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Release date: 2022-12-07 12:29:01 Author:ycdgAOxi

"Fidel the flying squirrel, maybe?"

Former altar boy Juan Carlos Reyes stood in line to receive Communion. Introibo ad altare Dei. The choir chanted Tantum Ergo. To God the joy of my youth. He felt his pager vibrate in his pocket. He checked the display. Ramona calling. Probably wanted him to pick up a bag of those pink mice for her snakes. I have no shame, he thought. Shame is for the young. Juan Carlos nodded to the Peanut Man as he passed the first pew. We live on secrets, he thought. He took the host in his hands. My God, what would the world be like if all our secrets were revealed, all our lusts, opinions, fears, dreams, our fantasies, our rituals? What secrets, he wondered, did this old woman take with her? Expensive secrets perhaps. Well, he wasn't here to worry about that. He was here to protect his holdings: Reyes Cuban-American Cruise Lines, Reyes Hotel and Casinos, Reyes PepsiCo Bottling Company, Reyes Burger King Havana, Inc. He was here to keep his eye on the slippery Dr. Irwin Scheinblum, the one man alive who could positively identify the body of Fidel Castro, the man who had performed Fidel's penile implant in 1962. But where was that body? Juan Carlos was not paying a million dollars to any Cuban Cuban for a severed head. The gentleman would have to provide the rest of the filthy Communist. Of course, if he, himself, could acquire the rumored lock of hair and match its DNA with the head, well, perhaps then he would negotiate. Yes, people will need to be relocated. Yes, people will have to die, unfortunately. Yes, of course, the transition to the Golden Age of freedom and prosperity will not be easy.

"I understand you're upset, but don't you see that the crime itself is a relief, you know, a release. It's a regeneration." Hector stood and stretched. He kissed his scorpion tattoo, flicked his tongue at Fay. He thought, Yes, this woman will understand. "Before I killed, I was far more horrible than I am now, because I was pregnant with evil, with the idea of murder. And now the evil is done, gone, vanished. The idea of violence, the threat of violence, is always more frightening than the act of violence. Don't you think?" Fay heard a chime, a tune that sounded like "Lara's Theme" from Dr. Zhivago.

On Desi Arnaz Boulevard: Big Joey G. leaned against the fireplace, his arm resting on the onyx mantel, in his hand a Vietnamese trophy skull. "We boiled the flesh off the VC skulls," he told Britt. "We made table ornaments, ashtrays, candy dishes, like this fellow here. I call him Tranh. Sometimes we carved their ulnas into letter openers, their fingers into whistles." He set the skull on the mantel, sat in the club chair across from Britt. "Happiest days of my life, the war."

Pay wiped her tears on her shoulder. "Scum!" She knew she'd destroy Hector if she could chew her way through these cuffs and the ropes.

Britt said, "This is getting confusing."

"I understand you're upset, but don't you see that the crime itself is a relief, you know, a release. It's a regeneration." Hector stood and stretched. He kissed his scorpion tattoo, flicked his tongue at Fay. He thought, Yes, this woman will understand. "Before I killed, I was far more horrible than I am now, because I was pregnant with evil, with the idea of murder. And now the evil is done, gone, vanished. The idea of violence, the threat of violence, is always more frightening than the act of violence. Don't you think?" Fay heard a chime, a tune that sounded like "Lara's Theme" from Dr. Zhivago.

On the patio, Hector explained to Fay how it was, but how could a woman ever understand? "Yes, I killed your grandmother. Yes, I killed Phil. What were we supposed to do when he let you escape like he did? You think I had a choice? Besides, he was a nudge and you know it."

The doorbell chimed. Big Joey G. stood, excused himself. "That would be our delivery: Lilia Sands and her faux Fidel."

Irwin Scheinblum wondered why the cover-up. Marion's death was no drowning, of course. You don't have to be a coroner to know that it takes days for a drowned body to bloat with gas and rise to the surface. No weeds or sand in the lungs. He'd read the autopsy report. Evidence of pete-chiae, tiny hemorrhages, dark spots on the mucous membrane, caused most likely by increased pressure in the head from strangling, or choking perhaps. Face and neck congested and dark red, bruises on the arms and legs, contusions on the face, a fractured hyoid bone and torn thyroid cartilage. So why did the medical examiner rule the death an accident? And why wasn't anyone upset? Why wasn't anyone talking, writing about this? Irwin was puzzled. Irwin needed several drinks.

The doorbell chimed. Big Joey G. stood, excused himself. "That would be our delivery: Lilia Sands and her faux Fidel."

"And now you find yourself playing with skulls again," Britt said. "How funny."

"You can't make a flank steak back into a cow, Big Joey. The thermally challenged will remain so."

On Desi Arnaz Boulevard: Big Joey G. leaned against the fireplace, his arm resting on the onyx mantel, in his hand a Vietnamese trophy skull. "We boiled the flesh off the VC skulls," he told Britt. "We made table ornaments, ashtrays, candy dishes, like this fellow here. I call him Tranh. Sometimes we carved their ulnas into letter openers, their fingers into whistles." He set the skull on the mantel, sat in the club chair across from Britt. "Happiest days of my life, the war."

"Fidel the flying squirrel, maybe?"

Judge Manuel Dominguez wondered why this priest was carrying on about the failure of a people to cast off its oppressors. Quebec, he was yapping about, not Cuba. Not a very apt or decorous sermon, certainly. What did all this have to do with the death of this esteemed grande dame? Had he missed something? All this sadness. First his nephew Victor and now Ms. Williams. Poor Victor, a lousy bailiff, sure, and a worse jai alai player. "Victorless" they called him at the fronton. But why would he try to do that, race the drawbridge like he did in the new Acura? With the young, the judge thought, often the danger is in not taking the risk.

Dash Brandon didn't like his seat. He belonged up there with Governor What's-his-face and Jimmy Carter. This sort of affront would never happen at Planet Hollywood or at the Raleigh, where just this morning he'd been seated by Johnnie Cochran's table. What was he in town for? Defending some fat tourist? Something about a riot. Or was it the Club Hell fiasco? Dash had given Johnnie a nod and a conspiratorial thumbs-up. He'd eavesdropped as Johnnie rehearsed his forensic couplets: "If the facts don't indicate, you must vindicate," "If the fault's with the police, you must release," and so on throughout the brunch. Dash thought about his own funeral. A full-couch, polished copper casket with taffeta lining, interior lighting, brass fittings. Or an Egyptian sarcophagus. Wouldn't that be a hoot? Show tunes and spontaneous eulogies. He cast his pallbearers: Arnold, Bruce, Sly, Wesley, Woody, the Boz. No, not the Boz. Denzel. Ziff Bodine nudged Dash, showed him the sketch he'd been doodling. Castro, it looked like, without the beard and toupee.

"Not playing, Ms. Montero. Neurosuspension is not a game." Big Joey explained the process: A cryonicist opens the subject's chest, injects cryopreservatives and cooling solutions through the blood vessels to preserve the brain. He then severs the head at the sixth cervical vertebra, submerges the skull in a silicone oil bath with dry ice for twenty-four hours. "Then we pop the noodle in a neurocan and cool it in liquid nitrogen for ten days.''

Britt stretched her shackled legs on the couch. "Why just the head? Why not the whole body? Why not a corpsicle?"

"Speak for yourself."

Pay wiped her tears on her shoulder. "Scum!" She knew she'd destroy Hector if she could chew her way through these cuffs and the ropes.

In Biscayne Bay: Call me Booger. Now it is November in my soul and twilight in my heart. Light is leaving me. And hope. It is this blackness above all that appalls me. The blackness to come, the blackness of this loathsome hull above me, and the inky black hearts of those Stygian scoundrels who took Ma from me, the dark-complexioned, cloven-footed desperado who fired the bullet into my snout and that pink and squabby venom spouter who steered this floating coffin. The pair of them are madness-maddened, blackness-blackened. They have all that is bloody on their minds. What lunatic vision is it that drives these blackguards? What furious passion? What unimaginable fear has freed them from the irons of civility? Loosed their bonds of horror? Nothing so simple as greed. Not that. We see differently, they and I. They have their colors, I my grays. But blackness we share. Blackness, agent of the mind, not the eye. We all see black alike. And it's blackness where our fates will meet. I have a plan.

Britt said, "This is getting confusing."

The doorbell chimed. Big Joey G. stood, excused himself. "That would be our delivery: Lilia Sands and her faux Fidel."

Jake Lassiter hadn't heard a word the reverend said. He'd spent the morning at the library, trying to keep his mind off Fay and Britt and where they might be and in how many pieces. He looked up "manatee" in the dictionary and learned that it comes from the Cariban manati, which means breast, and for some reason he found the revelation distressing and depressing. He couldn't stop himself from thinking about that sea cow Booger, and about Fay and Britt. What kind of man beholds a hulking sausage-shaped, beaver-tailed, cleft-lipped creature and decides to name it for the female breast? A man too long at sea, perhaps. But still. Jake reminded himself where he was. He studied the Stations of the Cross on the stained-glass window. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. He stared at the crucifix suspended above the altar, thought Jesus looked like the daring young man on the flying trapeze. Jake couldn't stop his obsessive thoughts: beaver, sausage, tail, lips, cleavage, breast. What was worse, he'd also read that a manatee's breasts were situated under the flippers, where appendage meets torso. Jake cursed himself for going to the library in the first place. It would never happen again. He turned to Janice Deal, his buddy John's ex, smiled, squeezed her hand. She smiled, returned her attention to the priest. Jake inhaled her vanilla scent. He tried not to think of breasts in her armpits.

Marion McAlister Williams felt deflated, degenerate, annoyed. So there you have it: there are no answers beyond the grave. Well, not the grave just yet. No answers beyond death. She was no longer one of the chosen people-those still alive. She found herself humming the tune to "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and singing the words to Emily Dickinson poems: Because I could not stop for death, da-da-da-dum-dee-tum. No answers and no tunnels and no lights. We spend our lives lumbering from hope to hope. So what is death then? No lights and no hope. Marion felt like her mind was going blind. Death belongs to life, not to whatever-this-is. No hope and no Buddha. No Jesus. No Allah. No angels, no time, no enlightenment, no nine circles of hell, no rest, no numbers, no regrets, no color, no stories, no space, no peace, no honor, no pain, no blood, no air, no matter. Just alone. All alone. That's all.

Vernon Sawyer wanted to sing "What Wondrous Love Is This?" "Abide with Me," or "There Is Power in the Blood," anything. Why can't Catholics sing? He was tired with all this talk, talk, talk. He wanted his religion to carry him out of the church, out of himself, to lift his heart, to set his feet in ecstasy. He looked at the hair of this vaguely familiar man seated in front of him, saw how it thinned at the crown. He hated the treachery of baldness. Vernon knew that when there is a mystery, there are always two stories-what happened and what seemed to happen. What seemed to happen here was a drowning. But no, not with the granddaughter gone missing like she'd done. That was no coincidence, no sir. Something to do with that key he'd passed to Fay. The key to the whole mystery, likely.

Britt stretched her shackled legs on the couch. "Why just the head? Why not the whole body? Why not a corpsicle?"

11. WHERE ARE YOU DYING TONIGHT?-John Dufresne

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