Spencer Hontiveros has been working in the Manila City Morgue ever since he graduated from college. His father had high hopes that he’d become a heart surgeon like him or a brain surgeon like his mother, but Spencer’s medical career took a turn when he was assigned to morgue duty during med school and felt that he finally found his true calling.
He liked the silence that the dead had to offer rather than the chatter of the living.
There had been times when the ghosts of the cadavers would try to send him a message, but he has learned to ignore them, because he knows that he wouldn’t have to deal with them after they’ve left his morgue.
And if he gets the kind of ghost that’s too much of a bother or the kind that gives a clue to their unsolved death, he knows exactly who to call; someone who knows how to deal with the cases that involve dealing with the underworld.
As the morgue’s chief medical examiner, Spencer has seen his fair share of gun shot victims, stabbing victims, decapitated heads, and bodies cut in half by speeding 18-wheeler trucks.
Then there are the nights when he gets bodies drained of blood and there’s a hint of a puncture mark on the bellybutton or women who’ve died because of a miscarriage but the fetus is nowhere to be found.
On those nights, he quickly picks up his Nokia and hits the “8” key, speed dialing the first person under the letter “T”.
On this particular night, he just finished fixing some reports when he heard the knock on the door and knew it was her.
“Come in!” he said. “Come in, Trese!”
The lady dressed in black pushed the door open and stood by the doorway for a moment. She surveyed the room as she walked towards him.
“Good evening, Spunky,” said Alexandra Trese.
Spunky. His old nickname from med school, which he never got rid of.
Trese glanced at the clock on the wall and said, “Sorry, I’m late. Had to deal with some tikbalang causing accidents on C5.”
“Another horny colt on the loose? Did you banish him back to the mountains?” Spencer smirked.
“Unfortunately, my family and the tikbalang clan go a long way back. So, I just let the datu of the tikbalang reprimand the colt after I caught him.”
“You caught him?”
“Actually, I beat him in a race.” Trese said. “So, he had no choice but to obey me.”
“Impressive. So, that means…”
“Yes, the tikbalang owes me three favors.”
“Did you wish for world peace?”
Trese looked at the clock again and then asked, “So, why did you call me?”
Spencer stood between two metal gurneys and pointed to the bodies covered by a thin white sheet. “Let me introduce you to tonight’s guest, Mr. and Mrs. Villaroman. Age 64 and 66.”
“Cause of death?” Trese asked.
“Yes, from the looks of it.” Spencer cleared his throat.
Trese tilted her head and stared at Spencer and he knew it was the “So-why-I-am-I-here-look”. So, Spencer flipped open two folders and started to read from two different reports.
“Time of death: 4:44pm. Location: Cinema 4 on Level 4 of the Robertson Mall, Ortigas.”
“Interesting.” Trese slowly nodded.
Spencer knew he finally got Trese’s attention. “So, you think this has something to do with snakeboy? The one who lives in the basement of the mall?”
“He’s not a snake. He’s a dragon. And I already took care of him. Besides, he was interested in young girls, not grandparents.”
Spencer then got a pile of folders from his desk and fanned them like a deck of cards. “And here’s where you’ll say `interesting` again. Take a look at these reports. I would’ve noticed them sooner but I was away on vacation.”
“You actually went on a vacation?” Trese raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah, it was medical examiner’s convention in Vegas. Got my dear old dad to pay for my trip. I think he was just more than happy that I was actually going to mingle with live people.”
Spencer flipped open the files. “Here are five other deaths that have happened in the past three months. All of them were 60 years old and above. All of them died at exactly 4:44pm at Cinema 4 in Robertson Mall.”
“And all of them died of natural causes?”
“As far as I can tell. No toxins in the body. No poisons. Although I can think of several toxins that can make a death look like a heart attack.”
Trese’s eyes narrowed. “Interesting,” she muttered under her breath. “Thanks Spunky, seems like I’m going to the movies tomorrow.”
The afternoon crowd shambled past Trese, who was looking at the schedule of Cinema 4.
There was a 2:55pm screening, which ended at 4:44pm.
Trese lined up for a ticket.
In front of her was an old couple. The wife rummaged through her purse and slowly fished out their senior citizen’s cards, which gave them free admission in the movie theater.
The ticket seller smiled and asked, “Are you here for the last full show?”
The old couple tilted their heads, as if they weren’t sure of what they were just asked; and then they nodded and said yes. The machine spat out two tickets.
Trese stepped up to the counter.
The ticker seller looked at her, smiled, and said, “Ticket for one?”
Inside, Trese saw an old man seated at the front of row. He was laughing so hard he was in tears. There were three grannies in the middle section who giggled like school girls.
She spotted the old couple that entered before her. They were holding hands. The wife was sobbing, yet smiling. Her husband leaned over, wiped away her tears and whispered, “This is my favorite part.”
Trese looked at the light coming from the projector booth and followed it to the wide, white screen -- where it showed nothing.
Up in the booth, Trese found a pale man keeping watch over the movie projector.
“Who are you?” Trese asked. “What are you showing these people?”
“Ms. Trese! My associate told me you were here! I apologize for not informing you we already set up shop in the city. Our Mistress Sidapa told us to get your permission first.”
Sidapa, Trese thought. The Goddess of Death.
“You still haven’t answered my questions,” Trese said, taking a step forward.
“Call me Ishmael. My associate outside is Lino. We just thought this was easier, rather than wait for all these people to die and go pick up their souls. We thought we’d provide for them this service, invite them here, so they can review their lives one last time and let them decide if they still want to stay a bit longer or not. And if they’ve made up their minds that all is well, we let them doze off -- before we punch their ticket.”
She looked down at the theater, at the people enjoying the film she could not see and said, “If you’re conning these people to give up their souls, if you’re running some sort of kaluluwa smuggling operation, believe me when I tell you that not even Sidapa can protect you for me.”
Ishmael looked down and nodded his head. “Yes, ma’am.”
She was about to step out of the booth when Ishmael asked, “Is there anything you’d like to watch?”
He held up a ticket. “Anything at all. It’s on the house.”
Trese picked a seat near the exit, picked the year of her eighth birthday; stayed long enough to see the part where her mom read her a bedtime story, but did not stay to see how that particular night would end. She knew that part very well – the reason why she had bound herself to protect the city from the forces of the underworld.
As she walked out of the movie theater, she pulled out her cellphone. “Hello Spunky, I think you’ll be expecting more guests coming from Cinema 4. I want you to give me an update every time one comes in, especially if they deviate from the usual pattern.”
Trese walked past the ticket booth and said, “And Spunky, if you’re planning to watch a movie here in the mall, just make you sure you don’t get the ticket for the Last Full Show.”
THE LAST FULL SHOW
Story by Budjette Tan
Art by Kajo Baldisimo
Edited by Paolo Chikiamco
This story was originally published in ALTERNATIVE ALAMAT , available for the Kindle and via FlipReads as a downloadable ePub.