Springtime in the Banana Republic of South Florida (BRSF)! Break out the gardening tools! What better time to play in the muddy sand, feeding mosquitoes, raising blisters, and wrenching sore joints?
Excavating a hole for a bamboo palm, my shovel hits something hard. In my yard it could be anything–a gas line, construction materials, toxic waste, Indian relics, tree roots–but this looks and feels strange. A little more careful digging and there it is: eerily white, faintly reminiscent.
I hate to interrupt Guido on a sunny Saturday morning while she’s casting spells, but I call her out anyway to have a look. A licensed massage therapist, she knows by sight every muscle, bone, and nerve in the body (she’s tortured every one of mine). This is only a fragment we’re looking at, but (a) is it a bone, and (b) is it human?
Guido picks it up and frowns at it thoughtfully. Yes, it’s a bone, and Maybe it’s human.
Wash your hands, I advise.
Now what? I dig around to see what else unearths. Sure enough, we come up with another pair of fragments, one larger, one smaller. None of the three seems to fit any other part.
Maybe just somebody’s old barbecue, I venture.
You think Idi Amin lived here? counters Guido.
Grimly, we debate our next move. I want to call the National Enquirer or the Museum of Archeology. Guido delivers the look they teach in Wife School, and hints darkly that there’s plenty of room in the yard for additional burials. She figures we call the cops.
I fetch the phone book. Which cops?
For reasons I won’t go into here, I won’t call the local metropolitan force unless there’s an axe murderer prowling about. A unambiguously identifiable axe murderer they won’t confuse with somebody innocent. Specifically, me.There’s the county sheriff’s office, led by a reputed egocentric midget whose political ambitions are fueled by a mad craving for public attention. He never goes anywhere without a media entourage, and something like this, in the city where terrorists frolicked, might turn us into a circus act.
State police? Feds? FBI? DEA? How about Immigration? Around here they get involved with everything (except capturing terrorists).
Jerry, my next door neighbor, wanders over and we brief him. A man of practical wisdom, he goes home and returns with a business card from a neighborhood crime watch group. I call.
After three rings, a recording begins.
“Welcome to The Eyes Of Broward Lakes. Please listen carefully to the following choices, as our options have changed.”
(Recordings always say that. It’s a lie.)
“If you wish to report a crime in progress, please hang up and dial 911 immediately. If you wish to report a crime or suspicious activity, dial 2. If you wish to file a criminal complaint, dial 3. To check on the status of a previously filed complaint, dial 4. If you wish to respond confidentially to a request for information, dial 5.
“If you wish to report the discovery of human remains on your property, dial 6. If you….”
I dial 6.
“Thank you for dialing the Human Remains Hotline! If the remains bear evidence of flesh, blood or any organic matter, or if the presence of maggots is detected, please dial 911. Otherwise, please stay on the line.”
Hmm. If the remains are still moving, do I call Century Village?
Eventually, after several agonizing Muzakian verses of Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head, a human entity picks up to whom I explain the circumstances.
“Oh, Lord,” he sighs. “Three indeterminate bone fragments? Stick ‘em in a box. We’ll get to it.”
That doesn’t sound right.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he says. “They’re probably human. We get three calls a week like this, and two outta three turn out to be human remains. We hand it over to the authorities, they write a report, quietly file it away, and that’s about the end of the trail.
“You gotta remember where you are. This is south Florida, not civilization. Word gets out you got bones there you’ll have the universities, Indian tribes, board of health, and every necrophiliac pervert in town howling for a piece. How’d you like to have a buncha bible harpies crawling around your yard claiming they see the face of Virgin Mary on a cracked femur?
“Meanwhile, we got bodies and bones everywhere. Everywhere. You find ‘em in the canals, in abandoned cars, in sandlots–hell, you’re right up the street where they found that dead halved hooker in the dumpster behind Pet SuperMarket. Now, that’s where we gotta devote our energy, y’know? Not a bunch of backyard chicken bones.
“No offense, man, but so what if maybe you got some old human bones in your back yard. Who doesn’t? And who cares? I’m doin’ you a favor, believe me.
“Look–you have a nice day, now.”
I hang up and relay the gist of the depressing conversation to Guido and Jerry, who exchange glances, roll their eyes, and shake their heads. In the third world, life is dirt cheap.
We head outside just in time to see our neighbor’s two cats vanish under the fence, gleefully carrying bones in their mouths. Cat owners ourselves, we know better than to chase them down an alley. Besides, why bother?
There’s one bone left. I bury it under the bamboo palm.