Ernesto didn’t bother scolding the boy anymore. His mother already did a number on him last night and it was evident from the morose way he was fetching their bicycles from the shed behind the house that his ego was still bruised. Far be it for Major Ernesto Villegas to admit that his wife can scare him, but only an idiot would choose to stand in the line of fire, so to speak.
“Here you go, ‘Tay,” Cocoy said as he handed over his father’s mountain bike. Rust was already visible at the edges, on the gears and within the crevices of the brake obviously well-used, with fifteen years’ worth of wear and tear. Cocoy’s bike was much cleaner; it had been stuck inside the shed for a long time.
“You sure you still know the route? Didn’t forget it when you went to the mountains to fight with your comrades?”
His son didn’t respond. He just rolled his eyes rode away, leaving Ernesto to hurry behind him.
When Cocoy was little, they would wake up before dawn on the weekends and ride around the campus. There’s something about Diliman on a Saturday morning, when the students have all but disappeared, save for a few unlucky enough to have classes or assignments to finish, that made a cop feel at peace with the world. By the time Christmas rolls around, there’d be fog hanging over the trees, a refreshing chill in the air as they wander around.
He and Cocoy used to talk a lot then. The ride from their home in San Vicente and around the oval to the police headquarters on E. Jacinto consisted of Ernesto reliving exciting stories of himself catching criminals, bragging about the high-ranking generals he had met at work, reminiscing about the time when he and his wife were young and poor, working hard and struggling to survive.
Ernesto didn’t know how all that time had passed by. Suddenly, Cocoy was twenty years old with stories of his own. The difference was, Cocoy didn’t like sharing with him.
“I’ll never do anything to embarrass you.” Cocoy told him after a few minutes, out the blue.
“Never said you did, son. Your mom just worries a lot.”
They took a turn at University Avenue, going past rows of newly-planted sunflowers. Summer season meant the sun was already high above the horizon at six o’clock. Cocoy slowed down a little, seemingly lost in his own thoughts. “But you don’t disagree with what Nanay said last night. That I’m wasting my time.”
“Well if you ask me, hanging around at unruly rallies in Mendiola isn’t a good way to pass the time.”
“Not to mention that one of my own buddies in the riot police actually recognized you. And called me about it.”
“So you’re angry too,” Cocoy muttered.
Sighing, Ernesto tried to think of the best way to answer. The thing was, Cocoy was a good kid. Brilliant student, amazing considering Ernesto himself never did anything important in school except win over his future wife. But Cocoy was different. He was the kind of kid who could do something important. Change things.
“You’re young, Coy. And I know you want to learn how the world works. But doing things like that? Going to rallies? You only do that when you’re already all in, when you’re already sure of what you believe in. Are you?”
Cocoy grew silent. They didn’t talk anymore until they’d reached the empty field around the Math building. They were already on their way to C.P. Garcia when Cocoy suddenly stopped.
“What is it?”
“Something smells rotten over there.”
Ernesto went off the bike and walked to where Cocoy was pointing. He trailed behind his father, cautious. Sure enough, a swarm of flies hovered around the area just beyond a particularly high patch of grass. Dread bloomed from Ernesto’s spine, hoping that it was nothing more than a dead animal, but instincts told him it was something else.
Lying there, obscene in the bright glare of the sun, a body in blood-soaked barong. The corpse was obviously dumped there, the amount of blood pooling around it was too little for the crime to have been committed on the spot. The professional part of his brain clicked in place, circling around the body and finally noticing the most important part.
The corpse’s face seemed to have been carved out.
“Putang ina,” Cocoy whispered. Ernesto whipped around to glare at him and he ducked his head. “Sorry.”
“Coy, run to the station and get the guys.”
“It’s okay, dad. I’ve seen dead animals in class–”
“Shut up, son. I don’t need distractions when I’m working a case. Go.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Cocoy turned around and rode back up the slight hill, pedalling as fast as he could. Ernesto turned back to the dead man, taking into account the entire scene before him. He had no choice but to keep watch over the body, at least until S.O.C.O. arrived.
As officer in chief of the entire campus, Ernesto had never supervised a crime more serious than car thefts and hold-ups. His whole squad would be under the microscope because of this. A murder in the university meant QCPD operatives, intense media attention, and his sweating face on TV Patrol for a few nights.
Ernesto uttered the same expletive his son did, loudly and crisply.