The assembly took place at exactly 12 midnight, behind a lone McDonald’s along Mindanao Avenue. Twenty of the city’s toughest killers, thieves and other criminals gathered for this historic night to determine the leadership for the coming year. At 67, the gang leader, Arnulfo Dimagiba had held the same position three years straight.
The others are still convinced that he is the best man for the job. Several counts of assault, armed robbery, illegal narcotics – you name it, Arnulfo has done it in his lifetime. His face and body bore the brunt of endless abuse and intoxication. His pinched face sported a long scar that ran sideways from the right cheek to the left side of his jaw – a trophy from a prison riot in 2009 where he was said to have killed over a dozen men in order to survive.
The gang selected three of their best candidates. Each candidate will be given enough time to speak of his ‘achievements’ in the current year. The rest will vote if he is worthy to replace Arnulfo. The self-styled king didn’t want to leave just yet. He was sure that his lifetime achievements have sealed a permanent position for him in the gang.
He never said it out loud because he wanted the others to believe that democracy was alive and well. He lorded over the others through fear, memory, force and through accomplices who “took care of business” for him.
The first candidate to step forward was Lino. Lino never spoke or opened his mouth. He relied on his arms and legs to do all the talking. Lino was an armed robber – the best in his class. It was rumored that he commandeered a truck loaded with Toyota Vioses on his lonesome and never got caught. Arnulfo spoke at length about how Lino contributed to the group by disposing of traitors and snitches. He praised Lino’s efforts and gestured to the group: here is a man with balls the size of watermelons. A worthy man.
But, Arnulfo continued, he is too young to lead. So I think this year, Lino, the group will not benefit from your leadership yet. Maybe next year.
The second candidate was a man known only to his peers as Larry. Larry loved banks and ATM machines. He couldn’t stay away from them even if you chained him to a lamppost. He rigged ATM machines and held up people withdrawing cash. Agile and intelligent, he is an asset to the group when it is in need of quick cash.
Arnulfo once again praised Larry’s achievements and even poured a glass of Fundador for him. Larry drained the filthy glass with relish and held it at his side, waiting for the King’s recommendation of him as a new leader.
“However… There is the matter of the money you owe me. That you have not paid.”
Larry was stone-faced. He turned his back and took his place at the back of the congregation. He owed Arnulfo more than 50,000 pesos. He used it for his wife’s kidney treatments. Larry’s wife died three months ago and he had been unable to produce the amount plus interest.
Arnulfo faked a deep sigh. “Is there no one here worthy enough to take the place of an old man?” He stood up and gestured dramatically to the band of thieves and killers. Many were already nodding in agreement – there is no one else worthy but Arnulfo.
A young boy, Santos, stepped forward. “I think I can do it, sir.”
Arnulfo laughed merrily, holding his belly. He shook his long, greasy hair and exposed his rotten teeth in a sardonic smile. “Santos, son of Larry. I like your guts. I can make you a messenger. Money, boy. If you are loyal enough, you’ll have lots of it in no time.”
Santos smiled. His face was merry and light. Arnulfo believed everything was in the bag. It was good to be the leader for another year.
A few moments later, Arnulfo is face down on the pavement, his blood painting the muddy concrete a sick crimson. Santos tilted his head to the left to study his handiwork. Satisfied, he turned to face the stunned group of criminals.
Santos put his foot casually on Arnulfo’s back. He holstered his .38 pistol at his back, where it was waiting, cocked and loaded, since 12 midnight.
Santos smiled and addressed the group for the first time, as the King of Kings.
“He talked too much, don’t you think?”