Two minutes before every clock and wrist watch chimed or sent small electric shocks to alert each one of the impeding curfews. I watched as the second hand ticked to the last second, waiting for my own digital wrist watch to go off. The curfew had been implemented eight years ago by the former president. Once the man stepped down to let his successor take over, the curfew was sustained. Although there were some cities that had their own curfew time, they were still different from ours. Perhaps it was the state of this city that made the mayor outlaw late night activities.
Sure, hospitals and 24-hour convenience stores existed, but establishments other than those were close to nonexistent. There were some who went underground where they concealed their activities in the guise of domesticity. However, no one truly knew and honestly; no one cared anymore. Not with the cops crawling the streets once it struck midnight.
“Hey Basti, are you ready?” When I was still a doe-eyed teenager, everything was so carefree, and even if it wasn’t safe to wander at night, I was free. With these laws that governed us, it became suffocating. But what can we do? We were mere citizens who abide by the law. The laws written by the people who were supposed to represent us. I don’t blame the legislators, though. The killings were rampant back then. Vigilantes were springing out of nowhere like mushrooms, murdering and labelling the alleged criminals, as if they were bringing justice to the society they claimed to be unjust. However, look where that got us: A society filled with so many restrictions and people who believed they had a license to kill.
“Yeah. Are we using the patrol car or are we taking a stroll?” I asked as I took off my watch and adjusted my armor. I always believed that ensuring public safety was the first step to a better living situation. Apparently, civic safety now meant we have to barricade the public in the confines of their home. Never to set foot on the streets when the clock struck twelve, or they get arrested for blatant disregard of law and sedition. Sure, they get a good amount of jail time, but in this part of the country, those who were detained tend to never come back. They are often associated with the los disaparidos, but in more legal terms since they underwent a semi due process.
Death Penalty was just as common as a static and censored TV network. Court proceedings were short and if the suspect was proved to be innocent, he was freed, if he was guilty, he climbs the priority list in Doctor Kim’s appointments in the old penitentiary up north.
Snap, snap. “Quit day dreaming, lover boy. We’ve got to make sure the streets are safe,” my partner said as he snapped his fingers in front of my face. I glared at him and swatted his hand away. It only earned me a hearty laughter. His laugh was annoying. He had that squeaky windshield wiper kind of laughter, that grated on my nerves every time. We’ve been partners for the past nine months, and he knew about my not-quite the established relationship with Amelia. It was that one time I was texting her about a location to meet up, and he took it as me asking her out for a date. However, in reality, we were merely meeting up, so she could give me the stuff I left with her best friend. Thus, the nickname. My love life was complicated like that.
It was a quarter before curfew, and we were quietly strolling in a brightly lit street. Santo Antonio was a main street. A few years back, it was where most of the female escorts loitered. It was the center of midnight activities. Quite a bold move, really, but I guess even the authorities turned a blind eye on them because they knew what kind of situation they were in. This city was wealthy and at the same time, impoverish. Women had to sell their flesh while men were forced to rob just to get by. I guess that’s what forced the local legislators to implement the strict curfew and a policy of shoot to kill.
I glanced at Rafi as we turned to a narrow alley. The light was dim, but it was enough for us to make out the shadows that lingered along the walls. “Hey, it’s almost curfew! Go home!” He shouted at the group of what appeared like teenagers upon a closer look. I flashed my light at them, and they began to run. “Yeah, you do that before a psycho catches you!” Rafi shouted again and once the kids were gone; he grinned at me. “See, this is what we do. We warn them of the dangers of the night.” Psychos. That’s what Rafael called the vigilantes who continued to lurk in the shadows of the law. Bodies still floated upstream every few months, but they weren’t as often as eight years ago. Back then, three or so bodies were found every month with ”Criminal: do not emulate" scrawled across their bare flesh in what looked like scratches. It started in May and by the end of October, they were using hot iron branding. They were branding criminals like they would to animals.
“They’re not really psychos, Raf. They’re just trying to put justice in their own hands. Call it desperation, if you will.” I chided him, but Rafi just scrunched his nose up and his eyes turned into tiny crescents as he squinted at me. “It’s cold blooded murder, you jerk. That’s why we,” he gestured at our badges, “are employed. We give justice. One with a due process where everyone gets equal footing.” I could only nod and sigh because any kind of argument was dead to him. There was no point in elaborating my position in the great debate of vigilante mentality.
“It’s funny how we’re kind of exempted from this curfew, though,” he suddenly mused as we turned to another alley. This one was darker than the one where we found the kids. “As you’ve mentioned, we’re getting paid to serve and protect the good citizens of this city.” I have always been the poetic one in the pair. I could imagine Rafael scoff but he hissed at me instead, “Shh! Shut up, Sebastian.” I only rolled my eyes and tried to strain my ears to listen. We both stiffened when we heard the sound of rustling and crackling.
There it was: a soft cry. Much like a kid’s.
“Did you hear that?” I asked as I groped for my gun. This would probably be labeled as unusual activity and in this kind of situation, we were supposed to observe and report. It was a dark and deserted alley. There wasn’t supposed to be any sound coming from anywhere near here. This was a commercial district by day and a desolated area by night. “I’m not deaf, stupid,” he hissed again and took out his phone. “Go and check it out. I’m contacting the chief.” He said and gestured for me to go on. “I’ve got your back, don’t worry,” he mouthed, and I only nodded, following the standard operational procedure in raids with a possibility of resistance.
Resistance was often these days that we were forced to call backup to be safe. I sneaked closer to the empty building, aiming my flashlight at the glass window to check for any kind of activity. Whatever they were cooking up in there would be considered illegal. People were supposed to be home, not in their business establishments at dawn. I didn’t see anything, though. Just jewelries that gleamed at the touch of light.
It was quiet once again. The sound of our boots hitting the pavement was the only noise that echoed in the barely lit alley. Rafael was constantly on his phone as we continued to walk.
An abandoned power plant.
It was shut down when the owner of G Corp was convicted for drug abuse four years ago. Now, it housed the homeless from predators. A security guard was usually posted there to ensure the safety of the new residents, as requested by the Gu widow. Tonight, though, the guard was nowhere to be seen. Huh.
Rafael flashed his light across the several floors of the building. There were people, of course, but it was quiet and we both knew that they would be asleep by now.The sound of rustling, crackling and soughing was back, and we stilled once we heard it. Rafael and I exchanged looks and followed procedure. I was to check, and he was to contact the Headquarters. I crept closer to the tall barbed wire that stretched around the lot. I searched our surroundings for unusual movements. There wasn’t anything out of place, but only to be sure, I flashed the light to the building, exactly like what Rafi did. Nothing.
“I swear; this is too weird to be a coincidence.” Rafi muttered and sent a text to the chief that it’s all clear. Nothing suspicious here.
I could feel the anxiety bubbling around him as we continued to walk, and it was contagious. Fear was infectious. Even glorified policemen feared for their lives. After all, we had families who depend on us. After the sun rose, they expect and hope that we would return home safely, just like the way we left. Alive and unscathed.
“Rafi, shut up and calm down. We’ll be fine.” I assured him, “What can they do?” However, my statement only seemed to make my partner feel uneasy. I shook my head and patted his back. We were going to be fine. This is just another night. Another shift that we’ll get through. Tomorrow night, we’ll be back crawling the streets of this city again.
“Oh, I can name twenty different things that they can do,” I heard him whine, but he was more alert and perhaps a little antsy too. Maybe even to the point of trigger happy. ”We’ll be fine.” I told him firmly, enough to believe it myself, but not enough to let my gun back into its holster. That got him to shut up. Unlike nearly everyone in the force, I’m not too trigger happy. I don’t shoot to kill. Even so, I kept my gun near, threatening anyone who came too close to home. I like giving the people a chance to redeem themselves. I still recite their Miranda Rights even if nowadays, it’s a no-brainer to deliver them. After all, suspects will either run or shoot you in the face.
We walked quietly once more, rounding a corner and jogging toward the plaza rotunda. It was eerily quiet, just like every night. The only sound that penetrated the stillness of the air was the sound of crickets and the wind rustling the leaves.
“I’ll probably never get used to this.” I sighed and pointed my flashlight at the corner where I heard rustling. It turned out to be a dog settling in for the night. It reminded me of my day shifts two years back. That was around the time I met Sunny, Amelia’s best friend, also known as my former girlfriend. “Don’t get used to it, or you’re dead.” I heard Raf grumble before jogging towards a vending machine. I followed him in a slower pace, catching the drink he tossed at me.
“I’ll try not to,” I grinned and opened the can, the soda fizzling out of the rim. “But seriously, man, don’t get too used to this. There will come a time that we won’t have to do this anymore.” He said, a wistful tone in his voice. I took it as the strict curfew getting lifted and the S2K policy was terminated. No civilians playing hero.
“Yeah,” I agreed in the same tone he used. After downing the drink, we continued our patrol, quietly exchanging stories of our day-to-day activities. Rafael shared a tale of his little boy finally receiving the Holy Communion. He had to stay up all day to attend the service and be a supportive and proud father to his only son. Raf punctuated his sharing with a dry laugh. No wonder he was extra grumpy tonight. Sleeplessness had that effect on people.
“So have you gone on a date with that Amelia girl yet?” He asked and smiled, the emotion not meeting his eyes. I shook my head, and he laughed at that admittance. That stupid annoying laughter. I hated that laugh. However, it was cut short when the awful noise of metal clanging against metal and gravel crunching under the weight of boots reverberated in a deserted street. We were almost circling back to the Santo Antonio street, and I was in no mood to return to a street that we’ve already checked. ”Go,” Rafael whispered and took out his gun, pointing it at the direction where the noise came from. I sighed and followed suit, taking my gun out and a flashlight to shine some hope into this dreary world. Have I mentioned I was poetic?
I approached the corner and aimed my gun at the empty street. For a second, I held my breath as I surveyed the area. Nothing moved. Nothing breathed. “Nothing here,” I called out, then glanced at Rafael.
A gunshot rang and the next thing I knew; I was kissing the graveled pavement. My chest was painful, and I was heaving. The air was pushed out of my lungs. I grasped pathetically for breath. A stabbing noise was the first thing I heard when I regained my sense of hearing. The kind that’s too grotesque that you’d rather put your television on mute.
Then, another gunshot.
The last thoughts that crossed my mind were along the lines of useless bulletproof vests, false advertising, Amelia who texted me earlier about a date that I haven’t replied to, Rafael’s horrible laugh that I should have tried to like and sympathizing with my own killers, despite the possibility of them being actual criminals instead of pretend heroes of the contemporary times.
I was going to die as a sympathizer to these vigilantes with no hope for vengeance or justice.
Because these are all means for survival.
They were trying to protect themselves, like a titanium steel vest. A titanium steel blade.
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