Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Big Bert

Our dinner included small chunks of crocodile meat served on a sizzling platter. It wasn't the first time I've eaten croc, but it was the first time I've done it with my wife. Anne is not into exotic dishes, but she took a small bite just to try it. The meat was tender and delicious, and I ate the sisig like candy. I smiled at my wife and sipped my beer. A few minutes later an old friend called, sounding stressed out.

   They found him living alone in an old concrete house in Santa Magdalena, a nice little coastal town in Sorsogon, bounded by Bulusan, Matnog and Irosin. They found him after three years of rigorous searching, three years of false tips, and three years of unanswered prayers.

   On the night of April 23, 2012 in Makati City, Danny stabbed a 27-year-old car salesman in his right shoulder. The victim was found in his two-bedroom condo unit bleeding, half-naked, but still alive. There were bruises on his face and abdomen, and different drug paraphernalia were found inside a small cabinet near his queen size bed. The victim's girlfriend was inside the apartment at the time of the stabbing, but she managed to escape the scene without injury. It was a drug deal gone bad.

   Danny was a big man, an ex-seminarian, and almost six feet tall. In the local club scene, they called him Big Bert (based on the Voltes V character). He was 20 years old when he headed to Manila from his home in Zamboanga. It was 1998, and, before long, Danny had landed a job at the Philippine Star as an editorial assistant. His family life was pretty normal, nothing out of the ordinary, and he had three decent jobs before he became a hustler.

   My first encounter with Danny was during the anniversary party of a men's magazine. As soon as I met him, I imagined that I'd know him for the rest of my life, and probably go on fishing with him in my late forties. He started selling illegal drugs at the age of 29. He was charismatic and articulate and funny, and, in just a short time, he had built a strong distribution network and made his connections a lot of money. He was my primary source for high grade hash. He owned three guns but he never had to use them.

   He said the three most commonly asked-for substances in Metro Manila aside from weed are crystal meth, cocaine, and ecstasy. He used to sell a portion of his monthly stash to other dealers, but he really liked to maintain a direct connection to his dear customers: film and TV stars, advertising executives, models, artists, fashion designers and musicians. He was treated like royalty in clubs, and, after two years of hustling, he purchased a second car, a Volvo.

   Over the months that followed, we grew much closer, and we partied a lot. Every time he went to Sagada, Boracay or Zamboanga for official business, I stayed at his pad. One day Danny returned home with a puppy and a backpack full of cash. When he told me that he also wanted me to sell narcotics, I knew that I was no longer valuable to him unless I could make him money. Yes, I had sold some pot to some of my friends, but I didn't want to be a full time drug dealer. I broke all ties with Big Bert and put my hard knock life behind me.

   When I saw him yesterday at a detention cell in Manila, Danny was in a tremendous amount of misery. He had never been so isolated before. He was much thinner, down considerably from the two hundred and eighty pounds he'd been carrying when last seen. His skin was darker, hair shorter, and the colorful geisha tattoo on his left arm had been removed. We hugged, and we spoke for a while, until security arrived to escort him. I wanted so badly to help him but there was nothing I could do.

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