Gray Resurrection (A Tom Gray Novel Book 2)

By: Alan McDermott


Friday 13 April 2012

If only he hadn’t written that note!

Arlan Banting’s infatuation with Maritess Cabanag had been going on for over a year now, and despite being one of the more popular boys in school, he had always been shy around the girls, never comfortable in forming close ties with his female classmates. It had taken months for him to pluck up the courage to invite her to Font’s and Mon’s Restaurant in Barangay Seaside, and another two weeks to save up enough dinner money to pay for their date, but it had been worth it. He’d discovered that he had more in common with Maritess than he could have ever wished for; they both loved the same music and films, and both played the guitar. Maritess also had the voice of an angel and wrote her own lyrics, which Arlan would put to music before they recorded their efforts on an ancient tape recorder.

One of Arlan’s immediate dreams was to buy a decent video camera so that he could record one of their sessions and then send it to all of the many talent shows airing on TV, but having a distinct lack of cash went hand in hand with living in Isabela City.

It had been a first-class city in the early sixties, but after the Moro rebellion razed the plantations it was relegated to a fifth-class province within a decade, and though it had a population of over eighty five thousand people, nobody lived in Isabela City: they simply existed.

Nobody, that is, except the criminal gangs who operated with near-impunity.

They consisted primarily of members of Abu Sayyaf, a military Islamist separatist group operating in Bangsamoro (from the Malay word Bangsa, meaning nation of people, and Moro, which refers to the Muslim population of the Philippines). Bangsamoro is an area comprising the Zamboanga Peninsula and the islands of Jolo and Basilan, the capital of which is Isabela City. The gangs controlled everything from the police and local judiciary to protection rackets and drugs, but their main source of income came from kidnapping. They had raised some hefty ransoms over the years, which replaced the donations they’d once received from their Muslim brothers overseas. Al-Qaeda in particular had been only too happy to help in their struggle for an independent province in the early days.

As Arlan strode through the city he regretted his decision to pass the note to Maritess rather than giving it to her after class. If only he’d waited another twenty minutes he wouldn’t have been kept behind after school to explain his actions to the principal, and he would have been able to take his normal route home in time to babysit his younger sister while their mother went to her evening job. As it was, the only way he would keep to his schedule was to take a detour down Veterans Avenue. His normal route home took him right at the bandstand followed by a left onto the Rizal Avenue extension, then onto La Piedad and finally down Lower Lanote Road and into a side street where his shanty house sat among a hundred others.

This circuitous route added an extra thirty minutes to his journey home but it meant he could avoid the Jolo Bar, a hangout for members of the Arroyo gang. Unlike the Abu Sayyaf gangs who collected money on behalf of their masters on Jolo Island, the Arroyo gang were in it for themselves. They would sit at the tables outside the bar, drinking San Miguel beer and smoking imported Marlboro cigarettes rather than the much cheaper locally produced version. Anyone who happened within thirty yards of them was fair game, as Arlan had found to his cost earlier that year. A group of five of them had stolen his meagre savings and beaten him for good measure. When his mother had reported the incident to the police they had promised to give it their full attention, then promptly binned the report once she’d left the station.

Like everyone else in Isabela, the police rarely ventured close to the Jolo Bar—unless it was to collect their weekly payoff for turning a blind eye.

Arlan was glad to see that no-one was occupying the chairs outside the bar, but still he quickened his pace, and was about four yards past the entrance when a hand on his shoulder stopped him in his tracks.

‘Saan ka pupunta?’

Where do you think you’re going?

Arlan knew the answer to the question was nowhere, and he turned to face the man who’d grabbed him. In fact there were four of them, all in their early twenties and most with cigarettes hanging from their mouths. The one with his hand still gripping Arlan’s shoulder put his face closer and the stench of stale beer on his breath made Arlan wince. The man’s teeth were already in the process of turning brown and Arlan suspected he hadn’t seen a tube of toothpaste in his life. He recognised him as the man who had beaten him back in January, and the others had called him Dindo.

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