Police Chief Inspector Johnny Santos of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police was as bored as his men playing cards in the adjoining room. He had solved just about every major crime involving prostitution syndicates in the National Capital Region, to which he was assigned. He had received the expected medals and merit increases, risen in rank, and been interviewed ad nauseam by rookie reporters just aching to get out of their obligatory police beat. About the only thing that got him excited these days, except for the anticipation of his nights with his five girlfriends, one for every day of the week, the weekend being reserved for his wife, was his increasing portion of the month’s protection money from illegal gambling syndicates.
He had even been nominally assigned to be the AIP liaison. The Philippine National Police couldn’t care less about the AIP, but the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs had signed the ASEAN General Agreement on Security, and somebody had to host all the foreign AIP officers that were on acculturation visits. Since Santos was the best cop not only in terms of reputation, but also in terms of English language ability, he became the one-man Philippine AIP contingent.
When AIP Inspector Lee emailed him about some green jeepney driver, Santos sat up. When AIP officers came to town, all Santos had to do was to brief them a little bit about the human trafficking syndicates, the crooked politicians, and the big-time smugglers, and that was that. He never heard from them again. For him to receive an email from an AIP officer after a visit was definitely unusual. Maybe, his mind raced ahead, maybe he was going to be invited to a command conference in Singapore, a nation with huge malls selling the latest electronic gadgets that he loved to spend his ill-gotten wealth on.
“Any developments on the green jeepney driver?” went the email on his smartphone.
He did not want to admit that he knew nothing about a green jeepney driver, but he could not pretend either that he knew something about it, not to a Singaporean cop, not to an AIP officer.
“Haven’t heard about that. Will investigate,” he typed on his smartphone.
Santos loved the unusual. He fancied himself the main character in all the crime series he followed religiously on cable television. He adored Sherlock Holmes and often quoted the famous detective’s “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” At one point, he even wore a deerstalker. He dropped that only when his five-year-old daughter from his second mistress told him that he looked silly.
He loved replaying in his mind the most famous case he handled, that of the beheaded politician. He got a presidential commendation for that one. Although it had nothing to do with prostitution, he took it on because it happened in a café in downtown Manila, just a few blocks from where his fourth mistress lived. It took him less than six months to figure it all out. He had followed the book all the way during the innumerable press conferences – blaming terrorists, criminal gangs, political opponents, the jealous spouse, equally jealous lovers, just about everybody. He could not find any solid evidence implicating anyone wanting to kill the politician, who was reputed to be a shoo-in for the vice-presidency in the next national elections. He had to think outside the box. Eventually, he hit upon the idea of examining the kitchen of the fast food place next door to the café. There he found the clue to solving the mystery. The rest was police history and urban legend.
Santos racked his brain to see if he knew anything at all about a green jeepney driver. Yes, he suddenly remembered reading some headlines in the tabloids about it. He never really read tabloids, but their headlines screamed at him from the hands of the newspaper vendors that roamed the streets.
In the Filipino language, the headlines had read, “Driver Becomes Martian,” “Driver Turns Into Frog,” “Mystery in Heavy Traffic,” “Jeepneys are Death Traps,” and stuff like that. He had heard casual remarks about it from his staff. Sometime in the last month, a jeepney driver had turned green in the middle of traffic and had died. Bystanders had brought him to a nearby clinic, where he was pronounced dead. The police had arrived too late to save him, if he could really have been saved. No one knew how or why it happened, and no one really cared to find out who did it, if it had been done at all by someone or something.
Until it happened again. And again. Santos did not know how many times it had happened, and he hadn’t really cared before. He did not handle cases involving ordinary people or non-entities, as he called them. He handled only cases involving highly visible people, such as politicians, movie stars, and bishops caught in the arms of call girls or boys. In every one of these cases, he either got a lot of publicity as The Living Robocop or a lot of money to look the other way. Besides, he was too busy nowadays trying to appease one of his mistresses who had accidentally met another one. He could not understand why his lovers wanted him to be faithful to them, when he was married and was obviously a born cheat anyway.
Santos shouted to one of his men who was playing cards in the other room.
“Efren, come here.”
Private First Class Efren Santiago came running, still holding some peso bills in his hand.
“Do you know anything about the jeepney drivers who turned green?” asked Santos in the vernacular.
Santiago stuttered, also in the vernacular, “Yes, sir. There was news about one on radio just this afternoon. I think it was the seventh driver so far.”
Santos hated the news. If he had believed even a fourth of the news on radio or television, he would never have solved any cases. He knew that quite a number of news reporters were on the payroll of organized crime. They were being paid to lead police investigators through time-consuming paths to nowhere. The only times he really bought a newspaper were the times his picture or his name appeared in a news story. Even in those stories, he was almost always misquoted, but bad publicity was still publicity and he let all the inaccuracies pass. He loved public attention on his good deeds, because it covered up his misdeeds.
Santiago stuttered, “The cops in Station Five found the cause of the deaths. It was the exhaust of the jeepney that seeped into the seats of the drivers. The fumes killed the drivers. They were nobodies. Nobody bothered to file a complaint or a case or even a request for an investigation of any of those deaths. The cases were closed on the same days the drivers died, Chief.”
Santos never believed what other people told him, and certainly not what his underlings said. He made his reputation being a total sceptic.
“That can’t be,” he said. “If exhaust fumes killed the drivers, then the drivers would not have turned green. And the passengers beside him would also have died.”
Santiago shrugged. “Just quoting the reports, Chief. They were just jeepney drivers, Chief. Nobody cares about them. We don’t care about them, unless they don’t fork over their daily goodwill.” Santiago smiled broadly, showing his teeth blackened by cigarettes.
Santos waved him away. Yes, he thought, that was rather strange. A man does not turn green. Poisonous gas may turn a man black, but not green. He wondered what shade of green it was. Maybe it was dark green, almost black. Maybe the witnesses were just color-blind. He had long ago stopped believing witnesses, because they were either bribed, threatened, or just plain dumb.
He googled “green jeepney death Manila” and came up with nothing. He logged into the AIP files. As the AIP Manila officer, he had access to all the confidential files of AIP. AIP had tapped into the computers of all the police stations and hospitals in the ASEAN region. The Singapore data scientists had created analytics software that was able to take big data from everywhere in ASEAN and find patterns that might be helpful to security officers.
A check into the police records of a recent murder – which happened just that morning – came up with a name, Dean Grace King of Saint John Paul University. She was at the scene of the crime in the morning and left her business card with an AIP officer. The AIP officer was not named, following standard procedure; in case the AIP site was hacked, the undercover officers would not be compromised. Who was this Dean Grace King? Probably just some do-gooder who wanted to do the right thing by volunteering to be a witness, in case there was someone to be charged with the crime, if it was indeed a crime.
The Alert icon on the computer started blinking. Anything remotely suggesting criminal activity activated the Alert icons of all the AIP officers.
Santos looked closely at a record that was being typed into the computer of a small police substation in Manila. The name of the person being interviewed was Grace King, Dean Grace King of Saint John Paul University. There was a marker beside the name, indicating that the police officer doing the interview was wary about the behavior of the woman, who was either just a witness or perhaps even a suspect.
Santos called the station immediately. They still had Dean King in custody. He told them to hold her until he could get there. His instincts told him that there was something there. Perhaps, at the very least, a trip to Singapore.