“WHY DOES HE HAVE TO SOUND SO SARCASTIC?” Natalie asked herself. He took everything from me!
Natalie kept running these thoughts in her mind every time he looked at Huan. Huan, the usurper! You don’t deserve this media attention.
But then again, she thought it could also be a blessing in disguise. The fact that she remained an associate might be better for her. Not much media attention as compared to what Huan had right now. Ever since Attorney Renato Fortuna died, Natalie started to fear the worst that could happen next.
IT WAS LAST FRIDAY that Natalie asked Attorney Fortuna to wait for her. Natalie had this nagging feeling that she couldn’t decipher on her own. Even the washed mint green walls and warm yellow pin lights in the law office couldn’t calm her down. The low-humming sound of the air conditioner and the cool air it brought were already conducive to an afternoon siesta. Yet, Natalie couldn’t concentrate on what she was writing. Her hand started to sweat and shake as she dialed a number. She saw the Chief Prosecutor stood up and ready to go.
“I’d better be going, Nat,” Attorney Fortuna said to her. “The arraignment is at one-thirty. Given the traffic along Marcelo Avenue, I’ll be there at the Metropolitan Court on time.”
Attorney Renato Fortuna was a tall, large-framed guy that could wear any kind of suit well. He stood five feet ten inches tall. Streaks of gray hair started showing. The pair of eyeglasses suited him well. He looked like his politician grandfather, a former president of Republica de La Isla Colonia. Whenever you looked at a hundred peso bill, you would somehow see the resemblance of an aristocratic Spanish mestizo.
“Wait a minute, Rene,” Natalie said while holding the phone receiver. “I am expecting a document via email from our informant which you need to bring with you.”
“I don’t have much time to wait,” he said. “Be there as soon as you have it. I’ll see you there in court.”
“Please, let me go with you,” Natalie said, fidgeting as she put down the phone.
She stood up, went to the door, and stood beside Attorney Fortuna.
“I don’t know what I’m feeling right now,” she said. “I am uneasy. Can’t we go together? Fifteen minutes, that wouldn’t hurt, right Rene?”
Attorney Fortuna already took his briefcase, his coat, and held the doorknob.
“The arraignment won’t start without us, anyway,” continued Natalie hoping to stop the Chief Prosecutor on his tracks.
“Relax, Nat,” Attorney Fortuna said as he opened the door. “Don’t let this trial pressure you. We HAVE a strong case. I’ll go ahead, you follow, let’s meet there. Is that okay, partner?”
He put his hand on her face and gave him a smack on the lips.
Natalie saw him winked at her as he went out of the door. She tried to smile back but her worry remained on her face.
NATALIE HAD NO CHOICE but to drive her own car and follow Attorney Fortuna to the court. He had left less than fifteen minutes ago and she assumed that he arrived there on time. She started her engine and turned on the car radio. Jazz music filled her car with calm. She, too, felt the pressure of this case.
Halfway through her destination, an announcement interrupted the calm music.
“News just came in,” the radio disc jockey announced. “An unidentified gunman ambushed Chief Prosecutor Renato Fortuna who was on his way to the Metropolitan Court. Let’s hear the details from our reporter Joseph Valiente. Come in, Joseph.”
“An ambush happened at one o’clock this afternoon killing Chief Prosecutor Renato Fortuna right on the spot. He was en route to the Metropolitan Court for the arraignment of Rosanna Marquez-Sy, wife of the late businessman and alleged gambling lord, Alfonso “Fonsy” Sy, Sr. Witnesses said that an unidentified man riding in a motorcycle shot thrice the driver’s seat of the car hitting Attorney Fortuna on the head and chest. Police responded and the emergency medical team brought the lawyer to the Centro Medical de Marcelo where he was declared dead on arrival. However, the assassin escaped and went south probably to Cimitarra or Cimitarra Sur…”
Natalie’s mind froze when she heard the news. Then she realized that she was still driving a car.
“…We’ll provide you the next update during the hourly news report at two o’clock. Now back to our regular programming.”
Natalie immediately turned off the radio and parked the car at the side. Holding on to the steering wheel, she bowed her head, closed her eyes, and made a short silent prayer. Then she gathered herself and started the car engine once again. She made a U-turn and rushed to Centro Medical de Marcelo. She started to follow her instincts as she drove, trying not to break down.
CENTRO MEDICAL DE MARCELO had an elevated driveway that accented the green and flowery garden at its facade. The seven-story building was also a historical monument of the Colony’s past and regarded as the country’s best hospital. Behind it stood two ten-story buildings that housed the medical clinics on the left and the medical and nursing school on the right.
Natalie arrived at the emergency room of Centro Medical de Marcelo. She introduced herself to the receptionist. The receptionist told her that the late prosecutor was now in the morgue.
“Where’s the morgue?” Natalie asked.
“Lower ground floor, right wing,” the receptionist said.
Natalie thanked the receptionist and rushed to the right-wing of the hospital. Different thoughts already ran inside her head as she walked towards the morgue. As soon as she reached her destination, she saw two doctors going out of the door.
“Excuse me,” Natalie said. “I’m Attorney Natalie Noguerra, the associate of the Chief Prosecutor.”
Once she dropped her name, the doctors looked at each other. One of them faced her and said, “Attorney Noguerra, I’m Dr. Yahzu Tan, the Medical Examiner. I believe we haven’t met before.”
Dr. Tan was tall and thin, with curly hair and a brown complexion. The only Chinese in him was his name and everything else looked Colonial.
“Nice to meet you, doctor,” Natalie greeted and shook his hand. “How was…” she wasn’t able to finish her question.
“I’m sorry, Attorney,” the doctor cut her off. “The Chief Prosecutor was declared dead on arrival. He received one shot in the head. He did not survive the prolonged bleeding as two other bullets hit his heart and burst his lungs.”
“May I see him?” asked Natalie.
“I’m sorry, Attorney,” the doctor said. “But at this point, I decided to have his immediate family only to view his remains.”
“Did someone call his family already?”
“The ER nurse already did,” he said. “I was told that they’re on their way now.”
Natalie nodded in acknowledgment, speechless.
“It’s unfortunate that he was shot just a few minutes before the arraignment…”
That was what Natalie heard last from the doctor. Her mind was filled with thoughts that she didn’t notice the doctors had left her alone. When she turned, she saw Mrs. Maria Luisa Valencia-Fortuna, the new widow, walking towards her.
Maria Luisa wore an all-black blouse, a pair of black pants, a pair of black shoes, accentuated with a pair of pearl earrings, a pearl necklace, and a pearl bracelet. She was a simple and elegant Spanish mestiza, with her brown hair brushed back into a bun, exposing her fair skin and big brown eyes accentuated with a perfectly pointed nose and red lips. She epitomized a true descendant of the Spanish colonizers.
“Attorney Noguerra,” Mrs. Fortuna called in her Spanish-accented English. “Where are his remains?”
“Mrs. Fortuna, it’s inside the morgue,” she replied. “Attorney Fortuna had left the office less than fifteen minutes ahead of me. I tried to convince him that we’d go together as I was waiting for an important email. He said he wanted to be on time for the arraignment so he left without me. I was driving towards the courthouse when I heard the news and I rushed here instead. He shouldn’t be dead if he just believed me.” Natalie said that in a single breath and ended up about to weep.
Mrs. Fortuna stood still, composed, and tried not to cry.
“They’re waiting for you, Mrs. Fortuna,” Natalie said as she wiped the tears from her eyes. “Dr. Tan had just left. I’ll call them for you.”
“Gracias, Natalie. I’d better get inside and make the arrangements myself,” Mrs. Fortuna said.
“Condolence, Mrs. Fortuna,” Natalie said.
“Gracias. I’m also sorry for YOUR loss.”
Natalie froze for a moment when she heard those words. But she immediately gathered herself together and said, “I’d better go and get his briefcase from the car. I would need those for the trial.”
Both women turned toward opposite directions and left.
“Un momento,” Natalie heard Mrs. Fortuna.
She stopped, turned, and looked at the widow. “Yes, Mrs. Fortuna?”
“As soon as I have his remains at the memorial chapel,” the widow said, “I’ll allow you to visit him FIRST before I let the visitors in.”
Natalie stared at the calm widow, speechless, and thinking of what she heard.
“I don’t want you to think that I’m unfair to you,” Mrs. Fortuna continued. “You’ll be the first visitor on his wake. But promise me one thing…”
Natalie’s eyes grew bigger as she heard the word “promise”. She immediately thought of a consequence she couldn’t bear, a punishment or a death sentence she didn’t want to hear.
“Promise me that you’ll NEVER attend the wake AND his funeral,” Mrs. Fortuna continued. “Spare my family of the scandal, por favor.”
Natalie nodded at Luisa’s proposition. “Yes, I’ll promise…”
Mrs. Fortuna turned towards the morgue’s door and left Natalie standing in the middle of the hallway.
At least, I’m going to see Rene for one last time. That’s the only consolation Natalie kept on running inside her head.
NATALIE DIALED A NUMBER on her cellphone and waited for someone to answer the call.
“Inspector Komani, Attorney Noguerra here,” she said, sniffing as she had sobered from crying. “I’m at Centro Medical right now. Yeah, the doctor had declared him dead on arrival. Was his car secured? I need his briefcase. The documents are all in there. What? Why? Who ordered that? Oh, I see… Well, thank you very much for THAT information, Inspector.”
She put off her phone in anger. She shook her head in disbelief and started to cry again. First, she lost Rene, and now, this.
She walked sluggishly to the hospital parking lot, trying to find where she parked her car. As soon as she found her car and sat down on the driver’s seat, she started to feel her world crumbling.
“ATTORNEY, ARE YOU OKAY?” she heard a voice that snapped her out from daydreaming.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “Were you saying something?”
Huan tilted his head and said, “You convince Secretary De Leon to have you as this case’s Chief Prosecutor instead of me, that’s all,” he said.
“Yeah, THAT one,” Natalie said nodding.
Huan was about to say something more when the courtroom doors opened at exactly one-thirty.