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The Spider and the Fly

By April, 1991, I was distracted by a new, intense relationship. It lasted for sixteen very special months and, during this time, I kept an intimately-detailed diary. This very emotional experience was revealed by me twenty years later as “A Chronicle of Intimacies”, with the name of my partner being changed to Carole, to preserve her anonymity.  I often wonder what became of “Carole” and wonder if she ever found true happiness. It still makes me blush when I realise how much I revealed of our sexually-driven relationship during this period.

By the end of August, 1992, I was on my own again, yet, retained hope of possible future happiness from the words spoken by Roger Dorset, the fortune teller.  A twist of fate put me in touch with Pablita Ledres, a twenty-five year old Filipina. After several months of writing to each other, I made a bold move and flew out to meet her.  Typical of me, I, again, kept a detailed diary covering the period January, 1993 to November, 1994 and, with tongue firmly in cheek, titled it “Who wants to be British?”

This account, detailing my relationship with Pablita was published at the same time as “A Chronicle of Intimacies” towards the end of 2011.

During April, 1993, while in Manilla, my wife and I were robbed by a taxi-driver. After this awful experience, I wrote the following story, as a warning to others who may end up in a similar situation:

The Spider and the Fly

Copyright J.S. Raynor May, 1993, 2016

 

The two men in smart, blue grey uniforms searched carefully through all the faces of the crowd of people, looking for the now familiar characteristics.  They were grateful that it was raining heavily, since passengers were never as careful when they were likely to get soaked. There was no means of shelter for the many commuters emerging from the busy domestic airport at Manila. As capital city of the Philippines, Manila was at the hub of travel from the many sprawling islands which made up this fascinating, yet poverty‑stricken country.

Alfredo spotted a likely client.  “Look, Giuseppe, there.”  He pointed to a middle‑aged man who was peering through the rain. “Fourth from the left in the middle doorway.”

In reply, Giuseppe said, “There’s another, nearer to the right hand side of the same doorway.”

The swarthy Filipino’s eyes moved to study the subject of his partner’s gaze.  “Ah, yes.  He might be the better one to go for ‑ he’s much better dressed.”

“You could be right.  Come on, we shouldn’t waste any time.  I’ll cover the man and you take care of the woman.”

They strode purposely, almost in military unison, over to the terminal’s entrance, unfurling smart umbrellas as they walked.  Giuseppe approached the man.  This potential ‘client’ appeared to be in his early fifties, of medium height with a small moustache and neatly‑cut greying hair, giving him a distinguished appearance.  “This way, Sir.  Airport transport is just over there.”  He pointed to the gleaming white taxi parked in what looked to be an official area.  “Please follow me.”

“Oh, right.  Thank you.”  These few words were all that Giuseppe needed to guess his nationality.  From his appearance, he could have been American, Australian or British, but there was no doubt that his origins lay in the latter country.  Giuseppe held the umbrella over the man’s head while Alfredo protected the woman from the rain.  She was much younger than the man on whose arm she had been clinging tightly.  Probably about twenty years his junior.  Like many Filipino women, she was delightfully attractive, quite diminutive and with long, black hair cascading down onto slender shoulders. Her eyelashes fluttered nervously above enticing black eyes and her lips were slightly parted to reveal perfectly formed, dazzling white teeth, giving her a beautiful, butter‑melting smile. Her free hand was protectively clutching a small, black shoulder bag.

The two Filipino men took great care to provide shelter for their clients from the heavy downpour, now splashing noisily in puddles around them.  As they reached the car, Alfredo and Giuseppe held the doors open as the foreigner and his young lady companion stepped into the spotless, air‑conditioned interior. As Alfredo took his place behind the steering wheel, he removed a plastic card from the glove compartment and showed it to the Englishman.  “This is my I.D., sir.  We are with airport security.  You have to be very careful in Manila.  There is a lot of crime here, but we will take care of you.”  The Englishman looked vaguely grateful.  “Is it the British Embassy you wish to travel to, sir?”

“Yes, that’s right ‑ but how did you know?”

Alfredo’s face broke into a broad grin, exposing many cigarette‑stained teeth.  His weather‑beaten face made him look older than his thirty eight years, assisted partly by several years of self‑neglect.  “We are used to many recently‑married foreigners arriving at the airport.  Most of them want to go to their Embassies to have their marriage papers authenticated.”

“Oh, is it that obvious?”  He smiled at the way the driver had analysed the situation.

Alfredo turned the ignition key.  The engine coughed obediently into life and, as he engaged the gears, the smart‑looking car slid smoothly out of the parking space and joined the streams of traffic flowing noisily along the wide roads of the Philippine’s capital city.  Most of the noise was created by the drivers sounding their horns almost continuously and for no apparent reason.

Alfredo did not appear to be in any hurry as the car eased its way smoothly, almost casually, through the traffic.  This car was his pride and joy, taking a lot of time, effort and money to keep it in pristine condition.  He hoped that his clients would not notice the long detours he was taking to extend the journey to the Embassy.  A smile of satisfaction lit his face as he looked at this newly‑married couple through his internal rear‑view mirror.  Over the years, he and his partner, Giuseppe, had provided transport for many such couples of differing nationalities.  No matter whether they were British, American, Australian or German, they had all fallen victim to his money‑making scheme. As he looked at the couple, Alfredo thought that there was something vaguely familiar about the man, but dismissed this thought, since a lot of foreigners looked much the same to him.

He knew that it would not be long before the Englishman would ask the usual question.  Almost on cue, the foreigner asked, “How much is the fare to the Embassy?”

In response, Alfredo produced a small, official‑looking chart.  “This is our scale of charges, sir.  From the airport to the Embassy is ninety dollars or, if you would prefer to book as a return journey, then its one hundred and forty dollars.”  He waited excitedly for the expected response.

“Ninety dollars?  You must be crazy!” the Englishman angrily retorted.

Alfredo responded calmly, knowing that he was fully in control of the situation and that, no matter how angry his client may become, the money would be paid.  “I’m sorry, sir, but those are the official charges set by the airport authorities.”  He did not care if they were not convinced by this lie.

By this time, the Englishman’s attitude was becoming more and more hostile.  “But I don’t have that sort of money for a taxi.  What if I can’t pay that much?”

“Oh, I’m sure you can, sir.  But if you can’t, we will be quite happy to accept jewellery as payment.”  In a voice without any emotion, he added, “I see that your wife is wearing some very beautiful earrings and an elegant necklace.”

The young woman looked anxiously at her husband.  “Stop this taxi at once!” shouted the Englishman.  “I am not going to be threatened by Filipino taxi drivers!  You’re just a pair of bloody crooks!”  He made a move to open the door.  To add to his frustration, the car’s central locking system ensured that he was effectively trapped.  Similarly, the electric windows were rendered useless from a control panel in the front of the car.  “This is ridiculous!  Who do you think you are?”

At this point, Giuseppe turned round in his seat and pointed a small revolver at the young bride.  “You ask who we think we are ‑ I’ll tell you.  We are just two simple Filipino men trying to earn a living.”  He gave a cynical, threatening smile.  “Now, I think you should calm down if you want your wife to leave this car in one piece.”

The Englishman slumped back in his seat, aware that the threat to his lovely young wife was a very serious one.  He muttered under his breath, “Bloody bastards!”  The remainder of the journey was spent in an uneasy silence, broken only by the steady swishing noise of the windscreen wipers brushing aside the rivulets of rain streaming down the windows.  In a state of obvious anxiety, the young woman was holding tightly onto her husband’s arm in an effort to calm him.

As the car pulled up outside the tower block containing the British Embassy, Giuseppe looked expectantly at the Englishman, who was now, understandably, wearing a very sour expression.  The two partners in crime were well used to extreme reactions to their threats. They had never needed to resort to their gun, but, on some occasions, they had to use a little violence to persuade their victims into meeting their demands.

With great reluctance, the Englishman took out his wallet and counted two thousand two hundred pesos, about sixty English pounds. He handed the wad of notes to Giuseppe, who eagerly took the money and, true to his untrusting nature, slowly and deliberately counted it himself.  “Thank you very much, sir. Would you like us to call back to take you to the airport?”

“You must be bloody crazy!” he retorted angrily. Not surprisingly, this was the usual reaction, but Giuseppe enjoyed this game of ‘cat and mouse’ and derived great pleasure from goading their victims.

“Enjoy your stay in the Philippines, sir.” Feeling satisfied with this fare, which was at least ten times the normal rate, Alfredo casually pressed the buttons to release the locking mechanism on the doors.  With noticeable relief, the man and his bride hurriedly left the car and slammed the door shut.  Alfredo and Guiseppi both laughed loudly as yet another unwitting victim had fallen prey to their enterprising scheme.  A scheme which they, and many others like them, had been running for several years, earning them a tidy sum. In such a poor country, everybody had to struggle for survival, a situation which inevitably breeds violence.  They each lit a cigarette and decided to wait a few minutes in the hope of picking up another fare, preferably back to the airport.

Meanwhile, the Englishman and his Filipino wife were inside the Embassy, taking the lift to the fifteenth floor.  This was one of the floors occupied by the offices used by the British Consular staff.  They were always busy with a steady flow of British men of widely varying ages, wishing to marry women from the Philippines.  All the hopefuls had to come here for authentication of their Certificates of No Impediment prior to getting married.  It was also the place where the Filipino brides came for interviews with British Consular staff who had the power to either issue or refuse British Residential Visas.  Sadly, there were many Filipino women who, although being married, were not allowed to join their husbands in Britain.  It was quite common to see these beautiful young women heart‑broken and in tears as news of their unsuccessful applications had been given to them.

After a few minutes wait, with no potential passengers in sight, Alfredo decided to drive back towards the airport.  He turned the ignition key, slipped into first gear and, once again, joined the stream of traffic.  They had only driven a short distance when Giuseppe noticed the woman’s black shoulder bag lying on the rear seat.  He laughed loudly.  “She must have been in such a hurry, the stupid bitch dropped her bag.  I hope she’s left some money in it.” He was about to put his hand between the seats to pick it up, when, without warning, the bag burst noisily into bright orange flames.  It burnt with such ferocity that the white nylon seat covers immediately ignited in a sheet of flames.  Fearful for his life, Alfredo slammed his foot hard on the brake pedal.  With a screech of tyres, the car slewed sideways as the vehicle which had been immediately behind them collided noisily into the back of his car.

In a country where seat belts were seldom worn, such an impact had the effect of hurling Alfredo’s head hard against the steering wheel, knocking him unconscious.  His head jerked back again and blood from the lacerations on his face dripped steadily onto his shirt, creating a spreading crimson patch.  The front nearside of the car hit the side of a parked van.  This second impact was very effective in rippling the side of their white vehicle, jamming the door firmly shut.  Feeling very dazed, Giuseppe struggled in vain to push his door open.  With time fast running out as smoke filled the car, Giuseppe leaned over Alfredo’s limp body, forced the door open, pushed Alfredo out and hastily followed.  He almost collapsed, retching and coughing from the effects of inhaling the smoke, but he was relieved to have escaped from the car.  They were still not out of danger, as the two men were in the middle of the road with traffic still streaming past them, the drivers seemingly oblivious to their plight.  Alfredo was just returning to his senses as Giuseppe dragged him over towards the side of the road.

They stared blankly as huge blisters scarred the once immaculate car as it burnt fiercely.  Drivers from nearby cars braked hard and together with their passengers, they quickly ran away from their vehicles as the full realisation of the dangers hit them.  An ear‑splitting explosion ripped through the air as the fire reached the fuel tank.  Alfredo openly wept as his prized possession turned into a brilliant ball of flames. A huge, acrid cloud of black smoke hung over them, eclipsing the sun from view.  To add to their misery, Alfredo and Giuseppe realised that a substantial amount of money had been lost in the blaze.  Some of their earnings from extortionate taxi fares had been secretly concealed in a specially made lining to the glove compartment.  In a country where car insurance was the exception rather than the rule, the partners in crime stood little or no chance of recovering anything.

On the fifteenth floor of the British Embassy, another woman had joined the couple who, only minutes earlier, had been travelling in the car which was now being destroyed.  The Englishman was looking through a pair of binoculars, scanning the surrounding area.  “Look, there!” he pointed excitedly.  A cloud of smoke was rising steadily between a group of office blocks.  “That must be it.”  A smile of satisfaction lit all three faces as they realised their carefully worked‑out plan had succeeded.

The Englishman peeled the moustache off and eased the grey wig from his head.  His naturally black hair and clean shaven appearance made him look much younger.  After being ‘stung’ by Alfredo and Giuseppe just twelve months earlier, he and his wife had vowed vengeance. A disguise had been necessary for him to avoid recognition and his wife’s sister had generously offered to take her place. It was so important that their act should be convincing to give them chance to leave the small incendiary device in the shoulder bag.

 

 

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