
He walked in annoyance to the newspaper stand, looking at the headlines he saw that there was more unpleasantness in Mindanao. Andras grabbed a handful of papers to analyse at work, just one more day in the life of a Foreign Service Officer. The hawker wouldn't even touch his money when it was offered, the man gestured to a coffee can instead, as if the pisos were somehow contaminated by his touch. When he first arrived in Manila he thought these reactions were a side effect of American imperialism, and a general resentment of Americans. The natives even called him "kanong demonyo", it didn't take long for him to realise that the phrase meant "American devil". This had confirmed his suspicions, yet, in their infuriating way, the Filipinos genuinely loved Americans. It was only the ones employed by the government that they shunned. They also seemed to have an uncanny ability to figure out which was which.
He looked over at the cabs, and briefly considered taking one, punctuality was important this morning. The looks on the cabdriver's faces said it all, thankfully the US Embassy was on the outskirts of Ermita, and only fifteen minutes walk from where he was standing. His appointment was in twenty minutes, he would have to hotfoot it. Better a minute late than put up with the cabbies. He flew down Alhambra Boulevard to reach UN Avenue, and headed left to reach the embassy. He entered the gates and ran by the guards' booth at a trot. The brisk pace had him quite hot under the collar, despite the midwinter chill. He rushed into the building and through the sanitary halls filled with artificially cold air, a building awash in a flood of tropical sunlight and ruthlessly illuminated further by the harsh white glare of fluorescent tubes. He looked at the other employees as he hurried by, even more miserable than himself, dreaming of the comforts of the offices on the executive level. He felt some consolation, he was on his way there, the others could sense it and glared at him jealously. He rushed to the secure elevator and inserted his keycard, as he pressed the button he noted with satisfaction that this morning he was cleared for access. Andras was rarely allowed onto the offices at this level, though like the other Senior FSOs he did have limited access. He didn't get to use them often, though, it was standard policy to stick all FSOs in the public areas. The higher ups idea of a joke, they enjoyed torturing their underlings. He vaguely wondered if he would enjoy it as much when his time came.
He exited the elevator, rushed down the hall to the assistant ambassador's suite, and walked into the waiting room. The receptionist, a little imp of a woman, was reading that execrable book, Tribulation Force, when he entered. Andras wondered why those novels were so popular here, this was the last place you would expect people to be reading such tripe. Unlike most embassy officers, who liked to hire locals for these jobs, the assistant ambassador had imported his secretary, an Amherst graduate, from the states. Rumour had it that he was sparking his receptionist during his lunch hour. She looked up from her book and waived him into the office.
He entered to find the office empty. He cursed silently, angry that he had burned his ass to get here two minutes early, as per order of the damned assistant ambassador, and the bastard was nowhere to be seen. He'd probably materialise ten minutes late. Andras decided to look around the suite. The man's inner sanctum was richly decorated, as the offices on this level always were. There was a mahogany desk large enough to copulate on, he wondered if the assistant ambassador and his Amherst tart left burn marks from their "hot lunches". There were four high backed leather seats for the guests, an enormous padded leather chair for the assistant ambassador, whose name was Samael, and a leather sofa against the back wall. He sat briefly on the sofa, and found himself sinking into it. "Christ," he thought, "who in the name of Heaven has leather furniture in this climate?" Looking over at the far wall he noticed the print. "Probably the same bastard who keeps a print of Bouguereau's Dante and Virgil in Hell in his fucking office." With a start he realised that he had spoke the thought aloud, he prayed the room wasn't bugged.
He got up off the couch lest he be caught by the assistant popping in. He walked across the huge persian rug, so soft that it was like treading on air. He realised, enviously, that since they weren't in the US, it was probably from Iran, unlike the Afghan or Armenian merchandise they got back in the states. He walked over to the far wall to admire the Bouguereau print. It hung between the two windows, now shuddered, which looked out over the bay. He heard Samael enter. Andras obediently crossed the room tothe assistant ambassador's desk and waited for his superior to address him.
Samael sat at his desk and shuffling amongst the papers, pulled out a folder. Looking up he said "Well, Andras, don't just stand their gawking, have a seat. Sorry about the time, I was up late last night torturing an inept underling."
Andras found the man's laughter a touch disconcerting, sitting down he replied, "It's quite all right, sir, what do you need from me?"
"Inside you'll find the dossier of one James Josephson," Samael passed him the folder, "nine years ago he was given command of the Marine detachment here at the embassy. After two years here he went native on us, renounced his commission, his pension, even his citizenship, married a woman from Quezon City and settled in here as a businessman, ran a restaurant/nightclub sort of thing."
Andras glanced through the dossier, the face was familiar, as his eyes scanned the page he saw the arrest, "This was the man they picked up for drug trafficking and murder?"
"Yes, three months ago," Samael nodded, "It's alleged that he murdered a man in a drug deal gone bad. He's in New Bilibid Prison over in Muntinlupa City, awaiting trial on the charges. His cousin contacted the ambassador to request our assistance and the ambassador pulled the dossier. He thought the case interesting and, well, you know how these things go, shit slides down hill."
"What are we supposed to do about this, Mr. Samael?" Looking at the folder he saw the man had an admirable service record: Panama in '89, the first Gulf War, he seemed the very spirit of the Corps. Andras wondered where it all went wrong for the poor bastard. "He isn't an American citizen anymore, I can't imagine that the infernal Filipino authorities will welcome our meddling with their lawful prey."
Samael looked at the Bouguereau print thoughtfully, "No, they didn't." He got up and walked over to the window overlooking the bay, he cracked the blinds to look out on its bright and blazing glory. He continued quietly, "I have already spoke to a prosecutor, to assess the situation, they assure me that he's going to be found guilty, but, if Josephson were an American citizen, things would be different."
"So what is our plan of action?"
Samael turned quickly to face him, with an almost hungry look on his face, "Look, what I need you to do is get Josephson to reclaim his citizenship. The higher ups have already made the arrangements. If he makes application to reinstate his status as a US subject, the government will reclaim him quickly, then we can do something to help him."
Such as?" Samael looked confused for a moment, Andras continued, "Well, I have to be able to show him some benefit. What are we promising him? How can we help him?"
The assistant looked at the floor for a moment, as if he were losing himself in the carpet's elaborate pattern of whorls. When he looked back up Andras could see the fire in his eyes. "We can promise him that the death penalty comes off the table, and that he'll get to serve any sentence he's assigned in the US, which is better than any pit of hell these fiends would toss him in. I've already made the arrangements with the prosecutor, the one they call Ebya."
"So it's all set then? There won't be any hitches?" Andras hesitated, there was one glaring difficulty. "I mean, won't Josephson have trouble getting through the security checks? From what I hear the Homeland Security office is the seventh ring of purgatory."
Samael smiled coldly, "Well, they have their empires. We have our little fiefdoms. In this case the orders came straight from the top, the man's a war hero fallen on bad times. It's our duty to save him, so it will be managed."
"You mean the president himself has an interest?" Andras asked in amazement.
"Oh, yes, him too," Samael replied slowly.
Andras flinched inwardly, this meant a world of pressure. "How about his wife? His kids? The dossier says that he has two sons and a daughter here, what of them?"
"Well, she was obviously the reason he went native in the first place," Samael answered smugly. "Promise him whatever it takes. Truthfully speaking, the immigration people probably won't let her in 'till he's out of jail, which will be a while. Now, the man's cousin, Captain Tomas Andujar, will be visiting you presently to make his plea in person."
"Should I call the motor pool now or after the interview?"
Samael looked up. "Call the motor pool? Why?"
"To reserve a car for the journey to Muntinlupa, sir,"
"Oh come now, Andras," Samael said with amusement, "the cabs aren't that bad." Samael opened his little black book and began writing notes, then, almost as an afterthought, added, "Oh, Andras? Please see me before you file your report on this matter." With that he went back to writing notes and Andras knew that the interview was concluded. He walked out through the waiting room, the woman never looked up from the book. He walked down the hall to the elevator, he cringed as he pressed the button. God how he hated the public areas.
He was reading the dossier for the fourth time when he heard the knock on the door. He looked up to see a marine in his dress blues and stood up motioning to the guest chair, "Have a seat Captain Andujar, it's a pleasure to meet you." The man bowed slightly and took a seat, he was dark skinned, with rich brown eyes, standing a shade over 5'9". According to the record in the dossier, Andujar was loyal to a fault and nearly fearless, qualities that the Corps valued. "So, what can you tell me of your cousin?"
Andras looked again at the folder, "I am having trouble resolving the differences between the man I am reading about in the service records and the man I am reading about in the news stories."
The marine sat down dejectedly. ""Sir, I wish I knew, truth is I haven't spoken to Jimmy in five years, well, I mean, I've talked to him, but I haven't really talked to him, if you catch my drift."
The man spoke with what a former coworker, Teddy Pak, referred to as a Camp LeJeune accent. The faux southern accent adopted by marines stationed there for too long. In this case the accent was the more disconcerting, given that the man across the desk from him was from New Jersey. "Well, I mean, I know the basics. Here in the State Department we refer to this as a case of going native. I mean, most of you bring wives home. It's not often that you join them abroad, not when you're on active duty."
The man's brows wrinkled in thought. "Well, sir, I remember when he mentioned the woman to me. It was eight years ago or so. I met her a while after that, when he was still commanding the detachment here. She was beautiful and all," he shook his head, "But, then he just gave it all up, and sirÑain't no woman worth that. But, he seemed happy, he opened a restaurant, and seemed to do well. So, I figured, 'what the hell,' to each his own." He seemed suddenly aware of his slight slouch, and sat back up in the chair, "Then after the twins were born, he got a little antsy about me visiting. After his daughter was born he cut me off entirely. I've talked to him a few times, but he just wouldn't let me see the kids. Said it was something to do with protecting them---"
Andujar shrugged in confused frustration, "How the hell should I know? The Corps? The US? It's like he turned against everything he knew. I mean, after I heard the story I took a leave and came here to see him, but he outright refused to see me." His shoulders slumped again in defeat.
"If he won't see you, what makes it likely that he'll see me?"
The man looked up earnestly. "Sir, to the jailers I'm just some American soldier here for a visit. I mean, he says no, so I demand to see him. But they laugh at me. You, you're an embassy official, if you want to see him, they'll bring him to you,"
Andras merely nodded.
"Sir? You'll tell him that we, I mean, his family back in the states, we all want him back. We'll do whatever it takes. I mean, we'll help his wife and kids, and all..." he tailed off into a bemused silence.
"I'll be sure to let him know," Andras said standing up. "Don't worry, I'll do my best, I'll do everything in my power to ensure that he's deported to the US." As he said it he found he even meant it, he felt a lump in his throat, and a tear drop on the corner of his eye for the briefest of moments. He held out his hand to the Captain, who shook it gratefully. "Where are you staying, Captain?"
"Over at the Pearl Manila, on the other side of that big park down the street."
"It's called Rizal Park, though the natives simply call it Luneta, I'll tell you what, this is going to be a long journey." He put his hand on the man's shoulder in sympathy, and guided him to the door. "Why don't you go back to your hotel, I'll ring you on the way back and give you whatever news I have."
"Thank you, sir, I can't tell you how grateful we are, and not just the family, the Corps, too. The guys that know him have been bleeding since this whole thing happened. I mean, he isn't a drug dealer. The guy we knew would never disgrace his family or the Corps like this. Something's really wrong. I mean, if I believed in that sort of thing I'd say it was witchcraft, you know, or something."
"Well, Captain, the natives here are quite superstitious, so maybe it was witchcraft of a sort."
The Captain looked at him oddly for a moment before leaving, he didn't understand that his cousin had gone native.
He exited the building and felt the chill breeze coming in off Manila Bay, he hated the embassy's location, especially in the midst of midwinter August weather. He pulled the Burberry jacket tighter about himself, he could see the guards looking at him as left the premises, he knew by their stares that his mission was known. Some of the men here remembered their former commander, and were eager to see him freed. He nodded as he walked through the gates and onto Roxas Boulevard, as usual there were no cabs. "Fuck," he thought to himself, "in a fucking city where are ten cabs for every whore you would think there would be at least ONE in front of the embassy." It never ceased to disgust him that there were never any out front waiting, especially given the number of Filipinos looking for visas they were dropping off. "How many times do we have to say we're sorry? God these people hold a grudge." He walked down the road shivering in the cold until he reached a cab stand. When he hopped in to the cab the driver looked into the rearview with a mix of fear, horror and contempt, "Where are you going, kano?"
"New Bilibid Prison, over in Muntinlupa."
The man muttered something that sounded like, "dyan ka bagay." Andras snapped, "What was that?"
"Nothing sir," the driver responded glibly, "that will be fifteen hundred pesos."
Andras started. "That's an outrage, the ride isn't worth eight hundred."
Cooly the driver responded, "If the kano prefers another cab..."
In fury Andras cut him off, "Fine, fine, just drive the damned cab." He reached into his pocket to grab his wallet, and realised that he had a few pisos lingering there. He peeled off the notes and tried to hand them to the driver, the driver merely took off his cap and held it out, in disgust he threw the money over the seat. "Let the bastard pick it up," he thought to himself. Remembering the pisos he reached into his pocket and grabbed them, in anger he flung them against the windshield. They gave off a burst of noise, and flew about the drivers head like a swarm of bees. He watched with impish glee as the driver dodged and swatted the six coins.
The driver kept looking in the rearview to check him in the back seat. Andras thought bitterly, "What does he expect me to do, poke him with a pitchfork?" The thought brought him a perverse sort of satisfaction, if they were all going to keep calling him "demonyo," perhaps he should start carrying around a pitchfork. But then, he knew that the ambassador had no sense of humour, it wouldn't go over well. He opened the briefcase and began looking at the case file again, he needed more information, something personal about the man. The sort of thing that the CIA people never shared, so jealous were they of their infernal files. "Christ, they're so fucking paranoid," he thought to himself, "I'm a senior FSO, it's not like I'm a fucking angel myself." Unlike other State Department personnel senior FSOs got their hands dirty, he wasn't allowed a conscience.
He decided to call a reporter over at the South Asian Times, an English language paper aimed at the vast expatriate community in this part of the world. The man that ran the bureau, a Filipino American named Carl Navarro, was a regular visitor at the embassy, more importantly, the Filipino authorities were free with him, in a way they never were with the embassy staff. He dug through his wallet until he found the reporter's card and dialed the number. A female voice answered the phone. "Could you connect me to Navarro?" Andras asked.
"Who should I tell him is calling?"
"It's Andras over at the American Embassy, this is official business." He noticed as he said that the cabbie seemed to snap to attention. He heard a click, followed by intolerable hold muzak. A canned rendition of Disco Inferno bleated in his ear, mercifully it was cut short by a male voice, "Andras, you old devil, what can I do for you?"
"Well, Carlos, I need a favour. I got assigned the enviable task of writing a report on the Josephson case. Naturally I started with what the State Department and CIA supplied me. However, in their infernal wisdom they redacted just about everything. So I decided to call you instead."
"Forked tongues hold more sugar."
"What does that mean?" Andras was annoyed, he didn't need this from allies.
"Nothing, just something my aunt in Para–aque used to say. This is important?"
"I am under a ton of pressure here, the ambassador personally lit the fire under my ass."
Carlos laughed, "Well, it will take information on the War on Terror."
"What sort of information are you looking for? I mean you know more about what we're up to here in Manila than I do. That sort of information is doled out on a need to know basis, and according to the CIA we only need to know when something goes wrong." Again he noticed that the cabbie was paying too much attention.
"OK, then, how about some inside material on tax policy. The expat community has been hearing grumblings from the US Senate that they're going to end the expat exemption."
"I can do that, now, about Josephson."
Navarro was momentarily quiet. "It's a bad situation, most of us keep a foot on each side of the divide, so that we can get back if we have to. He didn't, and that's worrying us. The word is that he is neck deep in the soup, at least on the drug trafficking end. I have heard from an associate of Josephson that the victim, Paolo Ordo–ez, had siphoned off a lot of money at the club in Manila."
"How reliable is your witness?" The first hints of fear crept in, he didn't want the man to be too guilty, that made his job harder.
"His name's Donell Scott, and he was the man that tipped off Josephson about his employee," this meant the man was probably a prosecution witness. Looking up, he could see the cabbie straining to hear everything he could. "Say, Navarro, could you ring ahead to the prison?"
Andras looked up and addressed the driver, "I say, how long till we reach the prison?"
"Twenty minutes," the cabbie said suspiciously, "maybe twenty five. I don't know."
Andras turned back to the phone. "Tell the guards that I'll be arriving in twenty to twenty five minutes."
Andras warmed to the task. "Yes, well my driver has been doing his best to spy on our conversation, I know it's a borderline case, but I think that he's in violation of executive order 2342."
"What the fuck are you talking about, Andras?" Navarro cried in confusion. "Have you been dancing with the demon rum again?"
"I agree it's borderline, but, there are a lot of Islamic extremists about, so you can't be too careful." He closed the phone and looked at the driver in the rearview mirror, deadpanning, "Driver, when we get to New Bilibid I need you to wait."
Andras noted with satisfaction that the man turned pale.
"Because, I have reported your behaviour to a prosecutor, thankfully we're on the way to the prison. He said that will make the whole thing easier"
"I do not believe you, kano," the driver said defiantly, but without much real conviction.
"Well, I'm sorry, but you heard me asking the prosecutor for information, I am sure he'll lead the interrogation personally."
"What's a bobo?" Andras asked, but the cabbie wouldn't respond. He could see the fear in the man's face, he relaxed in the air of tension. "Teach these fucking cabbies a lesson," he thought, "I should do this more often." He was beginning to positively glow at the site of the drivers growing fear. In the middle of his reverie he heard a grinding noise from the engine. The driver rapidly steered to the side of the road, and up to the sidewalk where he stopped. The driver pulled the keys from the ignition, and Andras asked, "What is this all about?"
"I am sorry, kano, but I have engine problems." He got out and popped the hood of the sedan, and poked his head out of sight. Suddenly he straightened up and began waving to Andras. Cautiously Andras stepped out of the cab.
"Sorry, kano, but I need to call for a tow."
Andras boiled in annoyance, he really hated cabbies. Giving the driver the evil eye he said, "Well, how am I supposed to get to the prison?"
"You can walk, it is just two or three kilometres from here. Take your third left, four blocks more."
"I want another cab."
The driver looked at him innocently and replied, "Sure, kano, let me call one for you, he will be here in thirty minutes or so, to drive you the rest of the way."
Andras looked at his watch, his appointment was in fifteen minutes. "The hell he will." He decided to hoof it the rest of the way. "Fucking great," he thought to himself, "a mile and a quarter walk through Muntinlupa". He wondered vaguely why the old colonial governors never changed the name to something more fitting, like Detroit. He was on a busy thoroughfare, the street was lined with small office buildings and the sidewalks cluttered with vendors selling strange foodstuffs. The vendor closest to him was frying fish balls, he felt suddenly hungry, and was glad that the man sold fishballs rather than balut. Walking to the cart he held up his hand and signaled that he wanted an order. The man handed him a small bag of fish balls, he tossed a fifty peso note into the box and left without change.
He trudged towards the prison consuming the fishballs as he went. Vowing eternal vengeance upon the cabbie if ever he got hold of him again. As he walked into the prison square he looked up at the structure, oddly enough, in his four and half years in Manila this was the first time he ever saw it. The prison was built to look like a castle, yet with its freshly whitewashed walls it wouldn't be out of place in an American theme park. But this was where the Filipinos kept the worst of their prisoners, including his subject. As he arrived at the doors he saw the prison guard sitting at his seat in the security booth. The guard was a large dark skinned pinoy, taking bites of what looked to be a chihuahua, he shuddered and gave his name, "Yes, Nick Andras here to see one of your prisoners, Mr..." he glanced and noticed the patch on his shoulder, looked at the badge, squinted and read, best as he could, "...Sgt. Numput, sorry," the guard looked at his list and checked off something. The sergeant waived him in to the prison.
He felt a slight chill as the iron doors clanged shut behind him. When he went to the entry room to report his arrival, the receptionist bade him to sit. A few moments later a guard walked out, like the sergeant at the gate, quite tall for a pinoy. The guard was rather a horse faced looking fellow, Andras held out his hand. "Nick Andras, US Embassy, I am here to meet with a prosecutor, Mr. Ebya I believe his name was, and then with an American prisoner."
The sergeant cleared his throat, making a slight whinnying sound as he did so. "A former American, I believe," the guard nickered. With that he motioned for Andras to follow him, turned on his heel and cantered down the hall. They went to an elevator and down a few floors, horseface (for so he thought of the man already) led him out into a broad, dim hall, with a flagstone floor. The hall reeked of unwashed human beings, the dank smell of sweat and urine permeated this place. Andras wondered vaguely if the smell could even be burned out. A short way down the hall they arrived at a meeting room.
The guard stopped and knocked on the door. A man dressed in a black suit and black felt hat, stepped out of the door. Andras shook the man's hand he couldn't help but note how sharp the fingernails were. "Mr. Andras, my name is Ebya. We can talk on the way. I presume your superior told you of our conversation?"
The guard trotted ahead to retrieve the prisoner, Andras and the prosecutor followed at a more leisurely pace, "Yes, I am here at the request of his family, they would like us to help them."
Ebya looked at him quizzically, "He is a naturalised Filipino, Mr. Andras, I was confused when Mr. Samael called me. Certainly his wife said nothing about calling the embassy."
"No, I meant the extended family, back in the US."
The prosecutor walked in silence for a few moments, "Still, he isn't American anymore."
"Well, that's what I'm here about, getting him reclassified,"
Ebya shrugged, "He is still charged with a heinous crime, he'll be tried here."
Andras asked politely, "How solid is the case?"
The prosecutor laughed, "Quite, we don't take kindly to drug dealers here, and the victim, Ordo–ez had a pile of party drugs in his apartment."
Andras countered, "What evidence do you have against Josephson, though?"
"The crime was committed with an American service pistol." Ebya paused and stroked his chin. "A witness saw a tall dark skinned man near the spot where the body was found. I don't see a judge letting him go."
They finally arrived at their destination, and found the horse faced guard pawing the floor impatiently. Horseface looked at him and stated sternly, "Are you ready Mr. Andras? This is the prisoner's meeting room. You'll have twenty minutes, no more, when the time is up it's up, no extensions."
Ebya added, "I have spoken to the man personally, so I don't mind telling you that you haven't a shot in Hell at luring him back, he still proclaims his innocence, until a man is broken of that, you don't have a chance of making them see reason."
Andras shuddered involuntarily at the glacial atmosphere as he walked into the room. The room itself was a disgrace, the floor was damp, the walls were vaguely brick coloured despite being made of granite, the metal table bolted into the floor. Seated at the table was Josephson himself. He still looked rock solid despite being in his mid forties, dark skinned, sharp nosed, and hair that showed a few streaks of grey. His eyebrows that looked as if they were drawn on with a magic marker, so strong were they. Beneath them brown eyes glittered, whether with fear or rage, Andras could not tell. Andras suddenly noticed that the guard had cuffed Josephson to the table. Clearing his throat, he spoke, "Mr. Josephson, I'm Nick Andras, from the American Embassy here in Manila."
The man regarded him cooly. "So they tell me, I would shake your hand, except, well..."
Andras rushed on, "Yes, of course, silly precaution, as if you would ever harm me..."
"For all you know the precautions are warranted."
Andras looked at him with bemusement. "Come now, I'm a fellow American, you wouldn't do anything to hurt me," he said with as much warmth as he could muster.
"Well, you work for the government, anyway. What do you want?"
Andras looked on as earnestly as he could. "Why, to help you of course, it has pained all your friends in the Corps to see you," he had to choose carefully, he was blundering about too quickly, "put in, well, come to such straits. Your cousin came to see me this morning to beg for our assistance. He is simply heartbroken at all that's happened."
Josephson said drily, "Yes, I'm sure that he begged. This doesn't answer the question of why you're here."
"To help you out, of course."
"You can't help me, I'm not an American anymore, I am a Filipino citizen now, you have no place here."
Andras lowered his voice conspiratorially, "Look, I've already made arrangements, I have the appropriate paperwork here, you could fill it out, I'll ship it to Washington by diplomatic courier, and your American citizenship will be reinstated in no time."
For the first time he noted Josephson take interest. "Really? You've made the arrangements?"
He didn't like the way the man emphasised the word you've. Still he soldiered on, "Yes, and if you are an American citizen we can intervene on your behalf, you could even serve out your sentence in the states, close to your friends and family, surely that would be easier than this pit of perdition."
"And what of my family?"
"Well, we'll make arrangements for them to come over, as well, though it might take a little longer."
"And you think this is enough to tempt me?"
Andras looked at him seriously, to let the man understand the gravity of the situation. "Mr. Josephson, you murdered a man, you can be put to death for that here, if you're an American they won't execute you, it's as simple as that."
"No, it isn't."
"Well, what do you propose as an alternative? Do you really want to die?"
Josephson looked at him placidly, "My death is certainly a possibility, I can accept that."
Andras cursed to himself, he had to move away from the subject of death and find another tack. "Look, let's not take a fatalist view of the affair, let's look at this from the bright side, you have three wonderful children, if you reclaim your citizenship, they'll get to grow up knowing their father, even if you are in jail. And look, over in the states, we can work on your behalf, get the infernal authorities here to issue you a pardon in a few years. Then you'll be free to put this whole nightmare behind you," he pulled out the paperwork from his briefcase and laid it on the table. "Now come, please, let's just fill this out together, so that we can help you, for your kids' sake."
"Do you want me to sign the deal in blood?"
"Mr. Josephson," proceeding cautiously, "look, I am here for your sake, and that of your family, I really am trying to help you."
Quietly Josephson asked, "What if I don't need you?"
"What do you mean?"
The man looked away, and said quietly "What if the judge finds me innocent, what if I am not convicted?"
"Well, I suppose you'd be free to go then."
Josephson looked back, and Andras saw the cold fury of his eyes. "Free to go? Where? Not here, I'll be deported as an undesirable alien."
"Look, Jos...may I call you James?" the look in the man's eyes answered the question. "What is it you have against us? Why do you hate us all? Even your cousin told me that once your twins were born you wouldn't let him visit anymore, what is it about Americans that horrifies you so?"
"I don't hate Americans, no one here does."
Andras complained, "It doesn't seem that way from where I'm standing."
Josephson looked at him, almost with a sense of wonder. "You really don't understand? You don't know why the government is so unpopular?"
"Not a fucking clue, and," he caught himself, he was beginning to lose his temper, he had to calm down, make another assault, what was it that the prosecutor had said? That's right, the man wasn't ready to face his guilt, he decided to talk about the crime next. "OK, you're maintaining your innocence, what I've read is that you shot one of your employees for cheating you of drug money, if you didn't who did."
Josephson looked at him with annoyance. "How should I know? His partners, a customer maybe. And he wasn't my employee, I fired him several days before."
"For stealing from you..."
The man leaned forward and spat, "No, for dealing fucking drugs, they come down hard on that shit here, when I found that he was using my nightclub to deal out of in motherfucking Manila I flew up here and canned his ass. The only reason I was even here when he got killed is because I hadn't found a fucking replacement," he leaned back in the chair in frustration, "I should have just promoted the assistant and gone home, sure he'd have fucked up, but I wouldn't be here."
"What difference would that make? You live in Forbes Park."
"Fucking state department," he sighed in disgust, "I have a house in Forbes Park, because the nightclub is in Makati, too. I also have an apartment in Cebu City, for the same reason, I have a club there. I live in Davao."
Andras wondered if that's why the Homeland Security people were so eager to get their talons into the man, Davao was a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism, "The reports say that the man was shot with an American service pistol of the sort you own."
"Yes, but not the pistol that they took from the house in Forbes Park, my service pistol is home in Davao."
"The prosecutor thinks that that is simply a formality, he is confident that they'll find it."
He studied the man carefully to see if he flinched, but Josephson was ice cold,."I hope that they do, because then I'll be in the clear."
"Look, you're not fooling me, you can dismantle and reassemble one of those pistols in no time flat, you could simply have shot the man and changed the barrels, which would make the weapon seem different."
Josephson looked up, for the first time there was a hint of doubt, "Except that I didn't."
"Yes, but they'll argue that you did, it may be enough to get a conviction."
The man sighed, "Look, I am not giving up, OK? Tell your masters whatever you wish, I escaped, I can't return, no matter what remaining here costs."
Andras looked on in frustration, "Is America really that awful? I mean, if it were really awful, why do so many Filipinos want to get there?"
Josephson looked back at him, with shock he realised that the look in the man's eyes was pity, "It isn't America, or Americans, it's..." he paused for a moment, "...it's people like you. We hate you, if you weren't there, people like myself wouldn't feel the need to escape after we...after we opened our eyes, and saw you for what you were."
"So we're evil then? That's the difficulty?" He was confused, how could the man so casually abandon his family? "Don't you care about your kids at all? Don't you want to know them?"
"Yes," Josephson was speaking only just above a whisper, "but I want them to know something more important. I want them to know right from wrong, if I can't live it, they won't live it."
Andras stared at his prey, Josephson seemed to have settled a touch. Somehow his kids were the key. He needed to find a way to get Josephson to focus on his children in this particular manner. "This doesn't have to be an either/or situation. I understand you want them to have faith in the government and the system," Josephson laughed, a cold abrasive laugh, "and that right is right and all that. Look, how about this, I'll go over and see your family, and explain to them that as a fall...as a war hero we have elected to come to your rescue. I'm sure they'll understand."
The laughter suddenly died and the man positively hissed "You are not going to see my children, I swear by Christ in Heaven if you set foot in my house," he began pulling against his manacles. The racket reminded Andras of that scene in A Christmas Carol, with Jacob Marley rattling his chains in a vain attempt to escape purgatory. The table seemed close to coming out of its moorings under Josephson's assault. Andras tried to mollify the man, but Josephson cut him off and shouted, "Horse face, get your ass in here and put me back in my cell where I belong." The guard entered and glared at the ex marine. Seeing the prisoner strain against his bondage, the guard struck Josephson across the face. Andras saw the marks on Josephson, the blood oozing from the wound, and yet still the man smiled at the guard. "You'll never scare me, you know, not with a real demonyo in the room." The guard unfastened the cuffs and secured them behind the man's back, he led Josephson to the door, opened it and threw him to the floor, where two others grabbed him and carried him off.
The guard looked at Andras apologetically, "I'm sorry you had to see that, I warned you, though. He isn't going back, he's going to die here, and likely quite soon." Andras was shaken as he left the prison, even in the face of death, the man wouldn't ask an American official for help. He hopped into the cab, when the driver demanded thirteen hundred pesos, he was furious, and tempted to rip the mans head off and eat his heart, "I'll show them a kanong demonyo," he thought bitterly. He called Andujar and made arrangements to meet him in Rizal Park, nearby the stadium. Once there he sat numbly, shivering in the cold August wind, waiting for the captain, when Andujar arrived he waived him to the spot next to him on the bench, "I'm sorry, captain, he simply wouldn't listen to reason, he insists that he's innocent, and that he's going to beat the charge."
The marine's shoulders slumped, "Did you ask him why he wouldn't see me? Did you at least convince him to talk to me?"
Andras started, he hoped that the marine missed it, "I did my best, but there was no moving the man, he's like a block of granite."
Miserably Andujar looked over, "So what do we do now?"
Andras noted for the first time that the man wore a cross, remembering that the man was half Cuban, he guessed that he was Catholic, and probably superstitious, "Well, all we can do is pray, and hope that," he paused for a moment, reflecting the proper gravity of the moment, "God will look after your cousin in His own way."
Andujar merely nodded, "Thank you, for everything, I need to go now."
He watched as Andujar walked back towards his hotel. Andras started to walk Rizal Park, in spite of the cold he needed to frame his tale for his supervisors. They natives called it Luneta, "little moon," he mused, somehow it seemed to fit the place. He was struck by a sudden urge to walk it at night, though the embassy had a strict policy against it. Wandering Luneta he saw a small copse, he had never noticed before. On a sudden impulse he decided to walk beneath the trees, to frame his story in seclusion.
Within he saw a small man capering about, a midget really, as the man couldn't have been two feet tall. The ridiculous gnome like figure had a proboscis near as large as his face, wizened, grey and dressed coloufully, in a scarlet shirt and trousers of green patched in yellow. He moved closer, to his horror he realised that the man appeared to have but a single nostril, and but a single eye. He wondered briefly if the man had been born in a nuclear test range, so deformed was he, but when dwarf looked upon him it burst out in a laugh and fell over on the ground. He was furious, even the Filipino freaks hated them. He stood fuming and suddenly noticed a pair of young Filipinas, they couldn't have been more than five or six, they walked up toward the midget cautiously, he could hear one of them say something that sounded like "duende". They seemed partially frightened, and he felt sorry for the freakish thing, as much as the encounter had aggravated him, they were kindred spirits, on the outside of a strange culture looking in. He looked on the sight of the two young girls, each taller than poor Mr. Duende, speaking to the midget. His blood went cold, he heard them say "kano". It wasn't the freak that frightened them. It was him.
The midget laughed, turned and pointed at him, and spoke in that beastly language of theirs, "Takot ka sa amerikanong demonyo? Ang lalaking ulang?" It seemed to take especial pleasure in the phrase "lalaking ulang", as it repeated it a couple of times, even the girls began to giggle. The midget fairly danced up to him, pulled on his trouser leg and called him again, "Lalaking ulang," and did a cartwheel back towards the girls, who were giggling madly by now. Mr. Duende began motioning them to join him. Suddenly he heard an adult voice cut in, "A–a, Graciella," there was something familiar about the voice, it was the hint of a Texas drawl, Andras looked up. It was his old friend, Teddy Pak, a Korean American that had gone native three years before. There was a woman with him, he vaguely recognised her, she was tall for a Filipina, at five and a half feet near as tall as Pak, she was rubenesque in form with long raven locks and olive coloured skin, for the briefest of moments he was jealous. His admiration was interrupted by Pak, "Huwag kayong lumapit, delikado baka kunin kayo ng de..."
Andras cut him off, "I say, Pak," he saw the other start in horror at the use of his name, "What is this nonsense? Why are you telling your children to stay away from me?"
Pak stared at him for a few moments, then recognition dawned on his face. "Oh, Andras, it's you. I didn't recognise you, sorry about that," he saw Pak whisper something into his wife's ear, and continue in embarrassment, "How are things up at the Embassy? Sorry I don't get by that much anymore. We're really busy."
"You were going to call me a demonyo, weren't you?" Bitterly he added, "You couldn't even do me the courtesy of addressing me as Amerikanong as you ought."
Pak's embarrassment deepened, "errr...Not at all, I was going to say," he paused in his discomfiture. "Department of State employee," he ended lamely, "we don't want the kids growing up to be government workers, you see."
He glared incredulously, "So you DID know it was me, after all? What have I ever done to you that you should be afraid for your kids?"
Pak answered defensively, "I swear to God, I didn't know it was you, Andras," he paused awkwardly, "I mean, all you guys look alike."
"What? All we embassy workers look alike? Even you when you were one of us?"
"Well, yeah, I suppose, I mean," he was fumbling desperately, looking aside to his girls he tapped his wife's shoulder and pointed at them. "The duwende, be careful of the girls." She looked over to their daughters, and quickly went over to them. Pak continued, "it's that look of stuffy, self importance." His voice trailed off awkwardly and he looked over again at his family.
Andras watched, as well, as Pak's wife went to speak to the dwarf, "What's a duwende?" He thought it was the creature's name, but that wasn't how Pak used the word.
Pak said distractedly, "It's a mythical creature."
"What are you talking about? I can see the thing as well as you can" he was genuinely confused.
Pak looked thoughtful, "Just because it's a myth doesn't mean it's not there." He shifted his feet, and the embarrassed tone returned, "Well, we should be running along now, it's not good to leave the girls too long with the duwende."
The dwarf like thing took out a bright green kerchief and blew a blast upon its beak. The kerchief looked for all the world like a hallucinogenic party streamer as it fluttered in the nasal breeze. The duwendes nose sounded as Gabriel's horn and heralded its existence. The whole thing was too surreal for Andras, he slumped. All this fear and loathing was getting to him, in frustration he asked, "I'm sorry, Pak, the pressure of the job is getting to me, I am beginning to feel the heat from my superiors. Look, why don't we go out and get a drink, you know, talk about the good old days?"
Pak, still looking at his family, stammered out, "Yeah, sure, I mean, not tonight, Aileen and I are dining with her parents tonight, but some other time, yeah."
The midget broke away from Pak's family and swaggered up to him in an exaggerated manner, it pulled his trouser leg again and spoke in its barbaric tongue, "Lalaking ulang, nadadapa ka ba sa buntot mo?" and broke out laughing again, when he tried to waive the freak away, the duwende lashed out with his right foot and kicked Andras in the shins, hard enough that a fiery bolt of pain exploded before his eyes. He instinctively lifted his leg to grab his shin, while the dwarf rolled around on the ground in a cacophony of laughter. Andras tripped, which only redoubled its amusement. Getting up he lunged at the creature in fury. "You little bastard." He hit the ground again as the dwarf slithered out of his range. He got up to give chase but the thing scampered into a little hill at the base of a tree, he pawed at the ground about the hole but couldn't get any grip to get in.
He forced himself to calm down, he looked around for Pak or his family but they were scurrying off. He glared again at the little hill and walked away. He thought to himself, "They think us barbarians, but back home we'd make sure he had a good place to live and a way to make a living, here they let them live hills in the park." It made no sense, what was about them that made the Filipinos always react so? When he reached the jeepney stand he didn't give the driver a chance to gouge him, he simply handed him a one hundred peso note. He didn't bother telling him where he was going, the jeepney driver brought him to the embassy as if that were the only place he belonged.
Defeated he stepped out of the vehicle, at the guard post the men looked at him with expectant eyes, he shook his head sadly. He walked into the embassy, broken, the artificially cold air and fluorescent light sheer torture, but at least he would get to work for a few hours in a senior staff office, there was some comfort in that. The other workers could see his air of defeat, and took comfort in it, but he could still sense their jealousy, he was going to the executive level and they weren't. As he walked through the halls towards the elevator he finally understood the looks on their faces, this country had broken them, as well. He longed for a post in Europe, where the natives held those like himself in proper reverence, the hostility of these superstitious Asians was too much for him. He reached the executive elevator, inserted his keycard, and pressed the button. He began to relax as he felt the downward acceleration of the car, when the doors slid open he was greeted by a warm blast of air. As he stepped out into the hall, the sultry sulfur scented breeze blowing in off the burning brimstone bay brought a real tear to his eye. As he walked down the hall to the assistant ambassador's office the shrieks of a thousand lost souls rose like a grand symphony to his ears. When he arrived in the receptionists office she was still reading Tribulation Force, she waived him in without looking up from the thing. As he entered the office he saw Samael busily grooming his tail, he cleared his throat. Samael looked up, "Well, Andras? How did you make out?"
"I'm sorry sir, there was no convincing the man, he's gone all the way over, and doesn't want to come back."
Samael stroked his chin thoughtfully, and tapped his hoof against the desk, "Well, I wouldn't worry about it too much, we didn't really expect him back. We just thought with the death penalty involved we could recapture one. Don't let this get you down, Andras."
"The people here, this," he paused to choose his words carefully, "Well, what I mean to say, do you have any idea why they seem to hate us so much? What is it that they have against we government employees?"
"Some local myth, no doubt, these Filipinos are all so superstitious, you can't let it get you down, Andras."
"Should I go down the hall and write my report now?"
"Do you really think it's necessary to do that work here? I think you would work just as efficiently in your own office...upstairs."©2003 by E.H. Munro. Any attempt to use this material without proper attribution will result in the author breaking in your front door to smack you upside the head with a soggy water buffalo. If that isn't enough he promises to unleash a plague of Morman missionaries on you.