IT WAS A MONDAY AFTERNOON, around past one. The high noon heavy traffic had subsided along Marcelo Avenue. It is the main highway named after the capital city of La Isla Colonia, a tropical island country in the Pacific region.
This country was smaller than its nearest neighbor, the Philippines, two thousand kilometers west. La Isla Colonia was comparable to the size of the Philippine’s Luzon island. And unlike Metro Manila, Marcelo was only congested during daytime because almost all government offices and businesses were in this capital city. That explained the traffic.
An imperial metallic blue BMW 7 sedan drove fast towards the Metropolitan Court. It seemed to hurry to be there on time. Yet, for the passenger, Attorney Huan Aisea Komani, everything felt so slow.
The tropical hot but windy weather might have contributed to the slow pace of that afternoon. Flame trees and perennial flowering shrubs lined the center island and the sides of the main road. The fern-like leaves of the trees danced with the wind; small yellow and orange petals flew and fell to the ground. The flowers were bright and cheerful in their golden yellow, yellow-orange, pink, and white petals.
Were they chicory, cosmos, asters, or mums? Huan observed it all inside the car.
He sat in the backseat instead of him driving. The government hired a driver to take them to court today. It was a comforting thought that he was inside an air-conditioned car. But despite inside a bullet-proof, air-conditioned, government-provided vehicle, Huan felt unprotected. Police escorts and their glaring sirens surrounded his car, yet Huan felt vulnerable. He had his personal reasons for feeling that way.
“You don’t have to worry about anything today,” he heard Attorney Natalie Noguerra beside him.
Huan looked at her. Sitting beside a beautiful, strong, female associate could also be intimidating. He felt the stress starting to get into him. For one, the case became glaring headlines in newspapers and tabloids. For another, the gossip he heard about her personal life might affect how he would handle the case.
“We’ll just have the arraignment today,” she continued. “The judge doesn’t want to continue with the trial this week. Today’s media coverage is too sensational. He planned to have the frenzy to lie down a bit.”
Huan agreed with her in his thoughts. This case he was going to face was one of the most sensational criminal trials in the Colony’s history.
“We also have the prerogative to schedule the trial every Monday and Thursday starting next week,” Natalie continued. “Attorney Fortuna had planned it that way. That is IF you would still like that schedule now that YOU’RE the Acting Chief Prosecutor.”
Huan didn’t speak. He just listened. She sounded so fierce yet calm, sarcastic even. He tried to figure out why she sounded that way. Feeling lonely? Defeated? Or just being bitter?
They were nearing the courthouse. At a distance, he saw the parked OB vans from various local and foreign news networks. The media would cover the arraignment that afternoon. They had been there since early morning to get the best vantage point for their respective coverage.
“We’re here,” Natalie said as she saw the OB vans, too. She felt more excited than he was.
This is it. Huan thought to himself and took a deep breath.
“Why so quiet, Inspector Komani?” she asked.
She still called him “Inspector” rather than “Attorney”, although Huan didn’t mind.
“Nothing,” Huan answered as he looked at her. “Tired, I guess,” he took a deep breath, “and I lacked sleep.”
The car turned right to a driveway and stopped in front of the steps of the monumental court.
No one could miss that fifteen-story historical building from afar. Marcelo has been a fusion of modern and its colonial past. The old Metropolitan Court building stood tall. Built with centuries-old brick reddish-brown tiles but modernized with tinted glass windows with black iron frames, and a gold-plated sign on its facade. The driveway had a landscape that defined beauty and functionality. An old white statue of Iustitia stood in front of the landing.
But why are you so unfair to me, Lady Justice? Huan asked himself as he saw the building’s façade and the statue.
The media and the police rushed towards the newly arrived car.
In an instant, Huan became a celebrity. He didn’t like it at all, although his looks could pass for a celebrity if he wanted to. His features were mixed Native Colonial and Chinese. He stood at five feet and five inches. He has short black hair with no visible partitions. His complexion has a light tint of brown. His broad forehead was slightly covered by a pair of eyeglasses which also concealed his pair of small black eyes. The eyeglasses perched on the bridge of his small pointed nose. His medium-built physique showed no physical deformity.
“See that media attention you’re getting? I’m still wondering why THEY chose YOU over ME,” Natalie snorted.
Huan stared at Natalie.
She could be a legal diva if there was such a term. She was smaller, around five feet and three inches in height, her hair dyed brown black which fit its length. Apple cut, most people called it. Her eyes were big, dark brown, her nose was small and not too pointed, light beige skin, slim, a Spanish-Chinese mestiza, beautiful by today’s standards. She reminded him of someone he once knew and loved: his ex-wife.
Huan knew that Natalie was in a relationship. He had heard of rumors and had read today’s papers. But he was not interested in her or her story. A personal question had just entered his mind.
“Don’t worry, Attorney Noguerra,” Huan said to her. “After this arraignment, I’ll return immediately to the headquarters. I’ll tell Chief to help me relieve myself of this post. I hope THAT should make you feel happy.”
Huan grabbed his leather briefcase as a security escort opened the door for him. Security personnel surrounded him as he went out of the car. He looked confident in his suit made from native fabric materials matched with black pants and leather shoes. He pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose, straightened out his suit, and moved forward.
Huan didn’t see whatever happened to Natalie. He thought she might have gone out to the other door. All he remembered was her red dress topped with a black blazer. Everything in her was small — small face, short hair, slim body, short height. Yet, she looked like a stronger, powerful lawyer than him, and he started liking it somehow.
Cameras flashed before his far-sighted eyes, almost blinding him. The glaring sunlight was not enough. The media bombarded with lots of questions. He could hear a couple of distinct questions but the noise from the media drowned them into a buzz. Yet, the bottom line was, why was he there?
Huan went up the steps towards the main doorway. People surrounded him while walking. These are the people he didn’t know, yet he felt accountable for. Upon reaching the top landing, near the statue, Huan turned around and spoke to the media men. He then saw Natalie beside him, smiling at the media men.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Huan said in a loud voice as he raised his free hand, smiling. “I know that you’re monitoring this event since day one. Let us not make this a media circus, I beg you. Let us remember that we’re seeking justice for the victims. I promised the Clanrys that Attorney Natalie Noguerra and I will do our best to help attain justice.”
He made a fist and pointed his thumb at Iustitia behind him. He hoped he had stated his point clearly.
He turned around and made his entrance to the courthouse. Together with Natalie and their escorts, he went to the elevator to go upstairs where the assigned courtroom was.
Security personnel had blocked the media from following them to the elevator.
Damn, Attorney Fortuna! Huan thought as the elevator door closed in front of him.
Attorney Renato Fortuna should be the one handling this; it was his case in the first place. Huan, as the investigator assigned to this case before, helped the lawyer figure out the puzzle for the prosecution. But the Colony’s best prosecutor’s sudden death changed everything.
Reports said that doctors declared Attorney Fortuna dead on arrival at the hospital not far from the courthouse. An unknown gunman shot him on the head and chest last Friday afternoon while on his way to that very court. He was alone at the time of the shooting.
Huan had this feeling that they were after Attorney Fortuna. “They” meant their “enemies”. And now, he felt it was his turn. Come on, shoot me now, Huan challenged the Fates as the elevator climbed its way up to the fourteenth floor.
“NO, CHIEF, I CAN’T,” Huan remembered saying as he dropped the folder in front of the Chief last Friday evening. Almost six hours had passed after they learned of Attorney Fortuna’s ambush.
For Huan, the office of the Chief of the Criminal Investigation Division was a total mess. Pinned articles, photos, Post-its, and even bills overcrowded the corkboard behind the Chief. The Chief’s table was full of papers, too. Huan couldn’t understand how his boss could think of the department’s current cases when his desk was this disorganized.
“Please, Huan,” said General Emilio Teo Quitano swinging on his swivel chair. “I know you can do it. The whole Criminal Investigation Division knows you can do it.”
General Quitano was a few months short of retirement. His receding hairline didn’t match his square face. He had a broad forehead, thick brows, and deep-set eyes, but it worked well to express himself as an authority. His looks defined a pure-blooded Colonial, dark brown Polynesian in features, height, and built. His voice said so, too. No one, not even Huan, can defy that kind of authority.
“I don’t think I can, Chief,” Huan said. “The arraignment will be on Monday. That only gives me less than three days to review this case. I don’t think I’m ready.”
“You’re not only an investigator, Huan. You’re a lawyer, too.”
“My job is done, Chief. Better look for another lawyer. The Justice Secretary might have someone else in mind. Besides, Attorney Fortuna had an associate lawyer. She might be better than me to represent the prosecution.”
Huan turned away from the Chief and looked outside their office window. He gave a deep breath as he saw the red lights coming from the vehicles lit up the highway that early Friday dusk. Traffic started to build up, he observed. It would be nice to have a bottle of cold beer before going home.
“Secretary De Leon doesn’t think she will win the case for the Department of Justice. You know that the Secretary is also a politician. With the national elections coming, the ruling party would rather put their bet on you rather than on an ambitious lawyer like her,” the general said. “Besides, with the rumors about Attorney Natalie Noguerra mushrooming at every corner, no one, not even the Secretary of Justice, would like to be associated with her right now.”
Politics! Was this trial all about politics? Huan grinned as he shook his head at the thought of it.
“Is she still part of the prosecuting team?” Huan asked.
“Who? Natalie?” General Quitano replied. “Yes, but only as your associate because you’ll need her. The Secretary of Justice, with the concurrence of the Secretary of Interior, has already approved and signed your appointment this afternoon,” the Chief said as he took out a paper from a folder on top of a pile on his desk. “Here, read this Department Order. But, this matter is still confidential. Let the media and the public assume that it will be Noguerra who will replace Fortuna. The Justice Department wants to surprise the other side.”
Huan turned around and took the paper from the General. It was a Department Order signed by the two department secretaries about Huan’s appointment replacing Attorney Renato Fortuna in this particular case. Huan read it, shook his head, and returned the memo to the Chief.
“I can’t handle this case,” Huan said. “Besides, I prefer working more as an investigator in this division rather than becoming the government’s prosecutor. Would the public be mad if they learn at the last minute that I’ll be the prosecutor?”
“No, I don’t think so. Listen Huan, you’re the next person who knows this case from top to bottom, inside and out,” said General Quitano. “We can no longer postpone the arraignment. The public clamor won’t stop. This case must go on as scheduled. I know you could win this case for us. I know you could nail Rosanna Marquez-Sy on the cross, the same way we rounded up Fonsy’s men in that buy-bust operation years ago.”
THAT was the problem. SHE was Rosanna Marquez. But how could I tell THAT to my chief and to everyone the whole truth?
HUAN TRIED TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION inside his head as they stepped out of the elevator. Huan, Natalie, and their escorts turned left and one of them held Huan’s shoulder to protect the lawyer from the expecting media men.
A few media men, who were given access to the fourteenth floor, crowded their way, popped questions that pissed Natalie. A few questions had gone too personal.
Once they reached the door, security personnel opened the door for them. It was the first time Huan noticed the mahogany door. A sign hung in front that said:
Metropolitan Trial Court of Marcelo
Branch No. 14-3
The numeric message could be too ironic for him. The courtroom was almost filled with people when they entered it, leaving the media men outside.
He saw the Clanrys — Maui’s parents and two other sisters — seated on the row next to the railings. Beside the Clanrys are Adi, his younger brother, and Jian, his son. He approached them and greeted them all.
Then Huan took his seat and placed his briefcase on the table. He took out a folder, set the briefcase aside, and placed the folder in front of him. As much as he would like to avoid looking at it, the more the text flashed before his eyes. The folder read:
República de La Isla Colonia vs. Rosanna Marquez-Sy
Huan wished to retreat and give up right then and there. God, why me? He asked. He felt punched in the gut. But then again, he had to think of the victim. Maui Clanry was not an ordinary victim of murder. She was his son’s former girlfriend, too. The girl Jian loved the most for two years. Huan took his pen and prepared a notepad.
Natalie had sat on the seat next to him. She, too, pulled out her folder and put it on top of the desk.
“You know, you’ve been acting weird since this morning,” she said and faced Huan. “Tell me, something Inspector, is this the first time you’re acting as a prosecutor in a trial court?”
Huan looked at her but didn’t speak.
“Look, I’ve been with Attorney Fortuna since I passed the Bar,” Natalie continued as she arranged the folders in front of her. “I’ve been doing prosecution trials for the last three years with him.”
“You know what, Attorney Noguerra? You should talk to Secretary De Leon,” Huan said, still staring at her but his right hand tightly gripped the pen he was holding. “Convince her that you’re the right lawyer for this case and not me. I would really appreciate it VERY much.”