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Friday, November 8, 2013

11/8/2013 Short Story VANISHED -- Serial part 2

 Cherrie tried to watch him go, but the fog had settled into a wall of tin plastered against the office windows.
            Jerrold had driven to the extreme southwestern end of the wall.  His grandfather was buried in a laydown urn plot near that end. Walter Lawrence Greevy, May 6, 1962 - November 17, 2008.  He stopped and read the headstone marker for the ten thousandth time as he passed it.  He took the footpath that ran between the lawn graves and the wall, checking for anything odd.  But found only a couple of weeds that were not there yesterday.  When he got to the end he walked west toward the sea, around the perimeter of the lawn graves.  He rolled down hill remembering the feel of his legs on the lurching ships he’d been assigned to as an ensign in the navy.  Flying was what he’d really wanted to do, but that didn’t happen.  Now, at the bottom of the cemetery where the chain link fence separated wilderness growth from manicured lawn, Jerrold gazed over the three hundred foot cliff, tried to see the ocean.  He heard it below him, the surf rolling in,  pounding against the sand with a kind of breaker thunder.  If he only had wings, he’d soar out to the beautiful expanse that he knew was there, despite the fog.  Fifteen miles north, hang gliders peeled off the same type cliffs at UC San Diego’s Glider Port above La Jolla. He should have been born ten years later.   Or a hundred years later when men will be able to fly on their own.

            He still couldn’t see fifty feet in front of him but he’d been there so many times before he could walk it blindfolded, with or without the fog.  He’d memorized the headstones nearest the ocean and silently nodded to Peter, to Jim, to Sancho, to Nathaniel and all the rest as he continued to walk.  The tour of his “friends,” calmed him as he silently made a vow to find Michael Stanley Smith.

            When he returned to the office, Cherrie began to hover.  Did he want a drink?  Did he want to go to breakfast, take a break, call home?  One message on his desk was from Harold and one said he should call his wife.  He picked up the receiver and dialed his home number, though there were strict instructions to make no personal calls.  Janet had never called him at work before today.  The message machine picked up.   Could this day get any worse?

            Janet MacDonald, the funeral director’s wife, was stopped at the gate at the land end of the Point Loma peninsula.  The navy guard would not raise the cross bar for her to continue, though he would not explain why.  Alarm rose in her breast.  Was the base on alert?  She frantically dialed through her Lexus’ radio stations for news of some disaster.

            Janet hadn’t treated Jerrold very well lately.  He’d become remote, she’d become petulant.  He hadn’t noticed.  So she started making emergency plans in case he was going to leave her.  She was insulted he didn’t care enough about her to see she needed more attention.  If he loved her, he’d notice, wouldn’t he?  Of course he would.  But why did Cherrie call from Jerrold’s office?  Why had Jerrold called and left no message?  Only out for an hour for her standard bi-monthly pedicure, what could have happened in one hour?  Jerrold had decided there was no point in having a cell phone he couldn’t use.  She hadn’t known she would not be permitted on the cemetery grounds when she drove over from their retirement home just three miles away.  It may as well be a hundred miles.

            She’d noticed the man reading the newspaper looked at her several times while she drank her latte at Starbucks on her way to her pedicure.  He didn’t have as much hair as Jerrold, wasn’t as good looking.  But he smiled at her.

            The woman named Natalie Christophsen who’d arrived very early for the first funeral walked to the USS Bennington Memorial to get out of the way of the cemetery staff that was distributing the leather seat cushions for mourners to sit on during the funeral services today.  She read about the sixty-two sailors who were killed in 1905 when their ship blew up;  perused their names.   Then she walked up hill toward the grave locator kiosk to find where her uncle was buried.  As she walked with her new found resentment, she planned the steps she would take today.

            Alejandro finally found Mitchie’s crew over the bayside hill on the lighthouse end of the cemetery. They had just finished trying to mow, but the fog had saturated the grass to the point that it clung to the mower in clumps and clogged the blades in low areas.  They spent the allocated time moving rocks out of the way for new grass to be rolled along the fenceline while they waited for the fog to burn off as the sun rose higher in the sky.   The four men stood with their mouths open while he explained about the missing urn box.  “No, no, no, no,” one of them said.  Another whispered, “This cannot be.”

            For his part, Mitchie, who was parallel crew chief with Alejandro, in charge of four men, felt anger burn words inside his brain.  He knew better than to explode them into the atmosphere, because his men expected more from him.  If he did not have their respect, then he would make a very poor crew chief.  He’d been taught this by his father, who had been a crew chief before Mitchie.  It was a prestigious job to walk among the dead every day, to care for their eternal resting place.  This resting place after all, was a place of honor in the country that had dedicated itself to freedom.  Mitchie’s family was not of America.  He’d been born Miguelito Antonio Lucas, the son of a Mexican family that could not survive in its own country.  His father had made his way into the United States before Mitchie was born.  Mitchie was a citizen, of which he was very proud.  He felt as if the missing urn box belonged to his family alone.  Anger was the best substitute for tears.

            So Mitchie tamped down his anger.  “We will find this urn box.  We will stop working our job and search every inch of this peninsula until we find it,” he said between his clenched teeth.

            Alejandro was relieved to hear this edict.  It gave him faith that all would be restored.  His crew, too, vowed to begin the search for the vanished box.

            The men divided up the peninsula into equal search areas and began to comb every inch of grass and shrubs and rocks in different directions. They searched empty trash cans, look at the fronts and backs of every single tombstone, monument and marker.  They would also search the lighthouse and the gatehouse.

            Jerrold MacDonald got the message that his wife was down at the gate, not being permitted to pass the guard.  He didn’t want to tell Janet that he’d failed the Veteran’s Administration, his position as director.  She’d already lost her respect for him somewhere along the way of their marriage, and now he’d lost it for himself.  Michael Stanley Smith could easily have been Jerrold’s father, or even his son.  He could be a decorated hero in a battle to save the United States from a war played out right here at home.  The loss of his ashes was more than Jerrold could bear.  He would have to deal with Janet later.

            If they did not find Michael Stanley Smith’s box soon, he would have to tell the VA in Washington D.C. it was missing.  Worse yet, the family would have to be told.  In just over an hour the gate would have to be opened for the mourners to arrive for the first funeral.  There had been no precedent set for delaying funerals at a national cemetery.  Even if he called every one of the mortuaries bringing deceased military veterans here today, the logistics of delaying eighteen funerals was an impossible task.  And he would be at first humiliated and ultimately fired because it happened under his watch.  He understood perfectly how the military worked.  In his dreams he’d been able to fly and knew just how it would feel... quiet, wind rushing through his hair.  Thrilling.

            Harold Greevy could see a little bit of blue sky through the fog now as the desert air coming over the mountaintops on the northeast overpowered its moisture.  Soon the fog would be relegated to stand like a fortress over the edge of the California beach, and the sun would have control of the land for another day.  He took in a big breath of air as he walked along the columbarium walls and pushed on each of the doors.  He felt so bad for Cherrie, whose husband was buried right there on the grounds.  The missing urn may just as well have been her husband’s.  He’d always admired her for taking on the world alone with four children as she had done, but never thought she would notice him.  It was good to be emotionally helpful to her.

            Janet MacDonald, still stuck at the gate was frantic for news of Jerrold.  The guard told her it wouldn’t be much longer of a wait, even though he didn’t know what the problem was.  There would be a funeral in just over an hour, with seventeen more to follow.  Whatever it was would have to be rectified soon.  Janet drove back into town and picked up some food and flowers for Jerrold.  He loved flowers.  And food always helped in a trying circumstance, whatever it was.  Jerrold was such a little child in some ways.  It’s what she’d found attractive about him twenty years ago.  She didn’t know when he’d stopped needing her to take care of him.  On her way back to the gate, she thought about how he looked when he was sleeping.  Like an angel with his eyelashes soft against his cheek.

            Cherrie couldn’t handle just standing around the office looking at paperwork she couldn’t get her mind around.  She put on her light jacket and walked outside.  If she stayed within sight of the office she could at least help look for the box.  Trees and shrubs were not dense on the peninsula except in the wilderness area and it was blocked off by  chainlink fence.  The fog was beginning to break up so she could work her way to the fence and still see if anybody approached the building.  The normal function of the office had ceased anyway, as if the world suddenly waited to exhale.  Whoever had moved the box had moved her heart with it.  The missing urn box could have been that of her father or her husband.  She, in fact, could be interred with her husband’s location in the columbarium, which is what she’d planned.  Her life had mostly died with him anyway.  If she didn’t have four children to raise, she had no idea of what her purpose would be.

Looking for the box was not the same as looking for missing car keys.
            Vincent seemed to get more angry as he walked.  How stupid that everybody was out wandering around eighty acres of cemetery looking for a little ten inch box.  Whoever had taken it surely had an agenda.  Could one of the workers there removed it?  But why would they do that?  He counted the ones he knew had family buried there--only three of them he could recall.   If he eliminated those people, the number of suspects was cut down to the Mexicans and the crazies.  He always wondered about Harold.  The guy was single with no relatives.  So there were actually five of them.  Harold would be his choice.

But why would he do that?  Vincent would have to take matters into his own hands and go over to the maintenance barn to search it.

            Jose was certain that since he’d found that the urn was missing, he’d be the one to find it again and return it to its proper place.  To restore order.  The job at this cemetery was the only stable thing that had ever happened in his life of chaos.  His wife and their six children, his wife’s mother and Jose’s brother and his wife and their two children all lived together forty miles east away toward El Centro, California.  Some of them had sometimes jobs.  The children would soon be old enough to have jobs too, if they didn’t get involved in gangs.  But the world was a new place and the children all wanted cellphones and ipods and cars and clothes.  He could not give them everything they wanted.  And now he didn’t want to give them anything at all.  But he didn’t know how to tell them these things existed, but not for them.  Because “it’s not good for you” didn’t fly any longer.  His wife thought he was too hard on the children.  All Jose had ever really wanted was peace.  The cemetery was all about peace.  Peace earned for the fighting men and women.  But also peace for those taking care of them in this city of the dead.  If the cemetery closed because the workers were not responsible enough to take better care of their charges, then there would never be peace for Jose again.

            Waiting was stressful.  Natalie was grateful for the cushion she could sit on now that they’d been distributed.  The concrete bench was cold.  With the fog rolling back toward the west, the sky had begun to clear in the east and turn the clouds red. Her very curly dark hair tumbled onto her forehead, which made her look six years old and took away her credibility.  She rethought her plans.

            Jerrold walked through the commitment shelter, looking for the lone woman, preparing for the first funeral, that nothing was out of place, looking for a lone box perhaps abandoned under a shrub.

            When he found her he introduced himself.  “I see you are here early.  It’s good the fog is lifting.”

            She nodded to him.

            “We’ve had a little difficulty and I’m not sure the funeral will be on time today.”

He watched her closely for a response.

            “That’s okay.  I can wait.  Did the minister not come?  What has happened?”

            “Just an issue has arisen.  It should be taken care of right away.”  He learned nothing.  He didn’t know what to look for, had never been an interrogator.  He excused himself and returned to his office to look for his little bottle of nitroglycerin.

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