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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

If I find out you told this to Sergio, I will have dogs eat your fucking balls.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 39


Don Zuza wears his best dark suit, a black brimmed-hat, and checkered necktie.  The suit’s fabric proves too thin against the wind that gusts between the church and the funeral home.  The weather reports have been inaccurate.  Again.  He does not need to keep his sunglasses on, but does so anyway.

A quick-moving glide escaping the sorrowful scene barely misses his hip as it flees the barricades outside Holy Angels.

Slow down, you fuck, Don chides and checks the time.

1:04 PM.

The vigil is over and the service starts in 26 minutes.

Don has left El Hovel in the care of a second-manager and is delighted not to be thinking about the whiskey stocks, or the shift changes of the meat cutters.  But he is also aware that this wounded occasion is not a good reason for a vacation day.

He has not seen Sergio Reverte since last Saturday’s announcement of Bre’s death.

It took Don more than a full day to recover from the alcohol on that morning, and he assumes the same for Sergio.  The men drank like furloughed sailors.  In some ways, Don wishes his hangover lasted forever.  It would get him closer to the fatigue and nausea his friend must have felt after learning his little girl has been chopped into pieces.

Set upon the altar of the church is the casket.  As he suspected, it is closed.  A beautiful casket, too – dark walnut, expensive.  Unlike tapered, hexagonal coffins, Bre’s casket is rectangular with a split lid.  Sergio’s neighbors had raised the capital.  Don’s contribution has been nothing but liquor, but Sergio is welcome to a lifetime’s worth.  Don knows his greatest charity will be years of barroom counseling and the administration of fermented painkillers.  Unless you don’t count this message today, and his bribes to obtain information, numbness is all he can offer Sergio Reverte in the years to come.

What should I say to the family?

He wants to say something appropriate or consoling.  No words come to him, so he avoids the family as he makes his way deeper into the church.  He wants to locate Sergio in the hive of grievers.

Don knows he did good with Sergio at El Hovel, had been blessed with words and courage.  Now, though, what’s to be said?  A compliment of the casket might cause an eruption of tears, anger, or just plain awkwardness.  He knows this.  He’ll have to rein his conversation to what comes from the gut, nothing practiced.  False sentiments would clang in ears and twist on tongue.

Don tightens his necktie to near strangulation.  He strokes his beard and mustache to flatten stray hairs.  Presentable, he hopes.

Sergio’s wife, Edén, stands in a circle of women, 1 of her young sons at her hip.  Don recognizes her from images Sergio has in his wallet.  She is dressed in a black, beaded dress, her brown hair tied in a bun.  Her right arm drapes down her son’s chest.  Don once knew the boy’s name, but has since forgotten it.  He looks 11 or 12.  The name the name the name?  No.  Gone.  Can’t remember.

Edén notices Don Zuza – his big body, his black outfit.  She gauges him with suspicion.  Her face is smooth and pretty.  A match for Sergio, though she may be a bit older than her husband’s 34 years.

He must make a move soon.  He decides to pay respects.  But Edén remains caught in a conversation with a small old woman.  It does not look like it will end soon, though Edén appears to be paying little attention to what’s being said.  She instead cannot take her gaze from Don Zuza.

Don awkwardly detours to the large collection of flowers on the altar.

Hundreds of arrangements form a veritable wall around the casket.  He barely sees it.  The smell of the pistols and petals strike Don’s nose.  To him, the odor is not pleasant.  Too many scents combine and he feels that he might sneeze.  Bending, he reads the tags, some in English, some in Spanish.  Most begin with, “You don’t know us, but…” or something similar.  Bre’s murder has connected the family to a bevy of strangers.  A large (and somewhat presuming) arrangement has a well-printed tag in large font: MY CONDOLENCES TO YOUR FAMILY IN THIS TIME OF SUFFERING, signed MAYOR FRANCO COCANAUGHER.  The card has an actual signature on it, and not an inked image.  I voted the man in; I suppose he can stay, he nods to himself.  Don must acknowledge the mayor’s hand in the arrest of this Alek Serkan.  If the burly politician can find the remaining 75 children alive, Cocanaugher will be a shoe-in in the 2099 election, and the goodwill may even carry forward the next 4 years after that, too.  ‘Mayor for Life.’  This may be possible.

Don catches sight of a bouquet of black roses with a laminated card hung from the base.  Embossed on the 10 x 10 cm square is the logo of the Doll Weather System.  A private card is encased and is unread, the plastic seal not yet broken.  Don pokes the card with a finger…

Edén Reverte breaks from the pack of women and, without her son, crosses to where Don Zuza stands.  Hello, she greets him from behind, and he jumps.  Her voice is tired, but pleasant.  Do I know you?

Don removes his hat and genuflects.  Mrs. Reverte, I am honored to meet you.  I’m sorry it comes on such a sad occasion.  I am Don Zuza.  I run El Hovel, an establishment that your husband sometimes—

I know El Hovel.  Her eyes grow wide and he can tell she is giving serious thought to a response.

Don’s hand is out, a pincer partly open, waiting for her to shift her body language and accept his friendly embrace.

But the distance continues.

Don speaks just to break the tongue-tied silence.  I hope that—

Please, Señor Zuza—

Call me Don.

Yes.  She takes his hand and accepts his warm hold.

Edén, is it?

Yes.  She drops his hand and lowers her chin.  There is not a trace of good nature on her face.

Allow me to say, he stumbles on, that I am a good friend of your husband’s.  He’s more than a customer to me.

He’s told me about you.  In much more detail this week.  Apparently you told him some things, Señor Zuza.

Things?  And, please: Don.

Things about who you know…Don.

Who I know?  He raises a hand to his shoulders, tips his hat, loosens and shakes his head, scratches his beard.  Who I know? he repeats, adding a layer of faint, dumb confusion.

You’re not here to tell him anything, are you?

Don again reaches Edén’s hand.  This time he keeps it, draws it closer to his body and she comes with it, not a disrespectful jolt, but gravity’s pull.  I assume, Don begins in his rumbling voice, Sergio has told you that I have family connected on both sides of the law… Is that what you are referring to?

Edén raises and lowers her chin.

Don Zuza sounds out tsk-tsk-tsk from his tongue.  Because, Edén, this is something I said in confidence and asked Sergio not to repeat.

She strains.  You’re hurting my hand.

Immediately, he lets her go.  I’m so sorry.  Don blushes.  I am so very sorry.  I’m an awkward fool.  Any connections I might have, well, I don’t like to speak about them with just anyone…you understand?

She rubs her hand and glances towards the church of mourners.  The seats are nearly full.  People are standing in the rear of the church.

Don senses an opening.  It is nice to see you, your family, and your daughter, are so very loved, Mrs. Reverte.  This must have been difficult to make happen so quickly.  His gut tells him this was the right thing to say, and he feels pleased with his choice.

But when Edén speaks to Don, he can tell his words have failed.  She is colored with cautious distance.  We already had the casket picked out, you see, and the church.  We were only waiting for our petition to be approved – the one the families signed to force the release of the remains.  In a few hours, all this will be over…and my daughter will be buried in the ground.

Don wears his most compassionate face.

But her eyes claw through it.  You’re here for a reason, she says knowingly.  Aren’t you?  You’re delivering a message.


I am.


You can tell me then instead of telling Sergio.


Okay…  Serkan is to be transferred.  The day after tomorrow.  Friday at 11 in the morning.  Right now, he’s being kept in a city bomb shelter.  But they need to move him to the courthouse for arraignment.  This hasn’t been announced yet.  It will announced an hour before it happens, to cause the least trouble.

And what else?

Someone with proper connections could sneak inside the courthouse as he’s brought up the steps.

Edén nods, satisfied.  Grazias, Señor Zuza, for telling me this.  And now will you do me a favor…a favor for my dead as well as my living children?

Anything, anything, of course.

Will you please get the fuck out of this church?  And never give that message to my husband.

Don’s cheeks turn red.  He fiddles with the brim of his hat.

I love him, she declares.  And I don’t want him doing anything stupid.

I…I understand.

You better.  Because I don’t care who you know.  If I find out you told this to Sergio, I will have dogs eat your fucking balls.

She moves away from him quickly and is enveloped in the arms of a priest, who escorts her to her place in the front pew.  The services commence.  The organist strikes up a requiem and the pipes shutter the spires.

Don wanders from the flowers.  He replaces the hat on his head.

Don’t fucking SPEAK to me that way!  I’m Don Zuza and I know people.  I fucking know people!  I’m a good friend.  You know how hard it was to get the time and day of Serkan’s movements!  Do you!  No, you do not, you bitch.  Do you know how much I spent on bribes!  Do you know!  Do you?  You ungrateful slut!

He does not budge from the altar, half-tempted to hold his ground throughout the services just to spite her.  And where is Sergio, anyway?  He at least wants his friend to know he bothered to show up.

But the melancholy music and weeping of the crowd continues, and it chips away at Don’s spell of anger.  Invisible knives prick him down the aisle.

Go, says the hurt.  Just go.

On his way, the procession takes Don’s attention.  The drone of clergy with their incense and chants slowly flanks towards the front of the church.  Don’s eyes follow the altar boys and the robed deacons as they pass Edén Reverte and her sons.  She looks around for her missing husband, but does not do so for long.  She gives up her search.  She knows, as Don knows, that this is not the place for Sergio Reverte.  He’s cleverly avoiding the whole affair, whereas his wife would sit in spotlight, if allowed.  Proudly, she allows imagers to zoom onto her face and her tears, her arms proudly hugging her nearest living children.

Something moves among the flowers, at the foot of Bre Reverte’s casket.

Don Zuza is the only one to see it.

He squints.

Who is that?

He thinks he sees a body behind the mayor’s flowers, the Doll flowers, the flowers of friends and families and strangers.  Could Sergio be avoiding all of this ceremony to instead crouch beside his dead daughter, her body sealed in a walnut box?  Is that Sergio’s profile – his ear, his hair – tucked to the left?

Or is it just an arrangement of black orchids and white lilies?

Is it…?

If he was so close to Don and Edén, did he hear the message about the transfer of Alek Serkan?  Did he hear?