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1 Schrödinger’s Cat / In the wrong place

9 August 2004

Any doubt in Patrick’s mind that the woman before him was not Theresa was instantly dispelled after witnessing her unreasonably rapid recovery from her distress. An ordinary person might have been stunned for hours on end, and would have to be pulled out of the place, but after less than a minute she stood up without a trace of shock and approached Patrick, her eyes fixed on the body in his arms. Once she was beside it, she knelt down and started rummaging through its pockets.

‘What are you doing?’ asked Patrick.

‘Get her bag,’ ordered Theresa, ignoring his question.

‘What for?’

Theresa took her eyes away from the wallet and the mobile phone she had taken from the corpse’s pockets and stared at Patrick.

‘Suppose the police found this body, and they identify her as Theresa Santos. But then they find out that there’s a Theresa Santos that’s still alive and walking. What would they think?’ She turned back to searching the body’s pockets, pulling out receipts as she continued, ‘We can’t get rid of this body—there’s no incinerator at hand, and we can’t exactly take it out of the mall to bury it in some secluded place, so all we can do is delay their identifying this body.’

Patrick nodded dumbly as he took the shoulder bag from the dead woman’s arm and handed it to Theresa, who was prying open its right hand to take a small brown paper bag.

‘Let’s go,’ she said, standing up. Patrick gently placed the body on the ground before walking after Theresa.

When Patrick had caught up with Theresa he began to ask her, ‘Um, what just happ—’ but she cut him off.

‘You were headed for the restrooms when you left, correct?’

‘Um, yes,’ Patrick replied, before resuming his attempt at a question. ‘So, what—’

‘Did anything happen while you were there?’ she said as she continued her interrogation and ignored his questions.

‘Um, I was about to wash my face when I heard the bomb go off. So I headed for the bookstore before I found… you in the food court.’

‘Nothing else happened there? No explosion, no flash? Nothing unusual at all?’

‘Nothing at all,’ said Patrick, shaking his head for emphasis. ‘Why, was anything supposed to happen?’ he asked in a tone reminiscent of a student who just had just given the wrong answer to his teacher.

‘Wait, bookstore?’ Theresa asked in surprise as everything Patrick had narrated to her finally sunk in. ‘Why did you go to the bookstore?’

‘I was looking for you. You were there when I left for the restrooms.’

‘But… I was just about to order lunch when you left.’

‘Lunch?’ Patrick asked.

‘Yes,’ said Theresa. ‘That’s what you asked me out for, remember?’

‘What!’ exclaimed Patrick with a start.

‘What?’ said Theresa in annoyance, shooting a glare at Patrick.

‘Asked… you… out?’ Patrick said as if hesitant to form the phrase. ‘Me? But we’re in the mall just for the book.’

‘Book?’ said Theresa in puzzlement? ‘What book?’

Patrick pointed at the brown paper bag in Theresa’s hand. She opened it and took out a worn-out paperback.

‘A paperback?’ said Theresa with some distaste. ‘And a second-hand one at that…’

‘But you said you can’t find it anywhere else,’ said Patrick.

‘My cousin Ana sent me a copy from the States about a week ago,’ said Theresa. Then she fell silent, deep in thought, her eyes fixed on the ground before her.

‘This is all a dream,’ Patrick said softly to himself, both as a reminder and a reassurance, while they passed through the mall’s exit. The afternoon sun greeted them, muting the red and blue glares of the emergency lights of the ambulances and police vehicles, as well as glinting off the frames of the various outside-broadcast vans of numerous television networks parked all around the stricken mall.

Theresa broke her absorbed silence as they approached the mall’s jeepney terminal. ‘Clearly we have two different stories here. I think I know the reason for that… but that’s not important now. I need to hear your side first: Why did we go to the mall? And what did we do there?’

Patrick explained how he had overheard Theresa’s desperation to obtain Alphabet of the Magi, and that, having remembered where a copy of it could be found, he volunteered to tell her where he found it. ‘Now what’s your story?’ he said, curious to hear what she meant by him asking her out.

‘We don’t have classes in the afternoon ‘cause of the club appreciation events, right? Well, right after Algebra class you turned to me and, out of the blue, you asked me if I still had classes or if I’d be busy. I said no, then you asked me if I wanted to have lunch with you in Ultramall. I said yes.’

Patrick frowned as he suddenly remembered that he had already dreamt of this day. In his dream he did ask Theresa out for lunch, but that was after she had bought her book.

‘That’s right,’ said Patrick, ‘this can’t be a dream.’

‘Hey,’ said Theresa as she suddenly stepped in front of him, her hands on her hips. ‘What’s this you keep on saying about a dream?’

‘I have these strange dreams…’

‘I’m sure you do,’ said Theresa with a sly voice and a raised eyebrow.

Patrick shook his head. ‘Not those kinds of dreams. They’re more like… premonitions, I think.’ Theresa’s eyebrows returned to normal as her eyes fixed on Patrick, and he continued. ‘These dreams, they tell me what’s about to happen the next day. For a minute I thought this was one of those, until I remembered that I had already dreamt of today.’

‘A dream, huh?’ said Theresa as she returned to her contemplative mood.

Patrick started brooding, too. ‘Why would I suddenly ask you out?’ he muttered. Theresa let out a short bark of dry laughter.

‘I think everyone in class knows you’re interested in me. You switched chairs to sit beside me during the second day of classes, then your friend and former seatmate said out loud in class, “So you’re trading me for a pretty girl?” At first I thought you were after that girl who kept turning away from you, but when I found out that she was your ex-girlfriend, I realised that your friend meant me.’

‘B-b-but,’ Patrick stammered, overwhelmed by Theresa’s revelation. ‘I was seated beside you since the first day of classes. You can ask around.’

‘Huh?’ said Theresa, her eyes wide in confusion.

‘Although… in my dream about the first day I wasn’t seated beside you.’

Theresa fell silent once more, and Patrick suddenly remembered an unexplained detail in all their conversation.

‘In your story, what happened in the restrooms while I was there?’ Then he remembered her hysterical screams when he first saw her. ‘That’s right, you said that the restrooms exploded, and you saw… my body. What happened?’

Theresa suddenly stared at her feet with vacant eyes, and Patrick saw an involuntary shudder running through her shoulders for a moment.

‘I’m still in a bit of a shock,’ she said in a faint, haggard voice. ‘So can we leave that question for tomorrow?’

Patrick shrugged as he said, ‘Okay’ in an emotionless voice.

Theresa was worried, and rightly so, that Patrick thought that she was rejecting him, so she added with a pleading voice as she looked up towards his face: ‘I’ll answer all your questions, I promise. Just… not now.’

Patrick nodded in reply.

‘My home’s near Sunrise Avenue, so I’ll be taking that jeep home,’ said Theresa as she pointed at a half-filled jeepney with an ‘Ultramall—Sunrise Avenue—Public Market’ signboard. ‘See you tomorrow,’ she said with a wave before entering. Patrick waved back before turning away as he headed for the metro station.

‘She knew I was interested in her, and yet she’d say yes if I ask her out, huh?’ said Patrick to himself with a slight smile. He didn’t really ask her out (in fact, he was still undecided before the explosion changed the situation) and the story Theresa told her was for him exactly that—a story, a work of fiction that nevertheless used character that he knew. But it came from the mouth of the person he would have asked out; or, at least, he thought she was.

Then a scene from his memories flashed in his mind, and he raised his hands in front of him as he stood in queue by one of the metro’s ticket booths. These hands had held a wounded Theresa, and she had breathed her last while carried by these hands. Yet the one she talked to after that sudden tragedy was also Theresa—her mien and her voice could not be mistaken for anyone else’s. Was it possible that this was a trick, a cruel practical joke played at his expense? Patrick ran through the possibilities in his mind as he bought a ticket and headed for the crowded platform. Perhaps Theresa had an identical twin. Perhaps the Theresa who died was a body double, made up to look like her. Patrick didn’t understand the purpose of such an elaborate trick, if there was indeed one, and why it was played on him. His imaginings seemed to have taxed his brain, and so he resolved not to think about it until after he had heard the whole story from Theresa tomorrow.

He was a station away from his stop when his phone rang.

‘Christianne,’ he said as he picked the phone up, having glanced beforehand at the caller ID. ‘Hey, um—’

‘Shut up, Pat,’ said Christianne brusquely. Then her voice turned worried. ‘I heard about what happened in the mall. How are you? Are you all right?’

‘Yeah,’ said Patrick. ‘Not even scratched. Look, I’m sorry I missed your event—’

‘Forget about that!’ Christianne shouted, and Patrick winced as he pulled the phone away from his hear. ‘Al and Betty are here with me, and we’re all worried sick about you. We’re just glad you’re safe.’

‘Hey, um, listen, I’m in the metro, and my stop’s coming up soon,’ said Patrick. ‘But I can turn around and go back there if you want me to.’

‘No need,’ said Christianne. ‘We’ll just see you tomorrow.’

‘‘Kay,’ said Patrick as the train came to a stop. ‘See you tomorrow.’

Once he had left the metro station, Patrick took a jeepney that stopped close to a single-storey bungalow surrounded by an unpainted concrete-and-hollow-block wall that stood a metre high and was topped with shards of glass. There were two gates into the house, both painted mint-green: one for people and a much larger one for vehicles that led to a roofless parking space on the side of the house. Patrick got off the jeepney and opened the smaller gate, entering the house with the room which he rented from a middle-aged couple who lived there with him, as their children were either already married or working abroad. He opened the screen door into the house anf the landlord, who was sitting in the living room sofa, turned his head from the television tuned to a late-afternoon foreign soap towards him.

‘Your dad called,’ the man said.

‘Hm, don’t you mean my uncle?’

Patrick had been living with his father’s younger brother and his family for as long as he could remember, since his father had often been abroad for years at a time. Despite the fact that his uncle was fond of him, and that his wife tolerated him well enough, and that he got along with his cousins most of the time, he was never totally comfortable with them, since he felt that where he was living was not really his home.

His landlord shook his head. ‘Your dad,’ he said. ‘He called from Japan. He said he’d call again later.’

Patrick nodded as he headed towards his room, which was on the furthest end of the corridor that connected the various rooms of the house. He had not finished changing clothes when someone knocked on his door.

‘Phone call for you,’ said his landlord. ‘It’s your dad.’

Patrick dressed hurriedly and headed for the phone in the living room. He put the handset to his mouth slowly, as if hesitant.

‘Um, hello?’ he mumbled.

‘Patrick,’ said a deep voice overflowing with relief. ‘I’m so glad to hear from you. How are you?’

‘Just fine,’ said Patrick indifferently. ‘Not even scratched.’

‘I’m sorry for what happened to you, Patrick.’

‘What are you sorry for? It wasn’t your fault.’

‘This time, it might be,’ said his father cryptically, his voice trailing off. ‘I’m thinking of going home. For good this time.’

What’s this about? Patrick thought. ‘Hey, no need to overreact. I almost get killed on a regu—’

‘Listen, Patrick,’ said his father almost as a shout. ‘You’re the only part of her I have left.’ His voice was almost a whisper as he added, ‘Earlier today, she came to me in a dream. She told me, “You’re hurting our son.” And I promised her, no more. I’ll be sure to be there with you when you need me.’

‘Okay, dad,’ said Patrick, concealing his puzzlement. ‘I appreciate that.’

‘I’ll be home in a few days. Take care until then, Patrick.’ He paused, and then he added hurriedly, ‘I love you, son.’

Patrick was suddenly struck dumb. It was, perhaps, a normal thing a parent said to his child, but he rarely heard it from his own father, and never in so earnest a tone.

Richard Cruz, Patrick’s father, was a renowned computer programmer, one of the pioneers in the field of artificial intelligence. He was also a widower; his wife, Patricia Rivera-Cruz, an accountant by profession, died while giving birth to their first child. Patrick has tried his hardest to be a proper son, giving his best in his studies and doing all he could to avoid the vices that have so often become pitfalls for others of his age, because he thought in the innermost recesses of his mind that his father might be blaming him for his mother’s death. His father has done little to dispel his belief—he was almost always away from him, often missing important events like his high school graduation, and even when they were together, they never really bonded like a normal father and son would do. In this single phone call his father seemed to have overturned every preconceived notion he had of what his father thought of him.

Remembering that he had not yet answered his father, Patrick blurted out, ‘Love you, too, dad. See you in a few days,’ before hanging up. His questions from the mall had remained unanswered, and now a new set of them have come to weigh further on his already burdened mind. So it came as no surprise that Patrick looked robotic as he shuffled back to his room, his eyes possessing a glazed look that seemed to take in none of the things before him. He even missed dinner, lying on his bed and staring at the blank grey ceiling unmindful of his hunger.

* * * * *

Theresa got home at about the same time Christianne called Patrick. After getting off the jeep at the intersection of Sunrise Avenue and a crowded one-lane street, she walked past a corner convenience store before turning into a narrow alleyway. She pushed open the second door on the left and as she entered she almost stumbled due to the pile of slippers and shoes by the welcome mat. She didn’t anticipate the mess that greeted her, since she remembered arranging the slippers neatly by the side of the doorway before she left. It was possible that the one who had made the mess was her mother, or perhaps even the household helper who dropped by after Theresa had left for school, but they have never done so before. Having barely survived the surprise trap on the doorway, on the way to her room she ended up stubbing her toe on a cabinet by the corner. Hissing in pain, she started wondering who had moved the cabinet, since she didn’t remember it being there when she left the house. Her mother would never lift furniture, and the household helper would never have moved things around without permission, so who moved it was a complete mystery for her. She cast her gaze around, and despite the superficial similarity to how it looked like in her memory there were glaring differences. There were spots and cracks on the wall that she hadn’t seen before, and the patch of flaking paint beside the refrigerator that resembled the continent of South America was nowhere to be seen. She saw a potted plant on top of the refrigerator, but it was a cactus, not the geranium that she remembered. She rushed to her room, half irritated, half bewildered, and she was so engrossed with her thoughts that it was only then that she realised that she still had the small brown paper bag containing the paperback secondhand copy of Alphabet of the Magi with her. She wondered why she had bothered carrying it around, dropping it on her desk as she looked for her Philip Smith collection. She found it exactly where she thought it would be, but it seemed that one of the books was missing. She sighed.

Patrick was right; there was no Alphabet of the Magi in this collection.

She took the paper bag from the desk, extracted the book within, and hugged it absentmindedly as she sat down on her bed, looking around the room. Everything seemed to look the same, until she noticed that there were clothes on her closet that she didn’t remember buying, and that the pencil holder on the desk lacked a blue highlighter.

‘This is Theresa’s room,’ she mumbled, ‘but it’s not my room.’ She paused for a moment as she closed her eyes, and then she added. ‘So right now, I’m the cat, huh.’

It was possible that she would have remained in that contemplative state until morning had she not heard the front door opening loudly, followed by a yell:

‘I brought dinner home, so set the table.’

It looks like she’s drunk as usual, she thought, remembering what today was.

Theresa Santos was the product of a one-night stand between Rachelle Santos, who was a university freshman at the time, and Jonathan Aquino, the youngest son of a real estate tycoon, who was then in his senior year. To keep their family’s reputation clean, her father paid them a certain amount every second Monday of the month to keep them quiet, an amount that could have allowed them to live comfortably. However much of it was spent to indulge her mother’s drinking habit. Theresa didn’t mind, though; her mother was more tolerable to be with when drunk than sober. While she had once called her a ‘mistake’, and in another instance she revealed that the only reason she kept her was because she got something out of her, such drunken outbursts were few and far between. She didn’t scrutinise or nag her incessantly while she enjoyed her alcohol.

Theresa hurried to her mother’s side, took the plastic bag with microwaveable containers inside from her, and headed for the kitchen. As she transferred the food to bowls and plates, her mother turned the TV on. Theresa caught the tail end of a weather report detailing the projected movement of an incoming typhoon on her way to the dining table, and then she heard the following:

‘This just in. Investigators of the Ultramall-Central bombing have found a second bomb in the restrooms near the food court. The other bomb was unexploded, for reasons yet unrevealed, and the investigators think that this bomb was similar in design to the one that killed thirteen and injured—’

* * * * *

As Senior Inspector Oscar James Tan, head of the homicide division of the Central Police District, entered the stricken food court at almost the same time as Theresa got home, his nose caught a scent. Not the acrid scent of the smoke that persisted in the blast site, nor the metallic scent of the blood spilt. Neither was it the scent of a clue to discover the perpetrators of this heinous deed. It was the scent of failure.

It was not his failure. As head of the homicide division, he was in charge of investigating murder, a single man or a small group ending the life of a fellow man, often for a personal reason. The rubble before his eyes was a place where more than a dozen people have died, with about a dozen more probably on their way to death, as well as more than fifty who were injured in varying degrees, ranging from simple wounds to amputations. This did not seem like a personal act, a person or a group with a grievance carrying out deadly vengeance against an individual. Such wanton slaughter could only be an act of terrorism.

OJ, as he was known to his wife and close associates, was assigned to this case, despite his lack of jurisdiction over it, because he was one of the finest investigative minds in the country. The higher-ups wanted the terrorists caught, and quickly. They wanted to send a message: such a vile act shall not go unpunished for long.

If only those responsible have done their jobs properly in the first place. He had been assigned to similar cases once, and he would most likely be once again besieged with demands from officers of military intelligence, insisting that he do his job with haste while telling him how he should do it. It was as if they had forgotten that preventing such a thing from happening was their job in the first place. He had heard that in other countries, some of the people responsible for failing to prevent a crisis would have resigned or even committed suicide due to feelings of failure and disgrace. But in this country? The people responsible would just look for someone to blame while saying the right words in front of the cameras, as if it was their jobs to deliver such empty words instead of actually serving their citizens.

He walked around the blast site, taking in the sights, the smell, the feel of it, as his subordinates scurried around to catalogue evidence. He saw one of them scratch his head as he inspected the body of a young woman and decided to head his way.

‘What’s wrong,’ he said as he looked closer at the dead woman. She was pretty—no, more than that, actually, with her finely chiselled features framed by long black hair. She was wearing a plain pale pink blouse with a bloodstain on the stomach area and a long purple skirt.

‘Well, sir,’ the man replied, ‘she has no bag, no wallet, no phone, basically nothing to identify her with. Maybe she really has none of those, but it looks more like someone took them. Smells fishy to me.’

OJ nodded as he took out his cell phone. He used its camera function to take a picture of her face.

‘She looks like a university student,’ he explained to the confused crime scene operative. ‘I have a friend in the records section, so I’ll ask her. Give me list of the dead who were from the university, okay?’

The police officer nodded, waving a hand to call a photographer and a body bag once the inspector had turned away. OJ was about to resume his walk-around when his lead subordinate, SPO4 Agnes Rivero, tapped him on the shoulder.

‘What is it?’ he said.

‘They found an unexploded bomb in the restroom nearest here,’ she said. ‘The bomb experts say it’s ten kilos of ANFO, ammonium nitrate-fuel oil mixture, with a nitromethane booster and an explosive bridgewire detonator. The detonator’s the same one used for frigging nuclear bombs, so that’s a hot one right there—why use one of those when cheaper blasting caps are available?’

OJ nodded, saying, ‘Have them analyse the bags for prints, fibres, the usual. Check with the manufacturers of the bag and the detonator, when was it bought, and maybe, if we’re lucky, who bought it. ‘

‘I already told them,’ said Agnes. ‘It’s being done.’

‘And have them compare it to the bomb used here. My gut says they’re the same, but we need to be sure.’ Agnes nodded and began to turn away from OJ when he added, ‘You’ll take point at the investigation tomorrow. I need to meet someone from the university.’

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