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"Fidel the flying squirrel, maybe?"

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.

This was still not what Joe Sereno had in mind when he joined the police department. This was not fighting crime; this was not making a difference. This was standing in the vestibule of a church waiting for some dignitaries to exit to their limousines. He'd been reduced to this, to special-detail security for Magic City Protective Services. He'd been suspended without pay after the Grove riot and would remain suspended until the trial was over, at least. And now he had to worry if Johnnie Cochran was going to turn him into the next Mark Fuhrman. Sure he'd called the fat guy a Canuck and a Frog, but he hadn't meant it in a bad way. Since when did people start worrying about the Frenchies, anyway? And now he was getting that uneasy feeling again like on the night of the Club Hell disaster when he worked the door. Who'd have thought the sharks would only go after the lawyers like they did? Must be some kind of pheromone they give off. What a mess that was. Joe Sereno himself had dragged two of the bodies out of the drink-the city manager of Miami Beach, who looked like a drowned cat, actually, and the city's insurance attorney, Russell B. Whittaker III, whose mascara had run over his face and whose left arm had been chewed to the bone. Joe felt dizzy again. Maybe he was bad luck like the sergeant said. He dipped his fingers into the holy water font, blessed himself. He waited for whatever would happen to happen.

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

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.

Jimmy Carter was basking in a marvelous run of good luck and nothing was going to get him down-not Rosalynn's volatile mood swings, not Robertico Robles's threats, not this dismal ceremony, and certainly not these elitist book reviewers. Jimmy Carter stood with the congregation. He bent his head, moved his lips, as if in prayer. Yesterday he'd autographed eight hundred hardcover copies of Always a Reckoning in two hours at Books and Books, beating the Anne Rice record by seventy-five books. Mitchell Kaplan told him so, and booksellers don't lie. And then last night he'd beaten Vanilla Ice by a pentameter in the poetry slam at Warehaus 57. Then this morning's News carried his photo on page one. There he was driving a nail into a crossbeam in the new Habitat house in Liberty City. He was in a zone right now, and he dared to dream of, to lust in his heart for, the unprecedented Double Nobel-Peace and Literature. He was possessed by the Muse, on fire with a Promethean mission to steal poetry from the academic gods and deliver it to the people. Soon poetry would be accessible to working men and women in paper-hat jobs, would be understood and loved by schoolchil-dren, illiterates, babies, cats. And in the limo on the way to the cemetery he'd begin his Sonnet Sequence for Democracy, that is, if he could get Governor Whatchamacallit to shut his trap for a minute.

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."

"Fidel the flying squirrel, maybe?"

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.

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."

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.

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

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.

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.

"Fidel the flying squirrel, maybe?"

Jimmy Carter was basking in a marvelous run of good luck and nothing was going to get him down-not Rosalynn's volatile mood swings, not Robertico Robles's threats, not this dismal ceremony, and certainly not these elitist book reviewers. Jimmy Carter stood with the congregation. He bent his head, moved his lips, as if in prayer. Yesterday he'd autographed eight hundred hardcover copies of Always a Reckoning in two hours at Books and Books, beating the Anne Rice record by seventy-five books. Mitchell Kaplan told him so, and booksellers don't lie. And then last night he'd beaten Vanilla Ice by a pentameter in the poetry slam at Warehaus 57. Then this morning's News carried his photo on page one. There he was driving a nail into a crossbeam in the new Habitat house in Liberty City. He was in a zone right now, and he dared to dream of, to lust in his heart for, the unprecedented Double Nobel-Peace and Literature. He was possessed by the Muse, on fire with a Promethean mission to steal poetry from the academic gods and deliver it to the people. Soon poetry would be accessible to working men and women in paper-hat jobs, would be understood and loved by schoolchil-dren, illiterates, babies, cats. And in the limo on the way to the cemetery he'd begin his Sonnet Sequence for Democracy, that is, if he could get Governor Whatchamacallit to shut his trap for a minute.

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.

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.

Jimmy Carter was basking in a marvelous run of good luck and nothing was going to get him down-not Rosalynn's volatile mood swings, not Robertico Robles's threats, not this dismal ceremony, and certainly not these elitist book reviewers. Jimmy Carter stood with the congregation. He bent his head, moved his lips, as if in prayer. Yesterday he'd autographed eight hundred hardcover copies of Always a Reckoning in two hours at Books and Books, beating the Anne Rice record by seventy-five books. Mitchell Kaplan told him so, and booksellers don't lie. And then last night he'd beaten Vanilla Ice by a pentameter in the poetry slam at Warehaus 57. Then this morning's News carried his photo on page one. There he was driving a nail into a crossbeam in the new Habitat house in Liberty City. He was in a zone right now, and he dared to dream of, to lust in his heart for, the unprecedented Double Nobel-Peace and Literature. He was possessed by the Muse, on fire with a Promethean mission to steal poetry from the academic gods and deliver it to the people. Soon poetry would be accessible to working men and women in paper-hat jobs, would be understood and loved by schoolchil-dren, illiterates, babies, cats. And in the limo on the way to the cemetery he'd begin his Sonnet Sequence for Democracy, that is, if he could get Governor Whatchamacallit to shut his trap for a minute.

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.

At the Chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow and Everlasting Anguish: Monsignor Armand Turgeon celebrated the funeral mass for his friend and patron Marion McAlister Williams. He praised her generous philanthropy, her unconventional but enthusiastic faith, her tenacious efforts to save the Everglades from the ravages of Big Sugar and the Corps of Engineers, to save the wildness that was Florida from the teeming masses breathing free, flushing waste into the bay, and paving the earth. Father Turgeon suggested that after death we return to what we were before birth-washed in the precious blood of the Lord and rocked in His mighty arms. He looked out at the assembled mourners, at the politicians, the curious, looked into the glassy eyes and disinterested faces of these waking dreamers who fend off their fears with distraction. He told them that our longing to survive is vanity only. Even God, he said, envies our mortality.

"Speak for yourself."

"Eventually, we bring back the cryonaut, and he's himself, only we make him better because we provide an engineered body, a cyborg, a person who can breathe underwater or run like the wind."

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

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