Chapter 1: Childhood Lost
The day was unusually warm, even for Manila, Philippines in the spring, and the black roof underneath his chest was magnifying the heat to almost unbearable levels. From his position, thanks to his monocular, Marco could see that he wouldn’t have to endure that uncomfortable posture for much longer. The distance from the man he was observing was great. His quarry was a stocky man in his late 40s, one of several street hawkers who peddled cheap clothing outside a local shopping center. In the street below, cars, old jeepneys and taxis honked and battled their way forward to gain a few inches of pavement. On the sidewalks, merchants were busy yelling and trying to convince passers-by to enter their shops and restaurants. Marco saw his target approach a stout Caucasian man who was possibly in his early sixties and observed intently as the former struggled to offer his wares. He could not possibly hear what was being discussed with the new customer, but he could infer what it was about from context and the innuendos that were being used, having himself been approached by the same man the day before.
As the negotiation progressed, the merchant pulled a small girl, about ten years of age, to his side and continued the exchange. The girl was handed over to the client, who started to pat the girl’s back. She forced a smile and gazed at him with her slanted black eyes as he counted pesos, clearly negotiating the price with the seller. The rough equivalent of three US dollars was finally exchanged and the girl was gently pushed inside a makeshift change room right behind them. The room was made of old blankets which were suspended from a two-metre height and touched the grimy concrete. The customer waited for several minutes as he looked nervously around. He chatted with the merchant for a while longer and then followed the young girl inside and closed the blanket shut.
The monocular shook a little as it refocused on the seller. Marco’s heart was racing and he was aware of it. The thought that, behind the curtains, a little girl was likely already on her knees performing an act that should be reserved for her first love much later in life—not an old and fat foreigner—sickened him. Marco’s heart slowed and reaccelerated like the cars stuck in the traffic below. Aware that he had to stop thinking that an innocent girl was being humiliated for less than the price of a good coffee, he closed his eyes and took several deep breaths to settle himself. Three lungs full and it was almost done. Marco felt his heart beat against the hot loose stone of the roof he was resting on and refocused his eyes.
He listened to his own heartbeat and controlled his breathing some more. His pulse slowed down gradually as his muscles relaxed and his nerves calmed down. His senses started to heighten and his vision became clearer. He held his breath one last time and, in between heartbeats, squeezed the trigger, releasing a soft click from the muzzle of his rifle.
Marco took a second to recover from the recoil and reacquire his target. The merchant was on the grubby sidewalk, his shattered head lay in a rapidly expanding pool of his own blood. He didn’t wait to see the girl emerge from the change room, nor did he saw the reaction on her face, as she looked at her pimp lay dead. The guards and police protecting the Supreme Court on the other side of the street rushed to see why everyone had ran in all directions, screaming. The police had not cared for the seller before or what he was selling, but now they did.
It was with practiced hands that Marco disassembled his rifle, walked to the staircase and made his way to one of the ten parking levels and hid his weapon in the trunk of an old Toyota. Before closing the trunk, he connected two wires together and went directly to the nearby mall entrance. Upon entry, he was searched by the guard on duty, a common practice in the Philippines, and subsequently disappeared in the throng of people milling around the atrium. It was lunch time and he knew that the majority of these people were in the mall to cross from one end to another in the cool comfort of the air conditioning, its clean and obstacle-free floors almost beggar-free, gregarious real estate pitchmen and overly eager restaurant employees notwithstanding. Most of the shops were empty as usual and Marco quickly made his way out at the other end of the mall and took a multi-passenger taxi home. He closed his eyes as he compartmentalized his thoughts and feelings for the events that had transpired this morning.
He opened his eyes and found himself panting in his bed, its covers drenched in his sweat. He looked at the wall clock across the room and found that it was only four o’clock in the wee hours of the morning. The karaoke across the street was still open; an inebriated couple was torturing the microphone and everyone within an earshot with a dismal interpretation of Lady Gaga‘s Bad Romance. He always wanted to complain about that nightly ruckus to the local authorities, but as a local, he knew it was just the way it was.
He got up, urinated for a bit, and resumed reading the newspaper he had fallen asleep reading. The article was about him, “The Manila Sniper.” The field journalist had parroted the words of the local police chief who had said that the shooting was an isolated incident and that the man was likely deranged or that the victim probably had a run-in with a notorious drug syndicate. Marco opened his tube television and switched to a round-the-clock news channel. The anchors were concluding the last interview, speaking in rapid Taglish, and promised the latest update of The Manila Sniper next. He didn’t care much for people massively mixing English words with Tagalog to appear more educated; it had been that way for decades thanks to local trends and pop culture, and it would just have to be something he would have to live with. He took the opportunity to re-warm the rest of last night’s dinner and returned to sit at the edge of his bed as the newscast resumed.
Minutes passed and more useless news filled the airwaves before the news anchor made good on his promise and started listing the eight people that had fallen victim to the Sniper. Marco always grimaced at hearing that part, not because he regretted, but because the fourth victim had not been his doing. Also, like most times, one of the anchors returned to the second shooting and compared it to the latest one.
“Hannah, even the authorities refuse to admit it, we can safely assume now that the murders are not random; all victims except for the priest were known criminals or were killed as they were committing a criminal act as it was the case yesterday,” said the field reporter standing in the middle of a busy and noisy street in front of a yellow do not cross this line tape.
Marco had heard enough and he switched off the television. As he returned the empty plate to the kitchen counter, he spoke aloud in his native language,“That priest was a known pedophile, why can’t you grow balls and admit it on national TV? Bitches!”