e-mail: cmgtrinidad [ at ] gmail dot com
Tristan sat inside one of the booths in the café, his eyes scanning the room for the waitress his friend Mark had mentioned. If you need anything, man, just go to Café Salvacion. Look for Salve.
As if his very thoughts had summoned her, the waitress appeared in front of him, a bright, cheery smile on her face. "Good evening, sir, my name is Salve," she said cheerfully as she pointed to the nameplate pinned on her uniform. She handed him the menu. "What will you be having today, sir?"
He put the menu down without glancing at it. "Salve. Hi. Um. A friend told me that I could come here if there was a—er—job that I wanted done. You know." He wanted to kick himself for being so vague about the whole thing, but he didn't want to say anything as straightforward as hit or murder; it reminded him of the gravity of what he was about to do, something he would rather not think about.
"Oh, you mean the House Special. Of course." She took out a ballpen and a notepad. "The name of the target, sir?"
Tristan could only stare at her, for the smile on her face had not wavered as she spoke. She could have been taking down the usual order of a customer, for all her casualness.
"We get people like you all the time, sir," she explained, seeing his look of bewilderment. "It's really nothing out of the ordinary." Her smile grew even wider as she repeated, "Name of the target, sir?"
He swallowed before speaking. "Alfred Villegas." Anger flared inside him again as he spoke the name, remembering the bastard's smug face as the judge proclaimed the "Not guilty!" verdict. Everyone knew he had committed the rape and murders of all those women, including those of Tristan's wife, Jane. But Mr. Salvador was a powerful man, with ties even to the mayor of the city, and so was still declared innocent, just as people said he would. Tristan had fought on anyway, spending a big portion of their savings on the bigshot lawyer he hired, the best defense lawyer in the metro, they said, but in the end they still lost the case.
He lost everything. No—Villegas took everything from him.
Salve had brought out her phone, and she typed into it. "What is his full name? Is it Alfred Vargas Villegas, or Alfred Urquico Villegas?"
"Alfred Urquico Villegas. I will never, ever forget his name."
She typed some more into her phone, her fingers almost flying off the screen. "Alfred Urquico Villegas. He comes from a prominent political family originating from the North. He previously served as a councilor of the third district of the city, but has now retired from politics supposedly to concentrate on the family business. He was acquitted of seven murder-rape charges—"
"Eight," Tristan cut in. Jane, he thought, the familiar pain gripping his heart. "That's an old article."
Salve nodded. "Eight. I apologize. He was acquitted because even though he has retired from politics, he still has a great deal of influence over the police and the judges of the court of the city. This is the target?"
Salved nodded. "This target is acceptable." She went back to her phone, and he could see that she was now loading images in it. He caught a glimpse of Mr. Salvador surrounded by his numerous bodyguards before she put the phone back into her pocket.
"He's quite well known, and security is tight around him, so this might take longer than usual," she told him. Her smile had now faded into a concerned frown, and her eyebrows furrowed. "Will you be willing to wait, sir?"
"Of course," Tristan said. "I've waited long enough for this."
Salve nodded, and her smile returned. "All right. Thank you, sir."
"How much is will this cost?" He still had some amount of money left in their bank account, and he was willing to spend all of them on this last ditch effort to get justice.
Salve raised an eyebrow. "Did your friend not tell you, sir? The House Special is... shall we say, on the house."
"We do not charge for this service."
He scratched his head in bewilderment. "I really don't have to pay anything? What's the catch?"
"There is no catch, sir." Salve patted his shoulder gently. "In fact it is you we have to thank for allowing us to do this service for you."
"Thank me? But why—"
"Would you like anything else, sir?" Salve said, as if she hadn't heard anything he said. "We have a wide selection of coffees. Would you like perhaps our bestseller, the Sitan Roast, or the Cristobal Roast? We have decaf and non-coffee options, too."
He really had not come here for anything else other than to ask about the hit, but he decided it was rude not to at least purchase a drink before leaving. He ordered the first thing he saw on the menu ("Iced Asuang Roast, very good choice, sir,") and sat back in the booth, staring out the window and seeing nothing at all.
He was still staring out the window, his coffee forgotten on his table, when Salve returned. He started when she saw her, and he felt like he was waking from a dream. "Good evening. Thank you for waiting, sir. She set down on the table before him a plate of kare-kare* and steamed rice. The smell wafted over to him, making his stomach growl in response. He hadn't realized how hungry he was. His grief had kept him from thinking of anything else but revenge, and he hadn't had a decent meal in days.
"What's this?" Tristan asked. "I didn't order anything else." But he eyed the food desperately, licking his lips.
"Thank you for waiting, sir," Salve said. "Enjoy your meal."
She left without another word, leaving Tristan gaping at her. When she still didn't return and he could no longer take the hunger, he grabbed the plate and started wolfing down the food. He didn't know if it was just because he had been so hungry, but this was, hands-down, one of the best kare-kare he had ever eaten in his entire life. He even ate all the intestines they had put in the dish—he used to hate it when his grandmother did that even when he insisted that he didn't want to eat any animal's internal organs—but this time he ate them all without a moment's hesitation.
As he was licking his spoon clean, he glanced up at the television blaring above the counter at the front of the counter. A shiver ran down his spine.
Tristan walked over to the television screen, his eyes wide enough to pop out of their sockets.
The news was on. It showed a group of policemen surrounding a large mansion, with the news reporter scrambling to get statements from them.
The headline at the bottom of the screen read: "Former city councilor slain inside home".
"Former city councilor, Mr. Alfred Villegas, was attacked in his home in Granada Boulevard, Manila, just a few minutes ago," the reporter said. "The former councilor has been declared dead by the responding officials, while three of his bodyguards are in critical condition."
The reporter walked over to a man sitting on the ground in front of the gate, his head buried in his hand.
"Mr. Arturo Andres is one of the few surviving members of the former councilor's security team, having luckily walked away from the attack with only minor wounds." She almost shoved the microphone into the man's face. "Did you see the attacker, Arturo? Who could have—"
"She was so strong," the man said, his head still buried under his arms. "She took out Manny first, knocking him out with a single blow. Then she went for Ernesto and Trining and then me—" He looked up at the reporter, finally. The camera zoomed in on his face. His eyes were bloodshot, and three angry gashes lined his face. "She opened her mouth and growled. She growled. Like an animal. And then she came at me, scratching my face with those long, long nails of hers. I ran and hid. But I saw everything. She finally got to the councilor, and she—she—" He let out a strangled cry. "She tore out everything."
"What do you mean, everything—"
"Everything. Everything inside the mayor. His heart, liver, intestines—"
Tristan felt his dinner rise up into his throat. He fell to the floor and threw up all of it onto the café floor.
"Sir," Salve said. "How did you enjoy your meal?"
"What," he gasped, "what did you do?"
"I merely did what you asked us to do," she said, her voice still all bright and cheerful. "Isn't that right?"
Tristan could only stare wildly at her.
"There are so many constraints placed upon us these days, but thankfully, people like you give us a way out of some of them," Salve said. "That man was a vile criminal, unpunished by your imperfect laws. The higher laws that govern us will see nothing wrong, then, with us carrying out the punishment that he should have suffered."
She reached out to take his hand, but he shook her away. "Thanks to you ordering the House Special, sir, we now have meat enough to last us all for the night. To show our gratitude, we thought it was only proper to give you a portion of what you have provided for us. It was good, wasn't it?"
"Who—" Tristan swallowed back the bile that had again risen to his throat. "Who are you?"
Salve shrugged. "We are what we are, sir. Just that."
Tristan looked around, and realized that all of the customers of the café were looking at him now. He didn't know if it was the trick of the light or lightheadedness from all the vomiting he had just done, but it seemed to him that their eyes all glowed a bright crimson.
"Well everyone," Salve said, turning to the café's other patrons. "Dinner time, at last." They all grinned back at her, their teeth glinting in the harsh yellow lights of the café. She served them all plates of the kare-kare, which they all gobbled up hungrily, desperately.
Tristan scrambled to his feet and ran out of the café, his mouth open in a silent scream, running blindly in sheer horror.
"Thank you for coming," Salve called out after him. "Come back again soon." She closed the door, and the bell tinkled softly, breaking the stillness of the evening.
*kare-kare: Philippine cuisine. This is a stew made with peanut sauce and containing oxtail, feet, tripe, but sometimes other recipes put in pig intestines and occasionally even bone marrow.