“I don’t think it’s supposed to be like that,” Jose told his crew chief. The two men stared at the open door of the empty columbarium crypt. The vacant hole detracted from the stoic stack of burial crypts at Fort
Morning fog obliterated the world that lay beyond fifty feet. Its soft insulation cocooned them against sounds of the Navy base activities two hundred feet below them in the harbor.
“Maybe Mr. MacDonald forgot to lock it,” Alejandro replied.
“Maybe it is a new tomb, with nobody in it yet.”
“But it has a name on the door--Michael Stanley Smith, February 2, 1916 - June 14, 1954.” He reached in his jacket pocket for his cell phone, but remembered the cone of silence the military had placed over the peninsula. Electronics were blocked out over the strategic military base grounds. “I better go get Mr. MacDonald.” He walked quickly toward his truck parked on the roadway of the cemetery, got inside and started it up.
Jose, an intent worker bee, picked up his shovel and carried it to the flower bed where a dead azalea plant crouched on the grassy floor. A little breeze swept damp gray cotton up into his face. He squinted.
Alejandro drove back a half mile through rows of headstones that followed the flow of land over the cliff to the
Pacific Ocean on the west and
the bay into
on the east. The low-ceiling 1950’s
style block building housing the office of the funeral director, Jerrold
MacDonald, had just been painted the color of desert sand. San Diego Harbor
MacDonald, a military retiree with a full head of gray hair that matched his eyes double timed over to the columbarium wall clutching a printout of the remains for that section of the huge wall. With over a thousand deceased veteran graves spread over eighty acres, keeping track of where each of them lay was his responsibility. Having one misplaced bordered on heresy and could mean the end of his tenure as director.
By time he arrived, the maintenance superintendent, Harold Greevy, the beefy maintenance supervisor stepped out of the truck with Alejandro. “Did you look around the ground for an urn or a burial box?” Greevy asked. “We can check with the rest of the crew for why this is open. Maybe the door was damaged by a piece of equipment.” His burr-cut hair contained drops of dew. He sipped from an insulated Starbuck’s coffee cup he’d brought with him on the way into work.
MacDonald verified the crypt number with the sheet he held, then examined the door. He found no evidence of tampering or damage. His heart beats pushed his blood pressure up to 180.
“It wasn’t like that when we got here at ,” Alejandro said, with tears in his eyes. The enormity of the situation overwhelmed him. “Jose would have told me if he’d seen it earlier.”
Jose stood leaning on his shovel handle. He’d finished removing the azalea plant and replaced it with a one-galleon hibiscus. He suspected a vole had eaten the azalea roots and killed the plant. But he was not an agronomist. “That is true. It was not open earlier.” He’d been born across the
border in Tijuana ,
fifteen miles southeast and had never been further north than Mexico . Small boned, he stood inches shorter than any
man there and weighed 130 pounds. He
could lift pound sacks
of mulch, and he knew he could shovel for three days straight because he’d
filled sandbags that long when rain had fallen on his town in San
during a hurricane ten years ago. Mexico
“Drive down toward the lighthouse and find the irrigation crew,” Greevy said to Alejandro. “Ask if anybody knows why this door is open.” He didn’t add and where the remains are. “I’ll go to the commitment shelter and find Mitchie’s crew. They’re working on tree limbs in that section. How far did the mowers get this morning?” He couldn’t hear mowers over the entire two miles from the gate to the lighthouse.
Nobody knew where the mowers were. Greevy took off at a run, tossing his coffee cup into the trash can near the vase watering station nearby. He found his electric cart at the maintenance shed and drove to the commitment shelter.